Public Relations extraordinaire, Jessica Ratty is easily one of the most friendly and approachable women you could meet. Even as her career continues to soar – as one of the BBC’s 25 expert women, a growing speaking portfolio including TEDX and becoming friends with Richard Branson – Jess remains very down-to-earth with an ambition to change the world step by step.
Her heart is still in her home county of Cornwall where she where she worked her way up in the world of PR as well as setting up as a young entrepreneur. From ten years at The Eden Project, to launching The Cornwall Camper Company and landing one of the best tech communications roles in the UK with Crowdfunder, Jess has now started a new journey as Director of Communications working with Sir Tim Smit. We catch up to discuss the world of PR, entrepreneurship and career development.
What does a role within the world of Public Relations involve?
PR can mean many things, but to me it’s about building relationships with the media. This can be anything these days – from making friends with people on Twitter, to sending a traditional press release. The biggest aspect of PR is knowing your targets – your audience, the people writing about your subject and what you’d like to gain from that traction.
PR is about delivering stories to some of the most-read publications in the UK, it’s about sharing brilliant ideas and innovations. I never really knew what I was getting myself into as a young person starting out, but I’ve loved every second.
I think the industry will really change in the next 10 years with communications professionals, content marketeers, and traditional marketeers having closely aligned roles these days. It’s not so much about what your story is any more, but it’s all about how you tell it.
What tips would you give to anyone looking to enter the PR industry?
Be passionate, keep a broad skill set, know your subject as well as you know yourself and get it out there.
One of the biggest worries for young entrepreneurs is quitting their jobs and funding their new business. Was this something you experienced with The Cornwall Camper Company?
No way! I never worried, but that’s because I never left my job to start a company. I’ve been hugely lucky in that demand meant I was able to employ people to run the business, and my partner works full time on the company. I get to manage it creatively from a distance. That’s not to say I didn’t put the hours in during the years we built it. I’d work from 8am till 6pm on the day role, and then switch to working from 7pm to 2am in the morning on the camper business – putting my little baby girl to bed in the middle. I made some sacrifices, but it’s paid off in the long run.
Did you have a mentor or an established business person, to turn to for advice?
I have the universe! Everywhere you turn there are people with support and advice. Really getting yourself out there, networking, spending time with groups that are created to support start ups really helped. Enterprise Nation is amazing, as are Oxford Innovation and the like. In order to get our first grant we “had” to have a mentor, and we landed on our feet as ours was a woman called Belinda Waldock, who is an expert in Agile Working – it’s a thing, look it up. It’s gold dust for startups.
I wish there had been a plain English access to finance guide. Organisations try hard to build these things, but it still took me eight months to understand the financial landscape to gather the funds I needed to build the business. The British Business Bank have just launched a fab guide – I wish that had been around five years ago!
It is regularly debated that that young people should to be near London to develop their careers in their twenties. How has your location in Cornwall attributed or affected your success?
It’s helped, in many ways – mostly it’s meant I could keep a handle on my work life balance. The hardest aspect of being an entrepreneur is knowing when to switch off – it’s so good for your energy, your mind and how you treat others. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in a bubble and forget there is a world away from your computer. In Cornwall – it’s so beautiful, you can find a solace and an energy just from being in the sea all year round. I learnt that pretty late having spent most of my twenties with my head down ignoring the world, my family and my friends – I’m lucky to have remembered what’s important early in my thirties.
In terms of not being near London and debating that fact? Well… it’s never stopped me.
What has been your proudest moment/achievement in your career?
Too many to count. I adore challenges, I love being uncomfortable. The TEDX Talk I performed in front of 2000 people was pretty rad, as was being a part of the Virgin Media Business team that broke a world record. Maybe mostly, I’m proud of my brand, what I stand for, my ability to make things happen.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge to date has been changing my career. When I started at Crowdfunder it was tiny, and we built an international business from a cliff-top office in Newquay. Recently I’ve been asked to join Sir Tim Smit as his Communications Director, building a raft of new businesses. Leaving Crowdfunder was tough, starting afresh building new businesses from scratch is life-consuming, but it’s exciting, it’s raw and above all, it’s a huge challenge.
What would your advice be to someone who is debating whether they should become an entrepreneur or continue in their current company role?
I’d say do both. It is possible. You’ll gradually find a shift between the two and it’ll be easier to make a shift. If you have the passion to build your own business, you’ll find a way to make it a reality.
How do you manage and balance your time between so many different ventures? Are there any tools or tips you use or advice you swear by?
The biggest tool in my tool box is my sense of fun. Whatever I’m doing, where ever I am, I’m having fun. Sleep is really important – it makes you stronger, gives you the ability to make better decisions. Other than that – the biggest advice I have for start ups is to get out there and do it, because you can.
Has there ever been a point where you struggled to keep motivated? What did you do to break through this?
Motivation has never been an issue. I did have a hiccup last year when I’d not had a holiday for five years. In hindsight, that was silly behaviour. Everyone needs a break – and my learning from it was that taking time out is not a weakness.
What advice would you give to a young female who is struggling to stay ambitious and motivated in their career?
Find other strong females. Women are talented in supporting each other – there are some incredible networks out there, and I’ve always believed that no matter what you are doing in your career, together, we are stronger.
If you could go back in time, and give yourself one piece of advice when you left school, what would you say?
Believe in yourself. I’ve spent most of my life not fitting into boxes. I’ve always been different, and I spent a long time thinking there was something wrong with me. Turns out my differences have made me the career girl and business woman I am today. Oh – and I’d lose the “imposter syndrome” issue I had. I’d frequently question how I’d got so far in my career – but I’m pretty accepting of it now, it’s actually amazing to be good at what you do, own it and be proud.
If you could recommend one book or podcast that has helped you get where you are today, what would it be?
I read a lot – that’s such a tough question. Tuesdays with Morrie is an amazing book, as is The Happiness Project.