The Devil Wears Vans, Jessica Becker
There was no sign, just numbers on giant doors. But sure enough, it was Ludlow House. We went to the second floor and spotted a woman in an orange beanie, Vans and a quirky smile. We knew it was her.
Jessica Becker is a former Londoner, now based in New York as the Director of U.S. and Canada at Manifest Group. Very distinguished with her British accent (peppered with curse words which she immediately apologizes for) and warm personality; it foreshadowed what would be a great conversation. Described as The Devil Wears Vans at the office (as a joke!), she is the fearless leader of Manifest’s New York office in DUMBO and a key driving force in implementing its unique company culture, kickstarted by the company’s founder, UK-based Alex Myers, and shared internationally across sister offices in London and Stockholm.
Manifest is a creative comms agency like no other. It’s shaking up the communications industry by delivering bold, brilliant and beautiful campaigns across the entire media spectrum. They demonstrate a crazy level of creativeness, but it’s creativity with a purpose. They do some “wacky shit” as Becker puts it, but everything has a purpose to it and a higher meaning.
You only have to look at a couple of their recent campaigns to realize that Jessica and her team are not messing around. They’re scooping up prestigious industry accolades against the likes of global brands such as McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.
In a recent campaign for sex toy company, Hot Octopuss, Jessica and her team threw open the doors to the world’s first orgasm pop-up in the Lower East Side. Women were invited to have a one-on-one with a sex therapist and then try out what they’d learnt in the changing room at the rear of the store. You walk out as a whole new woman and well, find that ladies cum, first.
And for craft beer brand BrewDog, they announced plans to open a bar straddling the US - Mexico border in a bid to stop Trump building his wall. The US side would stock Mexico beers, and the Mexico side, American beers. Because we should make beer, not walls, right?
Both projects unsurprisingly sent the press and social media into a frenzy, creating waves of awareness and ultimately driving sales. It’s this kind of work and braveness that gets Jessica excited and drives people to want to work at the agency that’s increasingly gaining a reputation for one not afraid to do things other agencies wouldn't dare touch. In fact, “maintain a healthy disregard for the impossible” is one of the company’s core values and if you’re a brand that just wants to do the same old thing, then you’re probably not right for Manifest, she says.
Culture is key says Becker… “nothing is bigger than the team.” As such, Manifest has created a work space that allows room for mistakes, growth, purpose, and empowerment. Jessica doesn’t want a “revolving door” of employees so she makes it her mission to foster transparent relationships with her ten-strong team. She’s big on the “no blame game” rule and aims to give her troops breathing room and autonomy to own their own projects, in the knowledge that she’ll support them if they fail and help them celebrate with a drink or 20, when they succeed.
When it comes to hiring, Becker says: Hiring is hard but I learnt early on to hire people smarter than me. Don’t be afraid of people who know more, because ultimately it becomes a win for the collective as a whole.”
Growing up, Becker’s wanted to be a journalist, like many folks who end up in Public Relations. Merging her passions of writing and socializing, Becker made the natural move into the comms agency almost a decade ago in London, and hopped across the pond to America in January 2017, hoping to live a “Sex & The City life” but in reality, more living a “Girls” life. In her 15 months in New York, she’s tripled the size of the team, picked up a ton of new clients, widened its offering to also include influencer relations and brand identity, and created a tight-knit family of misfits that “just works”.
Becker speaks fondly of the amazing people she’s gotten to work with in her various roles and feels she’s stolen the best bits from all of them to get where she is today. What was the best advice she was ever given?
don’t piss off anyone in the industry for the sake of it - not even the intern who can’t photocopy properly - because you never know if one day you’ll be pitching their business or asking if they want to cover your story.
And that is so true. It really does not hurt to be nice.
For someone who is an outsider to the States, we had to ask something political. We hit Becker with what she thought about American politics - she simply said: it’s a shit show. It’s like a soap opera. Outsiders are watching and rolling their eyes at America.
How would Becker do it all differently if she was Trump’s publicist? At this point, anyone who is in his administration is finished once he’s out of the White House, she says. “If I was his wife, I would publicly divorce him as well. If I was his publicist, I would resign. That is the only way to ever hope to come back after this cluster fuck.”
Well, damn girl. #same.
As we wrap up our interview, the last question BECKons - where did she see herself in a few years? Her response:
I want people to say “oh you’re THAT agency that did THAT campaign.” Recognition for our work across America is the goal, because ultimately, that’s what gets us all up in the morning and if other people get excited about it, then we’ve nailed it.”
We can see that happening! Throughout the entire conversation, what we loved most about Becker is not only that she’s truly an expert in her field, but she’s open and honest. She’s truly authentic and has no filter - and you know how we love our women: #unfiltered.
Interviewed by Chary + Emily
Transcribed by Chary