Jennifer Thompson on Helping Employees Succeed

May 1, 2019

Jennifer Thompson Highlights

Current job title: President/CEO, Thompson & Co. Public Relations
Previous executive roles: President, Bernholz & Graham
Other leadership positions: Chair, Counselors Academy Spring Conference 

You are chair of the Counselors Academy Conference this month. What leadership lessons have you learned from previous spring conferences?

There is no shame in failure. We sometimes fail, but it can lead to our success if we accept responsibility and recover quickly. Leaders must also take strategic risks.

I’ve learned to understand what motivates my employees by focusing on individual motivators. I must consistently live my agency’s values — through my actions, not just my words. No leader is perfect, and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Taking time to rest makes me a better leader. I don’t need to be at the agency 24/7. I’ve learned to express gratitude to my staff, clients and family.

As chair, you’re conducting the orchestra, a combination of many people who make it successful. All of us still lead our own agencies, in addition to serving on this committee. I’ve had to learn to be patient as we pull all the pieces together. Things don’t always move as fast as we’d like, but the knowledge that members are counting on us to bring value to them via this conference is a driving force.

When did you realize you weren’t just a PR pro or manager, but a leader?

The day I bought Bernholz & Graham, and renamed it Thompson & Co. I realized that for this endeavor to succeed, I had to be the one to lead it.

In some ways, that moment was also a loss for me, because it meant I would no longer get to do the fun, day-to-day PR work that I loved so much. My time would be spent steering the ship, rather than rowing the oars.

Like some women, I initially struggled with imposter syndrome [when someone doubts his or her own accomplishments and fears being exposed as inauthentic], until I noticed people listening to what I was saying and taking it seriously. My opinion was suddenly valued and could help move organizations forward.
Having a team of employees is significant. Our conversations aren’t all PR-related; they’re also about leading, guiding and mentoring a young staff to succeed. Those things are extremely important to me.

What was your worst leadership faux pas, and how did you overcome it?

Oh, I have had so many. But the biggest and most painful lesson I ever learned was that at some point, everyone at my agency other than me will leave for another job. Early in my agency ownership I had a senior person leave, and my reaction to it was less than graceful.

Loyalty is one of the most prominent values at my agency. I thought it meant that no one would leave. But agencies tend to be where PR practitioners hone their chops before moving on to corporate jobs.

It was years before I learned not to take it personally when someone left. As a leader, my job should be to lift up my employees and encourage them to succeed wherever they may go — not to be offended when they’re ready to move on. Without change, there is rarely growth.

What would you like your leadership legacy to be?

I hope to be remembered for valuing my staff and clients, caring more about their careers and success than my own, and for showing that I could balance things in life that were important to me — giving equal priority to my company, family, friends and personal life. And I hope to be remembered for always putting people before money.

I hope my legacy will be that I lifted people up and set an example by being driven but also kind, that my employees didn’t need to work 80 hours a week to be successful, and that I always had their backs, in good times and bad.

Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. Visit his website ( and contact him by email ( or Twitter (@KensViews).


Steve Cody says:

Great stuff, Ken. Reminds me of the Spring Conference I chaired circa 2002. It was scheduled to be held right in the midst of the SARS epidemic (talk about dating myself) and scores and scores of counselors who had registered began canceling their trips. I was in panic mode and called the late, great Mike Herman (who was the board chair at the time) and suggested we cancel the conference. Mike laughed one of those patented deep-throated laughs of his and said: ”Absolutely not. So what if we only have 70 or so attendees? They’ll get even more personalized attention and have much greater access to speakers, senior members of CAPRSA, etc. The show will go on.” It did. And Mike was right. We received rave reviews from the small group that braved the SARS scare and attended.

May 3, 2019