Conversations with Erin Jackson

Tell us about Narrative - what is your mission?

We’re storytellers and community builders: we work with great organisations to help them get ‘heard’, to build & execute kick-ass strategies and deliver excellent campaigns.

Our core business is building brands and helping to grow communities (both online and off).

In a world where marketing, fundraising, communications and PR are no longer separated into different teams, a genuine and authentic presence is more integral than ever.

 

Where are you based?

We’re based out of Christchurch - our office is in behind the best cafe in town, Unknown Chapter. We also have team members who work from Queenstown (i.e. me!) & Wellington.

 

When and how did you start your business?

In 2014, I was freelancing and contracting: I had finished up as President of the University of Canterbury Students’ Association, and I had a feeling that post-quake Christchurch was a pretty epic place to be a young person wanting to do cool things.

I started collaborating with the same people on a number of projects - including the Christchurch Bike Share crowdfunding campaign and the community outreach for ‘Our House’ - and I was adamant that flexibility, innovation and fun was something I wanted to preserve in my working life. 

In 2015, we had a superstar intern join us for a project - Sophie Smith - and I realised that, if I wanted to be able to offer her a ‘real job’, I should probably set up a ‘real company’. Hence, Narrative was born at the end of that year. Luckily, she’s still with us today!

 

How have things grown since?

Well, we’re nearly three years old! Which is fairly incredible to think about. Since our launch, we have worked with 80+ clients of varying size and scale, have raised $250K through crowdfunding campaigns and have connected with over 4 million people online. We’ve also thrown some crazy parties (with a purpose - mostly) and created some local and national projects from scratch. She’s been busy!

 

What does a typical working day look like for you?

Haha, how long have you got? I am really proud of the fact that we - as a company - live on the bleeding edge of flexibility. As a result, there are a couple of different versions of ‘normal’.

Firstly - I have a toddler (Teddy), who, up until his first birthday, came into the office with me every day. So, it was very common to arrive at Narrative and have a meeting whilst a baby slept in the corner - and, later, he tried to personally greet everyone at the door as he started crawling.

Earlier this year my partner & I also shifted to Queenstown for his work - so, I now commute between cities. It’s been challenging, but it’s a testament to the team that it’s actually working.

Now, I have two different work modes: from Queenstown, where I’m based from home and head out to meet people / work from cafes when I need a break from the house. Then I head to Christchurch for three days every week, where I live and breathe the business, trying to catch up on all of the ‘in-person’ stuff that is so important.

Interestingly - one thing that we learnt quite early on was the importance of internal team time. We found that I’d arrive in Christchurch, whirlwind into the office and spend the entire time with clients - so we actually had even less team time. It took a gentle mention that “Erin, you might as well have been in Queenstown for all that we’ve seen you this week” to nudge me to make some changes.

I’m really passionate about talking about this - the juggle of motherhood, commuting, flexbility, because, for many businesses, it feels scary. For many parents, it feels unattainable. I think it’s only by talking about how we build work + home + family into the equation that we will be able to make it more manageable and achievable.

 

Since founding Narrative, you’ve supported the UC Entre $85k start up challenge as a sponsor and mentor to participants (including Necesse!) - why does helping start-ups succeed matter to you?

For me, it’s not just about supporting start-ups; it’s about supporting students. Having spent seven years of my life at UC (LLB / BA + 2 years of UCSA), I am deeply passionate about how we create opportunities for students and graduates to have the best possible time, the best support and best connections for when they leave.

As a business, we love the opportunity to connect with students participating in Entre - probably also because we never set out to start a business or build a client list such as we have. If we can help more people avoid some of the errors that we’ve made, then I’ll be thrilled. The snacks are normally pretty great too.

 

What has been your greatest achievement with Narrative so far?

As above, I’m really proud of the culture and team that we’ve built. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

But, taking that further, our clients also fit into that; we have been so privileged to work with some incredible organisations (like Necesse!) and the people working to make their vision a reality.

 

We only work with people where we can see a great value alignment (yes, we have turned down clients before), and this has definitely paid off from a culture perspective.

 

What has been your biggest learning curve / what is one piece of advice would you pass on to other women looking to start their own business? 

Ooh, good question. There’s so much to say - and I’m in no way an expert. I think my three key pieces of advice that I remind myself and my team of all of the time are -

  • Trust your gut. I can pinpoint just about every bad decision that I have made over the past three years and say that’s when I stopped listening / overrode my gut instinct. Either because it felt inconvenient to do so, there were external factors at play, I didn’t make a tough enough call - you name it. If something doesn’t feel like a good fit, it isn’t - and, if you know that, listen to it (it’s always better to make that call then, rather than later).
  • Sprinkle kindness / add value. Give, give and give more. Our core belief as a business is in the rising tide - so, the more that we can do, help, advise, the better it is for everyone. Technically, my accountant might disagree when you compare billed work to pro-bono: however, every great project / connection / introduction has come through generosity. I trust it.  
  • Ask. We are more connected a world than we have ever been - and you can literally get into anyone’s inbox. Whether they reply or not is another story - but there is no harm in asking the question. In my experience, 95% of people will not reach out and ask the question / make the introduction - and I’ve seen the 5% who have the balls to do it get so much further, so much quicker.
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    What are your hopes for the future of Narrative?

    I want us to maintain our vision, our culture, and our ethos - whilst also growing the impact that we have within Aotearoa. I want us to retain our innovative and fun side - which, as I’ve found, can be a challenge when your business looks more like a professional service than a start-up by a cheeky twenty-something year old.

     

    I also want us all to just bloody love coming to work - and, if we can keep the team, client and project mix right, then I’m pretty confident we’ll do that.

     

    How can people find out more about Narrative?

    www.narrative.co.nz

    @thenarrativeco on all the usual social platforms.

    I’m also erin@narrative.co.nz  and I’m always happy to talk shop, whether it’s over coffee or wine. Get in touch!