A latte with Jennifer Gaskell

Episode first aired on July 06, 2023

Season 01 Episode 04

Matisse chats with Pink Palm MarCom’s Jennifer Gaskell about how she turned her career experiences and passion into a career and business she loves.

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About our guest

Jennifer Gaskell, the founder of Pink Palm MarCom and Pink Palm Travel, is a seasoned professional in the public relations field with 20 years of experience. Graduating from the Durham College Public Relations program, she has since successfully collaborated with small and medium-sized businesses, entrepreneurs, and luxury travel brands. Jennifer’s expertise also extends to the public sector, where she has dedicated considerable time. She is also the co-founder of the Durham Women’s Network, a group of more than 6,500 women east of Toronto.
Beyond her professional accomplishments,  she finds immense joy in exploring new destinations alongside her husband and daughters, relishing the outdoors, and enjoying evenings with close friends, great food and wine.

Episode Transcript

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Hello, everyone and welcome to another episode of PR & Lattes. I’m your host, Matisse Hamel-Nelis, and I am thrilled to have you join me again today. Make sure you subscribe to our podcast wherever you’re listening to this right now to get notified each week when a new episode drops. You can also subscribe to our weekly newsletter by visiting our website, prandlattes.com. On the website, you’ll find our podcast episodes plus our amazing blogs with new ones being posted every Monday morning. And of course, make sure you’re following us on Instagram @PRAndLattes and on LinkedIn at PRAndLattes.

Today, I am chatting with Jennifer Gaskell, my PR inspiration for years, who owns not one but two businesses, Pink Palm MarCom and Pink Palm Travel. Jennifer is a seasoned professional in public relations with more than 20 years of experience under her belt. Graduating from the Durham College Public Relations program, she has since successfully collaborated with many small and mid-sized businesses, entrepreneurs, luxury travel brands, and has also had vast experience in the public sector.

She is also the co-founder of Durham’s Women’s Network, a group of more than 6,500 women east of Toronto, which is incredible. Beyond her professional accomplishments, she finds immense joy in exploring new destinations alongside her husband and daughters, relishing in the outdoors, and enjoying evenings with close friends, great food and wine. Sounds fabulous. It was an absolute pleasure chatting with her about turning her passions into her dream career. So grab your latte, sit back and enjoy.

Hello, Jennifer, and welcome to PR and Lattes. I’m so happy to be chatting with you today on the podcast. But before we dive into what I know will be an incredible conversation, let our listeners know a little bit about yourself and your own career journey in PR.

Jennifer Gaskell:

Thank you so much for having me. And I just want to congratulate you again on launching this podcast. I definitely wish that this type of resource was available to me when I was just getting started in my career.

I am a graduate of the PR program at Durham College, which was one of the best choices I ever made in my life because it opened up a world of opportunities for me when it came to my career and not just my career, but a lot of hobbies. PR is definitely a passion of mine. It has allowed me to work in the public sector doing really great work for the community, but it’s also allowed me to be able to have built some great connections with networking. I’m the co-founder of the Durham Women’s Network, and I also have my own two businesses, Pink Palm MarCom, which is a marketing and branding firm, and Pink Palm Travel, which is a passion project of mine planning sun destination travel.

So PR has opened the doors up to limitless opportunities. And for someone like me who had a real creative fire inside as a kid, it allowed me to realize all of those desires that I had.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

I love that. So has PR always been something like when you were growing up I want to go into PR, or was it down the line after experimenting, if you will, with some other opportunities that then something piqued your interest and you were like, “Ah, public relations, that’s where I need to be”?

Jennifer Gaskell:

Well, we’ve chatted before about this and talking about public relations and the evolution of it and how it’s something that you don’t really know about until you really specifically hear about the term public relations and learning about what it all entails.

So when I was a kid, I was the kind of kid who would be at my friend’s house, they had a photocopier in their basement, and I’d be cutting and pasting my own magazines together, or I’d be recording my own radio show, or I’d be writing articles or planning events. And I never really understood that those are all pieces of a bigger puzzle. I just knew that that was what I enjoyed to do in my spare time and just having fun, being creative that way.

And so I really thought about different career paths, but I never was really told by any adults in my life at the time check out public relations. It was one day when I was looking through a coursebook, I think it was for Durham College, and I just remember looking at the description of all the different semester courses and whatnot thinking that is my jam. I love everything that is going on in this diploma program. And after a lot of really thinking about the direction I wanted to go in, I’m like, “That’s it because I can do anything here.” It just made me feel like I can go to school, love going to school, and then get out and find a job that I’m going to love.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

When I was looking for what I wanted to do, I had my own trials and tribulations in figuring out what career did I want. And when I looked at what the program had to offer and what public relations really was, I was like, “Oh, everything I loved when I was in high school and in elementary school that I used to do all the time and that was the fun stuff. I can make my career out of the fun stuff. That’s phenomenal.”

Jennifer Gaskell:

Exactly. And it’s funny because as I got a little bit older, and in the program you start then, it’s like when you buy your first car, then all of a sudden every other car on the road is that car. So when I’m in the PR program, I’m sure the same with you, you’re watching movies or TV shows and it’s like, “Oh, Sex in the City, Samantha Jones, that’s PR.” But you laugh because it’s like there’s so many different kinds of PR. But then you start seeing it and you’re like, “Okay, so this is a thing and you can make your full career out of this.” And there’s so many different ways you can get into it, whether you become more of a technical writer or you get into event planning. There’s so much. I mean, you see a lot of it with the students that you’re working with.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Yeah, it’s so true. And the funny thing that you mentioned, Sex and the City and the media representation of PR, I think that might also be a bit of a hurdle for when folks don’t know what PR is. They see the media rendition, which hit-and-miss to put it nicely. It doesn’t really show all the facets of what public relations could be. And I think when parents are having those conversations, like you said, no adult talked to you about PR. Same in my world. My mother thought it was Samantha Jones type stuff. And I was like, “No, it could be so many things.” And so that education piece as well. If we’re always going to media for that representation, might not be the best, but at least it’s getting out there that it is a profession and that’s a plus. But better representation there could definitely benefit.

Jennifer Gaskell:

Yeah. But I also think it is evolving. So you see PR and now I think more and more you’re seeing it become labeled as strategic communications, which is very much, I think it represents a lot about what it all entails. But really at the end of the day, it’s relationships, relationships, relationships.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

That’s it. That should be the mantra. PR, relationships, relationships, relationships.

Jennifer Gaskell:

Totally a mouthful, but you get the point across.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Well, it wasn’t necessarily your childhood dream to be a PR practitioner, but you found it and it is now the dream, if you will. Your own career and finding where you are now or getting to where you are now has had its own challenges and changes and you name it. How did you figure out what worked best for you and what you wanted out of the career itself?

Jennifer Gaskell:

That is such a great question. So I’m going on almost 20 years since I graduated. And as I noted earlier, I spent a lot of that time in the public sector, which I loved because I had a lot of really great mentors in that space and it had a lot of interesting moments. I had a variety of what I worked on from really fun stuff in economic development and tourism to crisis communications. So you go into a career thinking, okay, I’m going to start out, but you don’t realize it really goes by fast. And so 20 years later, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, how did that just fly right by?”

But I learned through doing and just always keeping an open mind. And definitely in our chats before, we’ve talked about the importance of continuous learning. And I can’t say enough for in this field, you always have to be really on top of current events, the temperature of politics, what’s happening in the community, but also you have to keep a really good finger on the pulse of technology and what’s changing around you so that you can adapt and find new ways to reach audiences that are coming up. We are getting to a point I think with attention spans and they’re getting shorter and shorter. So I think a new challenge for PR practitioners is figuring out how do we make our sound bites even more trimmed and catchier?

So for my career, how did I evolve? I just really had to focus on mastering certain skillsets. But when I got to a point where I felt like, okay, I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve learned everything I can learn maybe about a particular topic. And in the public sector, you can move around, so I’ve done public health and tourism and social services. And so moving around those areas was a really great way to learn about the community and it kept it really fresh for me. And so some people, what they think PR, it’s agency work. And I think that’s very fast-paced, but as long as you have that variety, to keep things fresh because, as you know, no two days are the same.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Never. Never. And that’s the best part is the fact that there is variety and you’re not going to get bored no matter if you’re in-house or at agency or wherever you’re at. Things are always changing and evolving and there’s something new and new ideas coming out that you’re going to have to work on and help with. And so it allows for that constant revitalization, if you will. Every day you get rejuvenated and to be like, “Great, I get to do something new today.”

Jennifer Gaskell:

Yeah. And so with me, there was definitely a point though, where because I have changed careers, from employers even, and then starting up my own businesses, but I think one of the biggest lessons out of it all was don’t be afraid to do that, kind of be confident that you know what you’re doing. You’ve spent so much time learning about it in school with the experience of doing, learning from other people, building a circle or network around, you have mentors. Mentors can be people that have been in the business for a long time, longer than you, but mentors can also be younger than you because they can teach you about up-and-coming things.

So it’s just knowing that you have that in place and being able to leap and not be afraid because I think we do get a little bit scared as we get older I think to make changes, but it’s such a good thing. It’s freeing. It’s without that holding you back, you’re potential’s amazing.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

So once you’ve realized you needed maybe, let’s say, something different or a little bit more, what was that aha moment that you realized you could merge your passion for travel and your passion for communications to really pivot your career?

Jennifer Gaskell:

It was during COVID, at the beginning of COVID. And I think that was a very hard… And it was a very hard time for people, but it also was a very… It was disruptive. It created a lot of energy I think. People were home. And I used that time to really think about what did I want to do? And I was able to take the, I think, initial energy of that was inside of me of I feel like this is a time for change. And so at that time, I did leave one of my jobs of 16, 17 years at the time because I did feel like you know what? I’ve done everything I can do here and I do think that the direction it’s going, I can stay and certainly live a comfortable life, but I want more.

So I at that point did all the things, and it was major research mode of the PR planner in me came out and just really trying to understand what does it look like to formalize all the things that I have done for other people and to become your own boss? It’s like, “What does that mean?” And I honestly could not believe how much came to me as soon as I freed up space and time to do it. It literally landed on my lap. And I had some really amazing people who are now great friends, great business partners come in and wanted to collaborate. And that is magic. That’s the magic zone for me is when people come in together and they want to create that magic. It’s like you could do great things yourself, but you could do amazing things with others. Right? Yeah.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

I absolutely love that. Oh, fantastic. And as you mentioned at the beginning, you have these two incredible businesses that I absolutely love following, Pink Palm MarCom and Pink Palm Travel. What helped you feel comfortable in taking that jump to become your own boss? So you did the research, it was kind of pandemic-driven and everyone changing and that sort of thing, but what was it that said, it’s time, it was time?

Jennifer Gaskell:

You know what? Based on just feeling that energy in me, the collaborative spirit of people reaching out to me, especially for marketing and communications. For MarCom, that was really based on just knowing I had a really strong network of… One of my best friends is a photographer. And when I looked at my best friends, I’m like, “We’re all in communications, whether we’re graphic designers or web specialists or photographers, whatever that looks like.” I’m like, “I can do this.” It just felt so empowering to just jump blindly into this wonderful, wonderful space. And I found that it was incredible because I had support.

And with travel, it was something that I had really longed for to have that creativity in marketing the travel piece. But it’s a combination of marketing, travel and being able to travel, enjoy it, and also plan special memories for other people. And after the pandemic, so many people wanted to have those special memories with others. And being able to help people plan travel really helped me. So I was just so incredibly happy and grateful to be able to have those two businesses that were just both passions of mine.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Amazing. Whether it was just from the Pink Palm MarCom, Pink Palm Travel. I get tongue-tied when I’m saying it because I haven’t my second coffee today. But when it comes to either company, what did you find were your biggest learning opportunities or opportunities that you felt you needed to, let’s say, “fail” to then become even better at them?

Jennifer Gaskell:

That’s a fantastic question. And I think with MarCom, Pink Palm Marcom, really understanding that when you’re putting together a business, you’ll often second guess yourself and you’ll be like, “Oh, am I good enough to be doing this?” The imposter syndrome sets in. And it’s a really hard thing because doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the business for a year, 10 years, 20 years, I think it’s something that a lot of people deal with and it can make you feel like you’re going to second guess a lot of your decisions. Should I be charging this much for a client? And not understanding your worth of the experience and the value that you bring.

And so that was a big challenge and a hurdle to overcome because that’s an internally focused issue that I don’t think you really ever get over. You really will have to struggle with that for life at times. You’re always going to be, in different aspects of your life there is that aspect of human nature where we do second guess ourselves.

But I will say I’ve learned to take that and use it for good. So where I do feel like, oh, I need to really brush up on being able to lead with pricing that feels good to me and the selling part may be uncomfortable. It’s like, “Well, get comfortable with it because that’s part of owning a business and you have to be able to sell.” And that energy exchange of paying for services, you’re giving a valuable service. Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re going to charge. After doing all the research and learning, what’s a market rate that you should be charging and based on the service you’re providing? It’s absolutely crucial that you feel confident asking for that. That’s one really important aspect.

And then from the travel side, I think I have really loved working with different brands and suppliers. I’ve been so lucky to be able to connect with suppliers like Sandals, for example. I had a friend who was on a masterclass call with Sandals with agents across Canada and they’re like, “Oh.” They’re like, “Jen, they featured you saying your marketing business plan is the one that everybody needs to check out because it’s just so detailed.” And I’m like, “That’s where my comms experience comes in.” But those kind of things, it just makes me so happy. And building those brand relationships and really learning about the world very far outside of what you may be used to is so important.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

That’s fantastic. And I love that, you don’t even have to be in the room. You’ve created this persona or brand for yourself that people know who you are without needing to be in the room. That is fantastic.

Jennifer Gaskell:

I still, honestly, this is where the imposter syndrome kicks in because I’m like, “It’s just me,” but I’m proud. I will say, “You know what?” And this is a point where I’m like, “Oh my gosh, when you reached out to me, I was to connect and to be on the podcast, I was really like that is incredible.” And I did write that down because I do keep track of the things that I’m so grateful for and of accomplishments. And this made it on that list because I’m like, “That feels great to be reached out to.” So thank you so much.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

You’re very welcome. And something you said that I did not like, and I say this in a loving way, that you said, “It’s just me.” No, it’s you. That is the phenomenal part that it’s you versus saying it’s just me. No, it’s the phenomenal me. I get it.

Jennifer Gaskell:

Thank you.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

That’s how we’re going to look at it going forward.

Jennifer Gaskell:

I love it. Well, I’m so excited. I think you’re fantastic. And I just want to bring this up because you don’t talk about your own strengths. Just everything you’re doing in the field of accessibility is absolutely wonderful. And just this morning I was chatting with a friend who is working, she’s a website coordinator, and still it’s the challenges of getting accessible documents online. And I’m like, “You know what? I’m so glad that that’s something you’ve integrated into the DC PR program is getting students into the mindset that accessibility begins at the very beginning of the project.” So I just have to throw that out there because you’re amazing.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Thank you. That’s very, very sweet of you. Thank you so much. The phenomenal us. There we go.

Jennifer Gaskell:

Yes.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

So going back to the business-owning and the lessons learned and that sort of thing, what advice would you give any other public relations professional who’s starting to think about or is debating whether or not to become their own boss and take that leap?

Jennifer Gaskell:

So you definitely, like I said before, you have to have a really open mind to learning on the spot, self-learning, self-led learning. There’s times where the laptop is always on the go with me and it’s because I enjoy it, but I’m also really building in a ton of time to just continue to learn. But learning doesn’t always mean classroom learning. It can mean online learning. It can mean talking to people that you’ve never spoken with before to understand different perspectives. It can mean learning about new technology.

But I think my biggest lesson is that being able to consistently be curious has kept my career fresh and it’s helped me to really move into a space where I never thought it was possible. So I’m so happy that even if tomorrow I had to totally move into a totally different space, I feel confident because I’m like, “I’ve got this learning thing down pat. I could do it.” Sometimes I’m maybe a Pink Palm boutique with sundresses. Could I do it? Could I get into the retail space? And also have a travel pop-up location. Do it all from the one little spot. Just be open-minded and keep learning, keep going.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Amazing. What’s next for Jennifer?

Jennifer Gaskell:

Travel. Lots of travel and learning. This summer, I’m really excited, I’m going back to Europe after 15 years. So going to Iceland, which is going to be a really amazing time. Usually, I’m going into sun destinations, so this will be a bit different. But in terms of career, I just can’t wait to continue working with community contacts. In travel, I really want to keep exploring brand partnerships that are really fulfilling and help people plan amazing bucket-list trips that they’ve really been dreaming about their whole lives.

And then also with MarCom, I’m at a point in my life too where I really love talking with younger students and just giving them some really candid, just chatting about what’s the world like right now? How has it changed post COVID? What are we looking at in terms of the way business has even changed? So that’s one thing I love. And as I see more young people that are getting involved in communications, I am excited to be able to share words with them, but also learn from them. So I see a lot of that in my future, a lot of more getting together, networking, getting out for lunches, all those wonderful things.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

I love that. I love that. That’s a great what’s next I think. Just the I don’t know, but I can’t wait to see it and this is how I’m going to explore it though.

Jennifer Gaskell:

Isn’t that, that’s the word PR answer ever. Because I did not have a key message ready for that. If I had a key message, it would be, yeah, I don’t even know. You know what? Part of me, Matisse, I just feel sometimes it’s great to have a plan that is mapped out on paper, but you also need to be really comfortable with uncertainty because the world, we don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s AI, there’s all this stuff, and so you got to be able to go with the flow.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Yeah, exactly. And that’s the thing, what’s next for Jennifer? What’s next for any of us? We don’t know, but this is how I’m going to find it out. Right?

Jennifer Gaskell:

You got it.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

And you were saying the networking and the travel and all that stuff. So I think that’s a good game plan for what’s next.

Jennifer Gaskell:

Absolutely.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

And finally, the listeners can’t see your incredible mug, which says Squad Goals and then has an illustration of the Golden Girls, which are my favorite. We are PR & Lattes here, so I have to ask what caffeinated beverage is in your cup when it comes time to dive deep into your work?

Jennifer Gaskell:

Oh, that is such a great question. I am pretty simple, so I like my coffee. So just regular old percolated coffee with cream only, no sugar.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

And if you had to go to a Starbucks or a fancy establishment?

Jennifer Gaskell:

Double espresso.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Double espresso. Love it. Love it. Well, thank you so much, Jennifer, for being on the episode today. Before we hop off, please let the listeners know how they can learn more about Pink Palm MarCom and Pink Palm Travel.

Jennifer Gaskell:

Thank you so much again. And you can come and check out my website, pinkpalm.ca and pinkpalmtravel.ca.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Amazing. Thank you so much.

Jennifer Gaskell:

Matisse, it was a pleasure and I can’t wait to see you in person soon.

Matisse Hamel-Nelis:

Likewise, likewise.

You’ve been listening to the PR & Lattes podcast. Make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so you can get notified each week when a new episode drops. You can also subscribe to our weekly newsletter by visiting our website, prandlattes.com. On the website, you’ll find our podcast episodes as well as amazing blogs with new ones being posted every Monday morning. And of course, make sure to follow us on social, on Instagram @PRAndLattes, and on LinkedIn. I’ve been your host, Matisse Hamel-Nelis. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next week with a new latte and guest. Bye for now.

 

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