A Fresh Look
Jenny Nguyen of Hello Human on the power of empathy, diverse narratives, and supporting creatives through an unexpected business model
In the height of the pandemic, New York-based communications specialist Jenny Nguyen realized she needed a change. Having worked for years, with great success, for a range of large, high profile clients, she suddenly recognized a massive disconnect between the PR industry’s traditional business model and the people she was most passionate about supporting: independent creatives. The traditional service model simply excluded many smaller, emerging businesses from accessing top-tier publicity services. So Nguyen decided to rethink the model completely.
“I wanted to see a change in the world, where we could uplift those who create based on quality, not quantity,” she says. “And where our work would be based on intrinsic values, not just aesthetic values. For me, that meant refocusing my time and resources away from big companies and putting it into creative people and small business.
Nguyen founded Hello Human, a global communications collective, with the intention of making PR more “accessible, transparent, and approachable.” Working with freelance PR experts around the globe, Hello Human offers a range of flat-fee services—from one-off consultations to subscription packages and more—so small businesses can pay for only what they need, when they need it, at a fraction of the cost of traditional PR. In this way, Nguyen explains, “We can give our clients access to the share of voice that they deserve; the majority of our clients are emerging, BIPOC, or female-owned or social impact businesses, and I believe they should be taking up more space in the media landscape.”
Over the past year, that approach has proven out. Hello Human has grown rapidly, taking on a number of exciting designers and makers and building on the existing industry relationships of its expert team to help tell those client stories to relevant audiences. This month, the agency launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to keep up with the demands of its quick expansion.
We spoke with Nguyen about her career path thus far, launching a rising star company during a pandemic, and doubling down on independent creatives.
Where did you grow up, and what brought you to New York?
I grew up in Australia in both Adelaide and Melbourne. My journey to New York was via stints in different countries in Europe but always with an eye to moving to New York—my spiritual city. Not many people know this but in my early career I actually worked in marketing for a big financial company, Standard & Poors (of the S&P 500), and I was sent to the corporate headquarters in New York to work for a month. I fell in love with the city’s energy and the feeling of possibility here and knew one day I had to come back. I’ve lived here for 10 years now.
In addition to New York, you’ve also lived and worked in Amsterdam, London, Milan, Melbourne, and Sydney. How do you think that diversity of experiences has informed your world view? And how has it influenced your approach to communications or storytelling?
Living and working in different countries has taught me a lot. Most obviously what I’ve learned is that communications—verbal, non-verbal, and written—are so nuanced between cultures; that people from different cultures might be trying to say the same thing, but have different approaches to saying them. I’ve learned that your message can land a lot faster just by taking an empathetic and understanding approach. Living around the world has also shaped my views and personal interest in hearing and seeing diverse narratives. I’ve always gravitated towards diversity in voices and views. I think that it makes the world a more interesting, colorful, layered, and beautiful place.
What first sparked your passion for art and design? And how did that passion develop into a career path?
For years I’ve worked with Vogue Living. We would make the annual pilgrimage out to Milan for Design Week coverage, and I got to throw myself into the energy that makes Salone so special. The first year I went, I knew, energetically, that the people who make up the design industry were my people and that this is where I belonged.
And you get to meet so many people when you’re in Milan; it’s almost impossible for ideas and projects not to spawn from those encounters. So I’d say my career path in design definitely came out of time spent in Milan.
What was the inspiration behind launching Hello Human?
I started the business in the depths of the pandemic. At that time, I came across an interview with Li Edelkoort that came out in Dezeen about how Coronavirus was going to offer us a blank page for a new beginning. As I dove into more of her interviews, something she once described about “the age of the amateur” really resonated too. I felt inspired to reflect on my own work and to see what I could do within my own remit to support emerging creatives with what was in fact a blank page ahead of me. I knew I wanted to see a change in the world, where we could uplift those who create based on quality, not quantity. And where our work would be based on intrinsic values, not just aesthetic values. So for me, that meant refocusing my time and resources away from big companies and putting it into creative people and small business.
What are you most proud of to date?
There’s a lot I’m proud of! I feel proud everyday when we place a client in a publication that reaches the communities they need to reach, because I know the major impact it can make for a small business. I’m also proud that we have a mutually beneficial and non-extractive business model that fairly supports ourselves, our clients, our PR collective, and the media who use us as a discovery platform. And I think I’m most proud that we can give our clients access to the share of voice that they deserve—the majority of our clients are emerging, BIPOC, or female-owned or social impact businesses, and I believe they should be taking up more space in the media landscape.
The company is growing quickly—which is wonderful!—and that you’ve just launched a new crowdfunding campaign to help you keep up with demand. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Yes, the crowdfunding campaign has been truly eye opening on many levels. We reached a point in the last year where the demand for our services skyrocketed and we simply couldn’t meet it. It became clear that we needed the funding that would allow us to grow intentionally and serve a larger pool of businesses well. We also wanted to develop new services and products that would make what we do even more accessible. The work we do is so community driven, and crowdfunding felt like the right way to help us move to the next level. Not only would it give the creative community a way to invest in what we do for others, but it would also allow us to test out demand for new services we’re planning to launch like a “We’ll Write Your Pitch” service, PR Strategy tutorials, or Industry Who’s Who guides to name a few.
Where would you like to see Hello Human 5 or even 10 years from now?
I’d love to see our model for PR grow into other creative sectors, helping us to make a bigger impact for those who need it most.
What’s your go-to piece of advice for creatives looking to better communicate their stories?
The two biggest investments you can make as a creative are in your imagery and your relationships. Imagery that stands out and that gives people the feeling you’re trying to communicate from your work resonates better. And relationships are the essence of life, not just business! We should all aim to help each other and keep in touch as much as possible.
Any predictions for the future of design?
I think designers and the design industry will—and must—become more responsible, socially conscious, and meaningful. Aesthetics are of course important and have always been, but I think aesthetics alone can’t be as meaningful. Designers think about form vs. function, but I think more and more, impact is also an overarching consideration. With this in mind, our industry can cultivate a world where we create to serve our people and communities as well as the environment we live in.
Thank you, Jenny! ◆