International Women’s Day celebrates women all over the world for the challenges they face and overcome, along with the contribution and values they bring to their families, communities, businesses, and the world. To acknowledge their pivotal role in society, we focus on one woman who truly embodies these values.
Communications industry leader and entrepreneur, Jacki McEwen-Powell, the founding partner of the award-winning full-service communications agency, Eclipse Communications, talks about her business journey and how she balances work and life commitments and provides inspiration for other women on a similar journey.
Something which many women can relate to is taking the plunge to start a business with little/no resources, a family to take care of, and nothing but sheer grit to make it work. Jacki McEwen-Powell did exactly that – with a borrowed computer, a telephone line, and a newborn baby on her lap, she started her PR career and built this company from scratch.
During school holidays, she spent time at the PR agency where her mother worked, and this is where she developed her passion for PR. She went on to obtain a diploma, and then a Bachelor’s Degree in the field. She cleverly invested in an endowment policy at age 21, and when it matured, she used the money to open her own PR agency, then Meier & McEwen, which became Eclipse Public Relations, and today, Eclipse Communications.
“I was lucky enough to start my business with one client, which enabled me to draw a small salary,” she explained. However, she soon added Cape Union Mart, Master Builders Association, GVK, and others, which remain, clients, today, 22 years on.
Eclipse Communications has evolved into a full-service communications agency offering public relations, digital media strategy and execution, content creation, influencer management and relations, event management and production, and more. The agency’s client base had grown astronomically, with the likes of Netflix, McCain, Mondi, Enel Green Power SA, Pfizer, Nespresso, Pfizer, Woolworths, and Country Road Group to name a few.
Work-life balance is not an easy one to achieve. McEwen-Powell says, “As a new mom when I started my own business, I understand the balancing act women have between work and home life. When you’re growing an agency, your personal life, sadly, is neglected. I was fortunate to have help and support from my family, especially my mother. Achieving balance is easier now, 22 years on, with the help of my exceptional business partner and a strong leadership team, this enables me to step back a little. Now I get to do a little of what I love such as painting, drawing, reading, dancing, and travelling.”
She also realised early that no two women are the same in terms of their current circumstances or future career and family plans. “It was therefore important to build a culture and structure where all staff has the freedom to work when and where they can do their best work, take care of their family commitments (or build a new family), and still deliver to our clients. This is a fundamental principle of our business (Guiding your Growth), whether you’re an intern or the managing director, and regardless of your age,” she says.
In 2013, McEwen-Powell was a finalist in the Business Woman of the Year Awards, and under her leadership, the agency has garnered multiple awards including PRISMs, Loeries, New Generation, and Creative Circle Awards, as well as the coveted PRISM Best Large PR Consultancy Award in 2020, which is particularly close to her heart. And ending 2020 on a high note, Eclipse walked away with the FM AdFocus Public Relations Agency of the Year Award.
McEwen-Powell says, “The agency’s success is due to our unwavering dedication to our clients, and our focus on diversity – of people, skills, cross-functional teams, and a ‘can-do’ spirit, serving our clients with insight and adaptability. We have also been incredibly fortunate in that most of our leads have come from clients, staff, and suppliers who are happy to recommend our services. In addition, winning the awards, as well as our social media engagement, and a well-optimised website, have all contributed.”
“My current role in the business is new business development and strategy, with a passion for, and primary focus on, consumer and entertainment. I am driven by positive feedback and knowing that our business is constantly building and growing a team of talented, empowered people who will become leaders in the next generation of communications specialists. My inspiration comes from the beauty in promoting the arts and entertainment field – visual art, performance, photography, design, choreography, and everything in between.”
“We will also continue to grow into Africa, with affiliate agencies already in place in Kenya, Namibia, and Nigeria, as well as in Israel, and an owned office in Mauritius,” says McEwen-Powell. Eclipse Communications is also the only African member of the SERMO network, which is a partnership of 16 global independent communications agencies who are all passionate about the value of being part of an open-minded, global network whilst maintaining independence of creativity and thought.
“I also believe in continual professional development,” says McEwen-Powell. “I have always surrounded myself with a network of local and international people who create a collective learning experience for me, and also challenge me and my business to develop new skills and services to constantly evolve and grow personally and professionally.”
Inspirational quote: “Always know that you have everything you need within you to succeed. Ask, believe, and receive.”
McEwen-Powell has already inspired many women, both personally and professionally. Her advice to women who are dreaming about starting a business is: “There’s no right or wrong time to start a business. If your heart is in it, do it. When I started out, I believed that hard work, commitment to my clients (whether day, night, or weekends) will pay dividends in the long run and will build a reputation that is worth more than short-term financial gains – if you don’t chase the money, eventually, the money will come to you,” she says.
When she talks about how she built a foundation of skills and networking when she had no prior experience, McEwen-Powell maintains that some things are learned (skills) and some you have within you naturally (work ethic, entrepreneurial nature, and vision). Being thrown in the very deep end in her first PR role, she quickly developed relationships with the media and clients and realised that she ‘had what it took to build her own business. “I had always had a passion for language and the stories you can create with words, and knew I could develop that passion and skill in an ever-evolving communications landscape.”
Most of the important tools you need are already within you, she adds. “Don’t be afraid to dream big, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to ‘fail’. Learn from those failures and listen to your gut. You need a ‘can do’ mindset. There will be enough people in the world telling you “you can’t”, so your inner voice needs to be loud enough to drown them out,” she concludes.
For more visit: eclipsecomms.com