Jessica Hartley: Amplifying progressive ideas

Amsterdam-based PR specialist Jessica Hartley has just launched her own business, For The Right Reasons. Mark Tungate chats to her about the reasoning behind the new venture.

par Mark Tungate , AdForum

Full disclosure: I’ve known Jess Hartley for years. Since 2006, in fact, when I was researching a book about the history of advertising. Jess was working as a PR for the Amsterdam agency 180 at the time. I showed up at their office overlooking the canal with a dreadful cold: nose streaming and eyes rimmed with red. Jess took one look at me and whisked me off to lunch. Two glasses of Cointreau later, I felt entirely better.

I’ve been a fan ever since. And of course she’s supplied me with countless great stories. So when Jess announced that she was launching her own PR studio, on her 50th birthday no less, I had to write about it.

Her new enterprise has a nifty name: For The Right Reasons. So, obvious first question – why?

“I like it because it’s a bit of a catchphrase for me,” she says. “It’s something I’ll ask: ‘Are they doing it for the right reasons?’ It’s about intent and whether somebody is serious about what they’ve embarked on. It’s a barometer for me in my own work as well.”

The right reasons can be ethical or moral – and Jess does a lot of purpose-driven work – but not only. “It can also be about personal taste. Is something funny? Is it a great idea? Is it cool? These can be perfectly good reasons for taking a project on. And it’s important for me to ask myself that, because once I get involved in something, I tend to go all-in.”


"This is not about popping some PR on the end of a project"


I know this to be true. Jess has been involved in several projects with Bas Korsten, who currently heads creative innovation at VML – including the ground-breaking “The Next Rembrandt”, the life-changing “School For Justice”, and the fabulous “Mammoth Meatball” – and she’s always been considered integral to the team.

Other clients who she works with regularly include the denim brand G-Star, athletics brand On, production house HALAL, VML Singapore, and numerous agencies in both the Netherlands and Germany, including Soursop and SuperHeroes in Amsterdam, and Heimat and Accenture Song in Berlin and Hamburg respectively. The thread that runs through her work, and her new agency’s mantra, is “amplifying progressive ideas”.

“This is not about popping some PR on the end of a project. It’s about working with clients structurally and strategically, from the very beginning of an idea. How do we give it an edge? How do we supercharge this? I typically come aboard at the development stage. I think that’s something only people who’ve worked with me are aware of.”

I’ve always considered her a sort of next level freelancer, but she says she wanted to formalize her standing. “I feel like the proposition I offer is very clear, so I wanted to make it tangible. I do things rather differently to others and to me that warranted its own brand.”

Jess has been building this project for over three years, recruiting a team, refining her message and creating the website. “Even as all these pieces were coming together, it never seemed to be quite the right time to launch. Partly because I had work to do, and partly because I’m not entirely at ease with talking about myself – I spend my time talking about other people.”

Finally, her 50th birthday was looming. “There was no getting around that date. It was the obvious time to launch. I also think it’s important to have women in our industry who are over fifty becoming more visible, not less. And of course it’s always a good idea to have a deadline.”


"If you want to know what's going on, just hang out at the studio"


It promises to be a very contemporary operation. It’s certainly multi-generational, as well as global: Jess says her youngest collaborator is in their early 20s and lives in Vietnam, while the oldest is in their early 60s and lives in France. The structure is flexible and agile, respecting the needs and time of everyone involved.

Gratifyingly, the work she does in Germany sprang from the Epica Awards show in Berlin, back in 2017. “The Epica Awards in Berlin were a real catalyst for me. So much of the work I do in Germany was sparked by that one trip. There was so much going on there that I didn’t know about.” 

I noticed she’d referred to her new business as a “PR studio”, rather than an agency. Semantics, or is there a message behind the choice? “It was definitely intentional. Creativity and craft are at the core of what I do and the things I work on, so ‘studio’ felt in tune with that notion.”

She also observes that, over the many days and hours she’s spent working at agencies, she’s often found herself in the studio. “It’s where everything comes together. There’s always humour. Creativity, of course. It’s the heart of the agency. If you want to know what’s going on, just hang out at the studio. So it felt like the right terminology – even though for us, it’s purely virtual.”


"There's a feeling that it's very open here"


The production side of the business is in her DNA. When she was young, despite her dad’s initial disapproval, she wanted to work on music videos – which she ended up doing in the buzzy Soho of the 1990s. “I was regularly on set, heavily involved in the production side. But while all that was amazing, I also had an urge to write, and I felt I was neglecting that part of me.”

She transitioned into advertising and PR at the great Trevor Robinson’s then shiny new agency, Quiet Storm. “They were doing a number of revolutionary things. They had advertising and production together, which was unheard of. They had female creatives, also fairly rare back then. I discovered PR as a discipline, which kept me close to the work, while also allowing me to write. Trevor was instrumental in moving me into that realm.”

In the early 2000s she noticed the cool work that was suddenly pouring out of Amsterdam, for brands like Nike and Adidas from agencies like Wieden+Kennedy and…180, where this article began.

“I loved a film 180 had made for Adidas called ‘Laila’, with Laila Ali. When I saw it, I started emailing and cold-calling them, basically knocking on their door. And in fact they said, ‘Actually, we could use some help with PR.’ I came over for a project, and ended up working with them for five years.”



The excitement and dynamism of that experience set the tone for how she’s worked ever since, with a high level of enthusiasm and commitment. Amsterdam has remained a hub of international creativity, and Jess works in English, Dutch and German. “There’s a feeling that it’s very open here, both easy to get to and easy to reach out to the rest of Europe. I think it would be harder to do what we do in, say, France.”

Returning to the name of her agency, she admits that the conception of what’s “right” is highly subjective. “There’s a bit of tension there. It could be somewhat controversial. But to be honest, I’m comfortable with that. You have to choose a direction. Sitting in the middle of the road doesn’t make a good story!”