I have a background as a hard news journalist – so I want to get this off of my chest early – my profile of Jeni Britton Bauer is 100% not-objective. I am an unapologetic Jeni fangirl. She is, to me, a daily source of inspiration, awe and admiration. I’ve told more than one person that I want to be Jeni Britton Bauer when I grow up (never mind that she’s just a year and change older than I).
When I began sketching out what exactly this endeavor was going to look like, it was based on a list of women who inspire me – Jeni was at the top of the list. That’s why I chose her profile to kick off the Light and Love Project.
Check it out here in Harness Magazine.
To me, she epitomizes what I’m trying to do. Tune into her Instagram stories and watch as she takes some 10,000 regular viewers on adventures to other cities, sharing quirky facts she learns along the way, introducing neat people she knows or has met and generally making the online world just a little bit nicer. Her earrings should have an Instagram of their own and the number of dresses/tops she owns that have ruffles or poufy sleeves (but always in a tasteful, lovely way) must number into the thousands.
Her message is, of course, what strikes me the most. She’s positive, but not syrupy sweet about it. She recognizes hustle, revels in mistakes and delivers sermons from the driver’s seat of her souped-up Volkswagen that stick with you long after the stories disappear 24 hours later. This one, on stress in fact, made such an impact on people that she added it as a permanent link. I think I’ve watched it five times all the way through.
Watch it here.
Here’s what I love about her: She’s real. She drops the f-bomb, says “shit” on the regular, indulges in a little day drinking when she’s at a photo shoot at the Fancy Food Show, she speaks her mind but is never rude, she rocks out to a wide variety of music and doesn’t care if people are judging her. She is genuine, but understands that there are people watching her and looking up to her and she takes that role seriously.
On a personal level, her products and words of wisdom have impacted me immeasurably. The hardest decision for me every year that my PR/Communications business was going great guns was what to get clients for the holidays. I pride myself in selecting the perfect gifts that are personal, but business-appropriate. One client was Norwegian and was spending Christmas that year with his whole family in West Virginia and not back in the Arctic Circle. I was stumped on what to gift him. Then, I saw that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams was doing a Holiday Jul Collection, based off of flavors from Norway and Scandinavia – check!
He and his wife were effusive in their thanks for the gift. It took them back home he told me, and even allowed them to introduce their children to flavors they’d never had even though they’d lived for many years in Norway and Iceland. Every time I run into him – and it’s not that often since he moved on to a new assignment in Paris – he brings up the ice cream and how much his family enjoyed it. Nothing could make me happier.
Last year, I agreed to teach Intro to Public Relations at Marietta College. To me, real-world examples of PR in action is the best way to learn what it is and how to execute tactics effectively. For the week that encompassed September 11, I decided to focus on Crisis Communications. And if you know anything about PR on an academic level, you know that there are a few go-to case studies when it comes to Crisis Communications. One is September 11 and the other is the Tylenol/Cyanide poisoning issue of the early 1980s. I remember being in first or second grade when the Tylenol issue unfolded and could not imagine teaching students about crisis communications before the tools they will now be using – the internet – existed. So instead, I chose the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams listeria outbreak of 2015. ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY textbook in terms of crisis response.
So, I was remarking on Twitter, as I often do, about the heavy week my students were having – there was a lot of death and tragedy and loss discussed in my class. I remarked that since I was spending the last day on the listeria crisis, I almost wanted to give them all ice cream to sort of reward them for managing all of the negative. My husband told me it was such a “mom” thing to do, and so I resigned myself to being just another hard-assed professor and be done. Then, the Director of Communications for Jeni’s replied to my Twitter thread, “We can totally make that happen, though.” And they did! So, not only did my students learn how a corporation can respond in a responsible way to a crisis and come out with a BETTER reputation, but also the power of social media.
In my conversation with Jeni Britton Bauer for this profile, it became very apparent to me that the response I received related to my students was normal and encouraged throughout their headquarters. She takes great pride in the team that she’s built and how creating a community is their most important task. Her team revels in their diversity and the varied perspectives it affords because it helps them grow and stay connected at the same time. You get the feeling that anyone at any time can walk into her office and get something off of their chest – whether it was related to work or not – and she would stop whatever she was doing and listen.
She told me as we talked that she would die if she were in a “regular job” and perhaps that’s the core of why I am such a fangirl. I did the corporate thing and felt my soul slowly dying. Every time I consider taking an office job again, Director of Corporate Communications at Company Stuffy Stuff, I feel a gloom start to overtake me. I’m not a “regular job” kind of girl, either.
Jeni epitomizes Light and Love because even though she’s the founder of a multi-million-dollar company, a James Beard award-winning cookbook author, a Henry Crown fellow, and so many other prestigious titles – she’s never forgotten that she’s a human first.
Enjoy the profile and then go follow her on Instagram @JeniBrittonBauer