Valerie Jennings: Business Leader, Entrepreneur, Influencer, and Nationally Recognized Top Innovator

Photo by Gary Rohman.

Women in Business series presented by UMB Private Wealth Management

In 2003, Valerie Jennings was starting to make a name for herself—successfully maneuvering her way around the ever-evolving world of publicity and PR. In those days, social media wasn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar, so Jennings—now CEO at Jennings Social Media & MarTech—found herself scrambling to provide tangible results for clients, relying on old-school metrics like viewership, impressions, etc. “I started getting frustrated with that as a business owner. I put myself in my clients’ shoes and said, ‘Yeah, there’s really no other way to qualify all this hard work.’”

By 2005, the Iowa native started snooping around the burgeoning world of bloggers and online press releases and was immediately intrigued. “I thought, ‘Wow, there’s some live data I could overlay on top of what I was already offering,” she says. What seems old-school now was revolutionary at the time, and that’s how Jennings helped build her business—one Google analytics case study at a time. “I was either attracting people looking for new vehicles to get their messaging out there or people who were excited to hear of other opportunities—or maybe a little bit of both,” she says. Her first experimental client? “A start-up in the dirt-track racing industry,” she says, laughing. “Not typical.”

Jennings was securing entrepreneurial clients who found her specialized pilot offerings unique. Many were more than eager to be her marketing guinea pigs. “They came at it from the mindset of ‘why not?’” she says. “I felt like I was surrounded and supported by businesses that wanted to try something new.”

Jennings grew her company in an untapped market—and she did it all sans investors. “I was truly invested in the exploration process—almost like a science lab. What can we learn? How do we solve these business challenges and how do we look for new tools to do it? And that opened up doors with publicly traded companies.” When social media started blowing up, Jennings and her team capitalized on it. 

Jennings can relate a slew of success stories but is quick to point out that merely starting her business as a 24-year-old was a significant milestone. From tapping influencers long before they were called that to picking up name-brand companies, the growth was gratifying. “It was an honor to be a new, fresh agency competing with firms in New York,” she says. “And recently, our growth is in the marketing tech space. I feel like we’ve had that same growth in knowledge with the development of martech and artificial intelligence in the last two years—a substantial success story for our agency. We’ve been able to continue to own that early adopter status—and that’s not easy to do.” 

Jennings has been recognized with honors, including Folio: 2020 Top 20 Women in Media, 2020 Marketer of the Year by DMN, and in 2018, a 40Under40 honoree by Direct Marketing News. She says while accolades and awards are nice, the fact that they’ve kept reinventing themselves and staying relevant is doubly impressive. “In fact, we just relaunched our brand. We’ve doubled down on our Instagram creative offerings and expanded all our automation and CRM integration. That’s fueled by what clients want today—full transparency on where their leads are coming from and what programs are in place to drive those leads.”

Jennings says being a woman in this industry has proved advantageous. “I’ve stood out—and I haven’t been afraid to speak up about what I know and our experiences,” she says. “I’ve sought out industries where there aren’t many women working in them. For example, we’ve worked in the automotive industry for over ten years. I have loved it. We have sought [male-dominated companies] out and found them to be incredibly rewarding, and we have had a voice at the table.”

Even in the midst of the pandemic, Jennings says it’s been rewarding to watch the metro’s entrepreneurial spirit shine. Mentorship and positive reinforcement were paramount when Jennings was starting her business and she’s paying it back—and then some. “This town is a town of entrepreneurs and small business owners and we respect and encourage each other, and it’s why I still have this business today. I want people to realize they should not give up right now. They’ve got to keep going and we’ve got to keep encouraging people to start businesses regardless of what’s going on.” 

 

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