Woman On Fire: Billie Gianfrancesco

by

Growing up with her mother in the public eye, Billie, 28, did not feel entitled but worked her way up from ‘making the teas and coffees’ in unpaid internships, to managing nationwide and global PR campaigns for high profile clients ranging from Britain’s top divorce lawyer to Ministry of Sound.
Rosie On Fire sat down with Billie to find out how she made the best of every situation and struck out on her own as an independent PR consultant.


How did it all begin? 

My mother has been in the public eye ever since I can remember. She did a big children’s TV show in Australia called Playschool, and when we moved to England, she had a daytime chat show there called Trisha. Mum was always doing interviews, and if they were on the weekends or school holidays, I would be there. I’d usually hang out with the PR person, and I would help out on the shoot.

I would see firsthand as certain journalists would twist mum’s words in interviews, I experienced the fallout from friends and family, and I’ve seen up close and personal what it feels like to be hunted by the press and publicly exposed. I also saw how a good story could have the most amazing impact and touch people all over the world. So really, I feel like I have been doing this job since I was about 10 years old!

When I finished university I didn’t know what to do, and mum said, ‘Obviously, PR.’ At first, I was resistent. Being a part of that crazy world didn’t really appeal to me. I lived in Thailand for a while working as a teacher, I worked in retail, then I did a PR internship, and I thought, ‘Ok, I was born to do PR.’

What do you do?

I have been working in PR for about five years. I started off working for a top London PR agency, and after three years there, I went to work in-house for one of my clients, Ministry of Sound – which I was so happy about as they are an amazing, global brand.

I love telling stories. I see my job as helping people tell their stories in the best possible way – I then place those stories in the most effective media outlet. Stories enable people to feel an emotional connection with and trust for a brand.

Recently, I decided to quit my job, launch my own company and do business on my own as an independent Senior PR consultant. It’s going really well! At the moment, it’s kind of crazy. My job can be nerve-wracking as it is – and getting used to not having a team behind you or any support often keeps me up at night!

I’m trained in traditional PR, raising the profile of brands and individuals by getting them into magazines, newspapers, TV, radio and online.

I love telling stories. I see my job as helping people tell their stories in the best possible way – I then place those stories in the most effective media outlet. Stories enable people to feel an emotional connection with and trust for a brand.

Did being a celebrity ever appeal to you? 

I don’t think it’s as good as everybody thinks. Once you’re famous, you can’t just run to the shop in your pyjamas, you have to be constantly looking over your shoulder. You can’t make a dumb joke or say something stupid online and get away with it.

I think being famous can be a very lonely place to be.

With mum, I saw it so many times; she would do an interview, and the journalist would pick up one tiny throwaway comment she said, and blow it up to this big, negative headline. My extended family would often feel hurt and embarrassed, and she lost a lot of friends, people saying, ‘I don’t want to talk to her because I might end up in the press.’

I think being famous can be a very lonely place to be.

I am more than happy to help people get there, but it’s not really something I want for myself unless it’s for a really, really good reason. Like promoting my business or a worthwhile cause.

What’s been your biggest success?

When I started my career I had to struggle through a couple of unpaid internships – no easy feat living in London – and then finally, a PR agency took me on as a receptionist. From there, I worked my way up and in under five years, I progressed all the way up to a Senior PR Consultant. I’m proud of having progressed so quickly, and for me, that’s one of my biggest successes.

I have worked on a couple of major PR and public affairs campaigns that have changed the law in the UK. Feeling that you have that level of power and influence is exhilarating. Crazy stressful, but truly thrilling.

What have you learned from your failures?

One of the worst times in my career, possibly my life, was when I was made redundant. It was a job I really loved. I always thought I would prefer to be fired from a job than to be made redundant because if I was fired, I could say, ‘I did this wrong, I did that wrong, and they got rid of me.’ Being made redundant is basically, ‘We have no use for you anymore.’ I really took it to heart.

I had defined myself by my career and my relationship, and when I lost those things, I lost all sense of who I was. I really struggled for a while. That time was life-changing for me.

At the same time as my redundancy, I was in the middle of moving home, and then my eight-year relationship broke down. I was alone in a new flat I couldn’t afford by myself, I’d lost my job… I sunk into a serious depression.

I had defined myself by my career and my relationship, and when I lost those things, I lost all sense of who I was. I really struggled for a while. That time was life-changing for me.

Looking back, I think I needed that experience because it made me stronger and it made me reassess what I really wanted from life. I decided that I wanted to work for myself and be my own boss. Nothing really scares me anymore because I know, even if I lose everything again, I can overcome it. So, I think I can just about see it all as a positive thing now.

Why did you choose your kimonos?

I used to wear lots of colours and patterns, but for some time now, probably since my breakdown, I’ve gravitated towards mainly wearing black. I just feel less exposed in black. You always look smart and it’s easy – deciding what to wear in the mornings is a very stressful process for me!

I am now starting to bring more colour back into my wardrobe. I love Edyn, it makes me feel so floaty and glamorous, I recently wore it on holiday on the beach.

But Black Heart , Avery and Sophia Black are the ones I’m most likely to pick up and throw on day to day. Also, they look very professional. I can go into a business meeting and look very smart and sharp whilst still feeling stylish and feminine.

Did you have any advice for aspiring PR consultants? 

My first piece of advice is don’t be entitled — it doesn’t matter if you have a degree or connections or what your family background is — none of that matters.

The most successful people are those who leave their pride at the door and do whatever they need to do to get ahead. For me, I relished the opportunity to work as a receptionist and make the teas and coffees.

The most successful people are those who leave their pride at the door and do whatever they need to do to get ahead. For me, I relished the opportunity to work as a receptionist and make the teas and coffees.

It got me a foot in the door at an amazing company and enabled me to prove myself and become a trusted member of the team.

Even when I got the PR job, my first clients were awful – data centres and smart heating controls. But I just sucked it up to get ahead, and eventually, more exciting stuff came my way.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and people who progress the quickest are those who are humble enough to just learn and do everything.

My second is that you need to be resilient if you want to work in PR. You need to be prepared to have lots of bad days. You have many good days, but the nature of the job is that it’s often an emotionally-charged balancing act between the client and the journalist, and you have to keep everyone happy; you have to be friends with everyone all the time.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and people who progress the quickest are those who are humble enough to just learn and do everything.

It can be really stressful, and if you want to have a career in PR, you have to be able to detach yourself. In your head, you are the meat in the sandwich, but you have to be able to switch off, go home and say, ’It doesn’t matter, tomorrow is a new day. Today’s bad news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.’

 

Billie is a Senior PR Consultant at Thinking Hat PR and Founder of Matriarch Media. 

Photographs by Jehan Hamze

 

No Comments Yet.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *