The ladies at Juice Consulting give an insider look into creative PR.
By Brianna Caleri, Photos by Chisum Pierce, Styling by Sage Walker and Juice Consulting, Shot on location at FOTOHOUSE
After achieving PR nirvana—working for five years with Queen Beyoncé herself—Heather Wagner Reed had one more step to take, and that meant starting her own reign. She began building outward. Juice Consulting, her full-service public relations and marketing firm, started in 2007 as a one-woman show in Bey’s hometown, Houston; Wagner Reed then hired help and made a move. This month she celebrates Juice’s 15th year in Austin. The PR entity launched with a focus in music and creative sectors, quickly acquiring legendary music clients like Asleep at the Wheel and Gloria Gaynor. The firm also worked on a special project with Erykah Badu.
Like Wagner Reed, many of Austin’s business-savvy inhabitants show up having conquered one niche. And like the city of Austin itself, they start a sort of urban sprawl. Fifteen years after the big move, Juice is in that phase. The company has been exploring international relations, new technology and other miscellaneous ways to find more community equity. Sometimes those projects are related to music, sometimes not.
Senior Account Manager
In the words of bell hooks, feminism is for everybody. Austin women are strongest with diverse, secure support systems, and everyone else in town benefits from this strength. Juice is mostly women by coincidence, but one other employee rounds out the team. Tyler Ostby—the proverbial man of the house—works closely with Madison Snelling on keeping in contact with clients. His coworkers all used words about support and reassurance when talking about him as a team anchor. Ostby shares the unique strengths of each of the women he works alongside every day.
That’s good news for the arts in general. Creative industries always need connections to keep innovating and supporting their contributors with very elusive revenue. Publicists—often regarded with suspicion and blamed for calculating stunts—are often the gateway between ideas and the public support to make them real. The music industry’s dependence on diverse gateways has never been more clear than it is in 2022. The year South by Southwest returned (to Austin, if not to normalcy).
This means PR agents are definitively gatekeepers. It’s Wagner Reed’s job to decide what’s interesting in Austin and who she trusts to guard those projects. Right now, the firm has a tight-knit group of four employees beside Wagner Reed. All former interns who showed so much passion and initiative, she couldn’t let them go.
The “big boss” (as team member Tyler Ostby calls her) rounds up her employees like a tour guide, knowing they’re fine on their own but are always looking to create an experience, anyway. From old friends of nearly a decade to new ones fresh out of college (or still working on it). The Juice team is visibly thrilled to be together. They gush about each other, using lots of nicknames. They all wonder out loud if they’ve rambled, unused to being on “the other side” of an interview.
Austin Woman split up the group to answer the elusive question: What are publicists really like behind the scenes? Each of these women has different goals, but they’re all indefatigable people’s people. They’re here to get the truth out about good things in great packaging.
Heather Wagner Reed
There’s a lot Heather Wagner Reed hopes for in Austin. Thanks to her marketing work with Universal Music Holland in the Netherlands, she’s seen firsthand how other countries handle their unique arts industries. Juice has worked with clients in international government initiatives from Japan, France, Canada and Great Britain. Over the last decade, these countries have engaged the team for a variety of South by Southwest presentations spanning music, immersive digital art, networking and more.
Tyler on Heather
“If you need anything done [around town], Heather is the best person to go to for that. She’s maneuvered through the pandemic affecting how media and PR works, and is still able to take on huge projects and big ideas. All of us are here because Heather has been tenacious throughout the last decade and a half.”
Taking cues from these huge entities, Wagner Reed sees where the United States could improve life for its creators with more government-sponsored programs. It’s no secret that the U.S. underappreciates arts education. As a result, adult creatives are underprepared for the more technical aspects of their careers and are undersupported by a public that largely devalues them. While the agency does have government contacts (the Department of Defense’s tech accelerator, for example), Juice’s pull is more cultural than political.
“I do worry about the funding for the arts in general,” says Wagner Reed. “I, personally, know enough about this to advocate. That would be where I would say I fit into those discussions on a state level.”
Wagner Reed works closely with pro-bono client the Texas Chapter of the Recording Academy (best known for organizing the Grammy Awards). She has been a board member for nearly 18 years and has served as their chapter secretary. Through the Academy, members can advocate for issues and bring them to national attention at events such as Grammys on the Hill in Washington, D.C. This advocacy event allows Academy members to lobby with politicians around legislation like 2018’s Music Modernization Act, which updated rules around royalties in musicians’ and songwriters’ favor.
She’s also tackling the royalties issue through new client SongBits, a platform that lets users buy microportions of songs as NFTs. The goal here, aside from being trendy, is to provide a more direct version of royalties from the public to the creators. She links this opportunity to a larger trend of consumers “taking the power back.”
One of the projects Wagner Reed is most excited about only has consumers in a physical and mental sense, as these consumers don’t pay a cent. FreeWater, which she describes as “a philanthropic marketing platform,” calls itself “the world’s first free beverage company.”
The organization distributes free drinking water, paid for by printed advertising on the bottles. Eventually, the platform, which Wagner Reed took on as a client and later joined as a partner, hopes to offer enough products to become the world’s first free supermarket.
“I really try very hard to pick our clients based on an authentic belief in them,” says Wagner Reed. “I do fight like hell for our clients, but we don’t take something on unless we believe in it. So whether it be a client that’s an artist…a technology accelerator or a startup…we do it if we know we can sleep at night. This is what we’re going to fight for.”
Juice’s veteran employee wasted no time getting involved. In a relatively old-fashioned career move (or just a spectacularly lucky coincidence), Juice was Madison Snelling’s first job out of college, coming up on eight years in September.
Tyler on Madison
“I interned under Madison. Back in the day, before we started doing brick-and-mortar or semivirtual, I would go into Maddy’s house and work with her there. She’s got the biggest heart, and she’s always willing to lend a hand. She’s always been the greatest team member because she was the first.”
“I’ve been wanting to make sure that I get everything out of this position,” Snelling says. “I think you decide to leave once you stop learning. And I’m still learning.”
Snelling, who studied English literature, sees PR as a creative outlet, albeit a different one than writing fiction. Writing bios comes closest, allowing her to relax into telling a story from the client’s perspective. Once the bio, press release or email introduction is out of a publicist’s hands, it can morph in infinite ways, making it even more important that the first impression sets a stage to build on, not just to distribute. Some of Snelling’s favorite client relationships are those that reappear as the client’s career evolves.
Jane Ellen Bryant, a singer-songwriter from Austin, was one of the first clients Snelling took lead on. The musician tasked Juice to promote her first EP. Then she returned for singles and music videos as she moved up through the industry. Snelling also watched the growth of another Austin staple. 501(c)(3) nonprofit Black Fret, which collects and distributes charitable funding for local musicians. After multiple balls, the organization, with its sprawling network, feels like family.
“I really love working with all the musicians here, regionally,” says Snelling. “Whether [musicians]came to us just starting off and wanting to build their name recognition in town, or if they were more established and they just wanted us to get the word out [about]their new album, I really loved working so closely with all of those talented people.”
As the most senior employee, as well as someone who loves watching personal growth, Snelling has been everyone’s mentor at some point in their Juice residency. While they posed for photos, her coworkers crowded around her, managing her high ponytail. “You feel comfortable sharing things that you might not feel in a more male-dominated company,” Snelling says. “I think it allows us to be there for each other and push each other.”
Jacqueline Mackey has music in her blood and an instant connection with almost everyone she meets in the industry. Her mother, Theresa Jenkins, served as senior executive director at the Recording Academy Texas Chapter for 15 years, until her death from esophageal cancer. Jenkins was alive to see the chapter’s 25th anniversary gala in 2019. But she was undergoing treatment and unable to attend, sending Mackey and her other daughter, Marina Munoz, in her stead.
Tyler on Jacqueline
“Jacqueline has always had such a spark, from the minute I spoke to her on the phone. She brought so much experience in so many different fields, and she had a passion. It was inspiring to see, and she still inspires me with how much she takes on outside of her comfort zone.”
Delivering a heartfelt speech with her sister, Mackey fulfilled a landmark PR duty in a career she hadn’t embarked on yet. Representing their mom with grace and honesty to the public. “Just having that opportunity and feeling that my mom trusted us enough or gave us the privilege to do that…” Mackey says, trailing off. Her mother told her, “I kind of felt like it was a funeral for me.”
Despite the complicated emotions (or likely because of them), Mackey calls this “one of the biggest honors I had the privilege of doing before she passed.”
Looking to stay connected to her mother after her death, Mackey decided to make a pivot. She held on to her public-facing experience in real estate, marketing, web development and graphic design. This time focusing on the relationships more than the product. She went back to school at Austin Community College for music business and landed in Wagner Reed’s “PR and Marketing for Creatives” class. Wagner Reed had already known Mackey through her mother for over 18 years. She made a quiet promise to protect her late friend’s daughter.
More importantly, Mackey was great at PR. Call it an outsider’s perspective or call it pure, old-fashioned work ethic (the same one that compelled Jenkins, the daughter of Thai immigrants, to pick up the phone book and suppose the Austin Chamber of Commerce was an important enough place to start her career). Mackey left Wagner Reed enamored instantly with her sense of initiative. It helps, of course, that everyone seems so comforted to find out whose daughter she is. They often greet her with anecdotes or pass on gratitude.
“Hearing little things like that is what makes it all worth it,” says Mackey. “I have everybody else to help me fill that void without my mom.”
Madelyn Coleman is excited to be here. Yes, there is something endearing about the undergraduate enthusiasm—she’ll finish her degree in the fall. But moreso, it’s powerful to be near. Every other Juice member walked in with the subtly deferential air of someone who had been invited in. Coleman did not. She simply showed up where she was supposed to be.
Tyler on Madelyn
“PR is difficult sometimes, because it is directly reaching out to folks and having to put yourself out there, as not only yourself but the business. But Madelyn, I’d say, has always been fearless. She knows what she wants. She really reminds me of myself when I was in college.”
The student and employee says her packed schedule has made her “really proficient in time management.”
She spends most of her daytime hours at work, nighttime in class and weekends catching up. “Sometimes I get to Friday and I’m like, ‘I have no idea how I did that.’”
Juice used to have a street team for events, made up of volunteers who wanted access to events and potential networking opportunities. Coleman made it her goal to be as present as possible. It worked; when Wagner Reed and Ostby were discussing potential interns, Coleman was at the top of their minds. She put in six months getting the people skills she couldn’t learn in a classroom. By then it was obvious Juice needed as much of her as it could get.
As a long-time guitarist and a newcomer, Coleman’s favorite experience in PR was helping Juice get Austin blues guitarist Zach Person’s early career off the ground. He was promoting his debut album on a tour through “tiny towns” (and not-so-tiny towns like New York and Atlanta). Although he was already gaining some traction with music mags and local media, Coleman was worried she wouldn’t find any coverage in farther areas with fewer media outlets. The Star Democrat in Maryland picked the story up first, and others followed.
“When I got my first press hit, I was sitting in my bedroom at home and I screamed,” says Coleman. The rest of the crew delights in her excitement and seem to enjoy a window into the first year of a brand-new career.
She saved the article, like most things that remind her of little milestones on the job. “I feel really lucky everyday to have been given the opportunity to really work in the field before I even graduated,” says Coleman. “Still can’t believe it sometimes. I have to pinch myself.”