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How I Got Here: Sunday Riley’s Senior PR Manager on adaptability and making a good impression

IMAGE VIA JESS DURRINGTON

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

“Know what you want to do and go after it wholeheartedly.”

Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While the internet and social media might have us believe that our ideal job is a mere pipe dream, the individuals who have these jobs were, believe it or not, in the same position once, fantasising over someone else’s seemingly unattainable job.

But behind the awe-inspiring titles and the fancy work events lies a heck of a lot of hard work. So what lessons have been learnt and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?


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Welcome to How I Got Here, where we talk to women who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.

This week we chat to Jess Durrington, Sunday Riley’s Senior PR and Influencer Marketing Manager for Asia-Pacific. While many of us struggled with formative career decision making, Jess identified her professional trajectory as early as high school. Striking a careful balance between knowledge and experience, she landed her first job as a PR Assistant soon after graduation.

Working her way up the PR agency ladder for over eight years, Jess recently moved to an in-house role with the modern skincare brand, Sunday Riley. A long-time beauty lover with an ambitious, creative mind, Jess’ determination, enthusiasm and social skills (very important) have taken her to some pretty incredible places. Here’s what she’s learnt along the way.

What do you do and what’s your official job title?

My official job title is ‘Senior Manager, PR and Influencer Marketing Asia-Pacific’ at Sunday Riley Modern Skincare. No one day is the same but in short, I manage the press and influencer strategy from conceptualisation to execution across the Asia-Pacific region. Aside from managing and supporting our amazing team members across APAC, this includes strategy development, media relations, events, organic and paid influencer planning, outreach, retailer relationships and much more.

Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story.

To be honest, I had a very clear career trajectory from as early as high school. I think it’s important to play to your strengths in life; I identified early on I was strong at English and great at socialising. Put those two things together and you basically have a recipe for a publicist.

In all seriousness, I liked writing and I was good at it, so I naturally gravitated towards a career in journalism. I also loved the idea of event management – PR is the perfect synergy between the two. I went straight to university after high school and studied a Bachelor of Communication majoring in Public Relations. It was a three-year course and during that time I studied, worked part-time and interned a lot (more than what was required to complete my degree).

Hands-on experience is so important – for both a strong understanding of the industry and to make sure it’s the career path you want to pursue. I’m a big believer in ‘knowledge is power’ and ‘education is key’. University teaches you structure, how to work to deadlines, writing and editing skills, attention to detail, communication skills, teamwork and presentation; all skills which are super valuable in any job, but particularly in PR.

 

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A post shared by JESS. (@jessdurrington)

In saying that, a large chunk of the job is based on experience, contacts, networking and having a strong understanding of the media and digital landscape. These can only be learnt on the job, so a mix of both practical and theory was the best approach to get me into the job I wanted.

Soon after university, I landed my very first job at a PR agency as a PR Assistant. I remained agency-side for almost eight years, working my way up the ladder at a few different PR agencies specialising in beauty. Working for an agency is definitely a grind but it exposes you to so many different brands, projects, experiences and ways of working. It helps you understand both beauty and the PR industry exponentially and builds your contact base fast.

I was often managing up to seven clients at any one time, so it really gave me the exposure and experience I needed to grow into a well-rounded publicist. I then jumped ship this year to an in-house role with Sunday Riley. It was always my ambition to go in-house for a beauty brand I love, so this came at the perfect time.

What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?

There are a lot of different facets and expectations in a PR role and juggling all of that can be challenging at times. We have a term in PR strategy, ‘always on’. It basically means constant activity to generate continuous press results – but as publicists, we really are ‘always on’. We’re constantly networking and looking for opportunities – even a relaxing scroll through Instagram can very quickly become work.

This can be overwhelming at times, particularly when you’re agency-side and working with different brands and clients on multiple projects at once. In the past, there have often been times where I’ve worked on five events in seven days, so making time to slow down and switch off has definitely been challenging.

What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?

It’s not as glamorous as it looks on the outside. It takes a very strong work ethic to make it in PR and the hours are very long. While you often get to have pretty incredible experiences the average job doesn’t provide, the work behind the scenes is arduous. You have to really love it. Honestly, seeing the results at the end of a campaign you’ve worked so hard to bring to life really make it worthwhile.

What’s the best part about your role?

Can I sum it up with this TikTok? In all honesty, there are so many parts to my role that I love! I love seeing a campaign come to life from concept to execution. I love the results it can achieve for a brand you’re truly passionate about. I’m obsessed with skincare and the science behind it, so working for Sunday Riley is a dream role for me.

It’s a woman-led company that functions in a very modern and positive way. We’re treated as entrepreneurs in our own market. One of the best parts is really being able to own the role, exercise out-of-the-box creative thinking, test and learn. It always helps to work for a brand you genuinely love and whose values align with your own.

I’ve met loads of inspiring brand founders and ambassadors and worked with more beauty brands than I can remember. But ultimately, the best part is the teams I get to work with along the way. In PR, a huge part of the job is networking and relationships. I feel lucky to be able to work with so many incredibly talented people every day – including beauty editors, influencers, marketers, suppliers, event teams and more. I get to bring to life some pretty amazing campaigns with people I call my friends, so it feels strange to call it a ‘job’ sometimes.

I’ve also been lucky enough to have some incredible experiences over the years working in PR. Some of my favourites include launching and managing the PR and events for Fenty Beauty and Rihanna’s personal appearance in Sydney, a number of influencer trips (one where we shot a commercial on an aircraft), a helicopter ride over NYC and 24 hours at the One&Only Wolgan Valley.

What would surprise people about your role?

Probably the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. To deliver that press interview, influencer post or launch event often requires months of strategy, negotiations, planning, late nights, early mornings and presentation re-works. It’s a big process to ensure everything we put out is true to our brand DNA and values. It’s a lot more than just a fun event… although that’s often a big part of it.

 

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A post shared by JESS. (@jessdurrington)


What skills have served you well in your industry?

Taking every opportunity as it comes. Attention to detail and determination. Unwavering confidence, even at times of uncertainty. Being adaptable and agile in all aspects of the job – like balancing the workload, juggling multiple projects at once and learning to pivot with the industry as it became more digital-led during COVID.

Plus, ensuring I apply strategy and clear ROI to everything I do. Not every beautiful event yields the strongest result. There’s definitely a recipe to an effective campaign and this differs from brand to brand and launch to launch. It’s often a skill to know the levers for an effective campaign.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day?

Know what you want to do and go after it wholeheartedly. Be positive and have a can-do attitude – excitement and hunger is a big plus in PR and will likely get you chosen over another candidate. Go above and beyond, offer so much in your role or internship your employers couldn’t possibly imagine letting you go.

In one of my first internships at a PR agency, I ended up staying with them for longer than the three months required, taking on more days if I could fit it in my uni schedule. They ended up paying me for the days I worked to keep me around – this gave me a great head start in the industry. Also, working for an agency when you’re first starting out is a great way to kick start your career and learn very fast. It gives you visibility and experience in so many different areas of the industry.

What about a practical tip?

Relationships are key in this industry, so make a good impression on everyone you meet. Experience and a good attitude are essential. Don’t expect to do a degree and find a job straight away – put yourself out there, meet people, do internships and make an impression.

Finally, write everything down! When being briefed by a senior or anyone for that matter, get down as many notes as possible, ask questions and know the brief/project well. This was something I learnt very early on and it can make a big impression.

@jessdurrington

Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.

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