Catalyst Media Factory President Jennifer Foster shares her experience working in the public relations industry and her hidden talent swinging kettlebells.
By Cassie Kunze
Photos courtesy Jennifer Foster
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background?
My philosophy is to try (just about) anything once. I managed a retail store during college, I cloned DNA and conducted viral research. I hold bachelor’s degrees in microbiology and communications from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and have performed graduate work in public relations and communications at Wayne State University.
Following my college internship, I moved up the ladder at a local PR firm. To follow my passion for working with small and growing businesses, I launched Catalyst Media Factory in 2016 and ventured out on my own. Our fifth team member will be starting with us in June.
I volunteer as a mentor through Cornerstones Schools’ Partner Morning Mentoring Program. I’m in 7th grade this year . . . again J. I also serve as the marketing chair of the Exploring Committee of Michigan Crossroads Council, Boy Scouts of America.
My husband gives me nerd and geek cred. And keeps me grounded.
2. How did you get started in the industry?
I thought I wanted to be a doctor and did viral research on campus. After graduation, I went back to take a stats class I had wanted to take but hadn’t been able to squeeze in, and took a PR writing class. I fell in love with the work. I completed my second degree (communications) and found an internship. Haven’t looked back since!
3. What is your favorite thing about your job?
First, I have an amazing team and clients. Together, we work to help businesses spring to life — often from just the seed of an idea — into a business that also makes an impact on people and their lives. It’s a remarkable process, and when you think about how many people a new business touches, it’s even that much more amazing. From the PR side, you’re handling someone’s hope and dreams — no pressure there.
4. Can you share some of your career highlights or moments you are most proud of thus far?
Catalyst Media Factory being name among the top “Best Women-owned Startups” by the American Business Awards in 2017, our first full year in operation; being name by Crain’s Detroit Business as a 2018 Notable Woman in Marketing; and having had the opportunity or been invited to speak at a variety of events around town, including Detroit Startup Week, TechTown Detroit’s Retail Boot Camp, Inforum, the Michigan Society for Healthcare Planning & Marketing and more.
5. What does a typical day/week look like for you?
No day ever looks the same, and our to-do list is driven by our client needs and the current news cycle. A day might involve starting with a team meeting to touch base with CMF team members, perhaps helping a media outreach strategy session, then implementing website updates for a client or editing a video that needs to go to social media, pitching a client as a source for a breaking news topic or drafting an opinion-editorial piece that ties into current events; coordinating a photo shoot for a client at their location after prepping them for the interview; creating new content for that client based on images from the photo shoot and then heading off to an evening board meeting. Somewhere in there I might squeeze in lunch or coffee with a reporter or client.
6. What is something most people don’t know about you?
I am a vicious swinger of kettlebells (I once won a T-shirt for swinging the 124 lb. weight like nobody’s business!), have a degree in microbiology and did viral research where I cloned DNA and can play a few different instruments (tenor saxophone and trumpet).
7. What do you find most challenging about working in PR?
Keeping current and maintaining a wide range of skills. PR pros need to not only maintain relationships with journalists and keep up with the types of content media outlets cover, but also be able to write like a journalist, master social media, film and edit video, shoot great photos and even learn to code and build websites. And those are just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t forget, PR practitioners also need to be able to quickly learn their client’s distinct industries and nuances. It’s not just one job, but close to 50 sometimes.
8. If you weren’t in public and media relations, what would you do?
Sales. I enjoy meeting people, learning their stories and helping them. Nobody would ever call me shy or patient. And I can’t sit still, so it would have to be in an industry with a short sales cycle and where I can be up and active throughout the day.
9. How do you find balance between work and your personal life?
I think this is one of the greatest myths of all times, and so I gave up pretending there is a balance. You have a life. Your work is a significant part of your life. In PR, it’s rare you can just shut it all off. If you don’t enjoy your work and your clients, it’ll drive you mad. There’s always something to do and more to do that grabs your attention. So, I’m glad to have been able to build a company where we have clients and team members that really enjoy being in the company of each other and respect each other.
10. What was your first job growing up?
The summer after I graduated from high school, I worked at Things Remembered at Lakeside Mall. I did a lot of engraving! It was a lot of fun and did tap into my creative side.
11. What’s currently on your playlist?
It’s usually a diverse mix. Right now, it’s a little heavier on what I call the slacker side:
- lovelytheband’s “Broken”
- X Ambassadors’ “Renegades”
- A variety by The Shins, Cold War Kids, The Lumineers and the Arctic Monkeys
- Andy Gutman’s “Charlie the Caterpillar: What Can I Be Today?” (It’s a kid song, but it’s fun and upbeat.)
12. Your favorite TV show when you were a kid?
I’m still a huge “Animaniacs” fan. It’s very cerebral. Really.
13. Three things you can’t live without?
Kombucha, bookstores, lazy Saturday mornings/
14. Dream vacation destination?
Backing the 47-mile West Coast Trail in British Columbia.
15. Your current favorite local spots for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Dime Store for breakfast; Fusion Flare or Downtown Louie’s in Detroit for lunch; Prime + Proper in Detroit or J-Bird Smoked Meats in Keego Harbor for dinner.
16. Your favorite place to shop locally in Metro Detroit?
Downtown Berkley has an exceptional eclectic mix of shops; Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood in Detroit is growing and has cool retailers like Post Detroit. Cass Avenue near Wayne State is another hot spot. I mean, who can pass on the cool independent shops likes Mongers’ Provisions, Sfumato Fragrances or Source Booksellers?
17. Your go-to for a good cup of coffee?
Ashe Supply Co.
18. Favorite thing to do on a weekend in Metro Detroit?
Play pinball at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum or loiter in Ann Arbor at Pinball Pete’s and hike local trails.
19. What do you love about Detroit?
You can literally be anything you want to be, and people will jump on your bandwagon to help and support you no matter how far out the idea may seem at the time.
20. Favorite quote or words to live by?
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. – Chinese proverb