A seasoned lifestyle, luxury, food and beverage, and entertainment media specialist, Ilana Rubin Dvir leads the fast growing lifestyle division at Jennifer Bett Communications (JBC), a media relations firm approaching PR in a way that speaks directly to consumers with meaningful narratives and elevates brands and founders through strategic thought leadership.
Since JBC’s launch in January 2014, the company’s clientele has almost entirely been represented by early-stage, venture-backed companies — 80 percent of which have been female-founded and/or run by women.
With nearly a decade of experience in media relations and brand storytelling, Dvir spearheads the planning and execution of integrated public relations programs for her clients, with a proven track record for generating top-tier coverage across all media verticals, including business and thought leadership features. In 2018, she was named one of Observer’s 15 Most Powerful Rising Stars in PR.
We caught up with her to learn more about her career and how she’s helping to drive growth at some of today’s most exciting food and beverage brands.
ForceBrands: Tell us first about your background. What inspired your career in PR?
Ilana Rubin Dvir: Growing up, I actually wanted to be on Broadway. Performing and theater were big passions of mine, but once I realized that it was a bit of a pipe dream, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career that still allowed me to be creative, interact with people and support the arts. Communications was the perfect fit and I dove right in with my studies and internships while I was at the University of Maryland. I started my career in entertainment PR, working with television networks and supporting the entertainment marketing arms of big brands and corporations. Once I made the transition to lifestyle and consumer PR at JBC, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to build a lifestyle division centered around my other big passion — food and beverage.
FB: What’s unique about JBC’s approach to PR?
IRD: At JBC, we are firm believers that brands have many stories to tell, even if they don’t know it yet. For so long, PR agencies have been tasked with one of two objectives: generate awareness within a target consumer set to drive sales or elevate the brand within the business arena through thought leadership. JBC was founded to serve our clients holistically and do both of these things, simultaneously and consistently. We know that by leaning into unique brand narratives — whether that be centered around the founder, sustainability efforts, ingredient profiles, etc. — we can further humanize our brands and shift purchasing power in their direction. Data is also a big part of how we approach PR at JBC. We use data to guide our ongoing brand strategies. What placements are driving traffic and conversion, which aren’t, and what does that say about where the audience is consuming media? Are consumers engaging with your brand in a unique way via social or on your website? Is a certain product selling out incredibly fast? These are all questions we ask ourselves and our brands regularly so that we can tell those stories.
FB: You work with some of the buzziest, innovative food and beverage brands in the industry. How do you identify new clients?
IRD: Thank you, it’s been a lot of fun working with these brands (like Magic Spoon, Recess, and United Sodas) and bringing them to market, or reinvigorating their messaging and media presence if they’ve already launched. Because of the work that the team has done and our track record of success, many brands, both pre and post-launch, have come to us for their PR needs. When determining which clients to bring into our agency roster, we look for brands that are not only filling a void in their respective industries, but that also have a larger story to tell beyond its traditional endemic media. We want the clients we bring on to be the “news” in and of themselves so that we can continuously create new narratives that will attract the attention of consumers and convert them into loyal brand advocates.
FB: Are there certain star qualities brands possess that make them not only great clients but ultimately successful companies?
IRD: Absolutely. There are several qualities that we look for when working with our clients:
• Category disruption: The brands we love working with most not only have set goals to disrupt and reinvent major categories, but they are doing so in a completely new way. With Magic Spoon, for example, cereal fell out of favor with today’s millennial consumer, but by reimagining the nostalgic classic into a better-for-you option, all while being delivered straight to your door instead of in the cereal aisle, they’ve created a completely new way of shopping for this grocery staple. When Recess launched, they were way ahead of the CBD trend, introducing the first sparkling water in the category. But since then, they’ve continued to reinvent themselves and broaden their brand with the introduction of creative content, merchandise, and collaborations — all with the goal to build a new industry-defining relaxation category.
• Branding: It’s important to have a strong sense of identity across all facets of a new brand. The tone, personality, typography, photography, messaging — these elements all need to be consistent across any form of external conversation. This also includes knowing your audience. United Sodas is a great example here. They knew that variety and diversity were pillars of their brand, and with that used color to evoke these feelings.
• Community Building: Know which social media platforms are most important to your audience and create strategies to grow your audience there. Magic Spoon and Recess do this incredibly well on Instagram, from a top notch influencer strategy to building can personalities via tongue-in-cheek illustrations, respectively. For a brand like Haven’s Kitchen, tapping into their cooking school community helped propel their CPG sauce line. For them, newsletters have been key, and a way to engage with those that have dedicated their time to living the brand ethos.
• Founder Stories: Customers value feeling connected to the brands they support and something we do very differently is placing an emphasis on founder storytelling to really elevate the visionaries behind these exciting new brands. On equal footing with product press, it’s absolutely imperative that founders have a strong voice and presence. Take Ben Pasternak, the young yet incredibly bullish founder of SIMULATE (NUGGS). He’s created a brand with a bold long-term mission, but is building a company that uses humor to lighten the conversion around plant-based eating and make it an easy decision for those questioning it.
• Excellent Product: At the end of the day, you can have all of these things, but if the product itself doesn’t live up to the hype, you won’t get repeat customers. So if we’re talking about a healthy food brand, you simply cannot sacrifice taste. The flavors have to be just as superb as the nutritional panel.
FB: What do brands today get wrong as it relates to PR?
IRD: In my opinion, brands that focus too heavily on one media vertical or one storytelling avenue aren’t setting themselves up for success for widespread awareness. Today more than ever before, consumers are getting their news and making purchasing decisions based on a variety of sources, so it’s in a brand’s best interest to reach them where they are — and that can be via broadcast, digital, podcasts, Instagram, TikTok, among a variety others. At JBC, we are constantly auditing the media landscape to see what’s new so that we are one step ahead of a potential new storytelling channel and make the right connections to get our clients in early.
FB: How has your work shifted during COVID-19? Are there certain storylines or narratives that have become more prominent and popular than others?
IRD: Our agency’s mission, to drive purposeful storytelling for our brands, has remained our north star through this crisis. While that overarching strategy has not changed, what has changed is how we continue to storytell while simultaneously reevaluating the communications plans we set in place prior to the onset of the pandemic. The narratives and initiatives that may have worked just months ago are no longer viable, so we’ve had to work quickly and diligently to adjust long-standing plans and find creative and compassionate ways to engage our brands consumers on an ongoing basis. As we are all living in a new normal, the stories that have resonated the most are those that speak to how we are living today, from consumer purchasing shifts to surprising moments of resilience.
Understanding that thought leadership is a crucial piece in building ongoing brand awareness, JBC built an entire division dedicated to this practice. As many conferences and speaking engagements have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19, we quickly adjusted our approach and tailored it to this new digital world. We’ve been able to tap into new online events and Instagram experiences (live chats, etc.), with founders sharing their expertise and learnings from this new business landscape to consumers and like-minded entrepreneurs.
FB: What do you find most rewarding about your work?
IRD: The most rewarding part of our work at JBC is seeing a brand enter the market successfully, and with a lot of buzz. Or, in the case of reintroducing a brand, witnessing how our approach can make them believe in the power of PR again. After months (or weeks) in the making, it’s incredible to have all of your hard work and dedication out in the wild, and to see that others believe in a brand or a product just as much as you do.
FB: In today’s digital age, PR especially is a 24/7 job. What keeps you up at night?
IRD: Right now? My newborn son! But as it relates to PR, JBC does a really great job at separating work and home, especially when the two are more intertwined than ever before. We all need a break to focus on ourselves and our mental health, and we hope that the job isn’t what causes restless nights. Of course, there are times when we need to put in extra hours in advance of a launch or big brand moment, but we tackle that as a team.
FB: What excites you most about the future of JBC?
IRD: I’ve talked a lot about our amazing clients here, but the future of JBC relies on continuing to bring in and nurture talent. It excites me to think about how our team members have grown into best-in-class publicists, and seeing them in turn mentor the next generation of storytellers.