Finding Your Niche

Before she was old enough to drink, Jessica Priego was an account executive serving Budweiser, Air Tran, and Pepsi. Upon returning to her native Chicago she launched a “side business.” With a presence in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, JPriego Communications provides PR and marketing services to clients like the United Center, the White Sox, and Elda De La Rosa.

No stranger to long work nights, Jessica Priego, never closed her own business, JPriego Communications, during her tenure with the Chicago White Sox. “I knew I would step back into it someday,” she says.

I’m a native Chicagoan. In my junior year at Columbia College, I attended a fund-raiser and met the head of Hispanic marketing for Pepsi-Cola Chicago. He invited me to interview for an account executive position, but I told him I was studying English literature. I was a poet. He insisted, and after a two-hour interview, I was sitting in an office overlooking Lake Michigan with a whole new path.

I stayed with that agency for two years. They’d have to sneak me in the back door of bars to be in charge of promotions for Budweiser. I was working on exciting accounts and fell in love with the idea of influencing opinions and the psychology of consumerism. I was aggressive. I was the one who slept on the office floor to stay and finish proposals. It was an amazing time, but I started to wonder what life was like outside the corporate circle.

I chose to go East and use my skill set to benefit a nonprofit in Washington, DC. It totally changed my perspective, but after a year I became disillusioned. I didn’t think the nonprofit was operating the way I, as a 22-year-old who thought she knew everything, would run it. The CEO was a huge leader in Hispanic civil rights. I went to him and he told me that I could have more influence outside of his organization. He gave me severance and a letter of recommendation and helped me take my next step. I’ve probably brought several millions of dollars to that nonprofit in funding over the last 15 years. My story has been about figuring out where I can contribute the best.

Then I went to a PR firm, Ogilvy, and learned everything I know about branding. I had the MasterCard and Minute Maid accounts, and I became a registered lobbyist to represent pharmaceutical companies. As a girl from the South Side, it felt pretty amazing and it was big time, but I wanted more. I left there a VP.

When an opportunity to live in East Africa presented itself, I knew I had to go. I had been affected by the Rwandan genocide while in college and went to Tanzania, where for two years I volunteered at the UN Tribunal there. That amazing chapter ended when I was violently attacked and contracted malaria within a few months of each other and I came back to the US. The whole journey opened my mind. I wasn’t jaded or angry. I just knew that it was time to go home and put my new perspective to use. I started thinking a lot about the American use of wealth, business, and power. I felt like I had seen a whole other universe, operating right along with this Western one—and they were far, far from equal or alike.

2005– JPriego Communications opens its doors as a boutique PR and marketing firm

2007– Jessica Priego accepts a full-time position with the Chicago White Sox, but keeps her JPriego clients

2012– JPriego works with the Car Outlet to launch a successful $10,000 scholarship giveaway targeting Latino youth. In the same year, she leaves the White Sox to focus solely on growing JPriego

2012– Worked on national campaign for the film, Bless Me, Ultima

2013– JPriego hires two account executives just five months after leaving the White Sox and plans Made Image Management’s official launch party

When I came back home, I was working for Sears Roebuck, Inc. and still looking to tie all my professional and personal experiences together. I got fired when K-Mart bought Sears in 2005. I got pulled over while driving home that day and remember telling the cop I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. It was like a movie. I was in tears. I didn’t know professional rejection. There was a magazine on the passenger’s seat with an article about the head of communications for the Chicago White Sox. I called their main number and asked to talk to him. They put me through to his office.

I asked him why there was no mention of Hispanic marketing in the article. He gave me a lunch meeting and accepted a proposal to reach out to Hispanic youth through school programs. That year, the team won the World Series. In 2007, I became their in-house head of advertising, general and Hispanic market, and stayed with the team until 2012.

I never closed my own business during my tenure with the Sox because I knew I would step back into it someday. I always had the United Center as a client and started to pitch the Car Outlet, Fox Deportes, the National Council of La Raza, and others.

All my experiences have helped me figure out exactly what I want to do with JPriego. I’m opening a spinoff business focused on athlete and celebrity image management built around charity. It’s called Made Image Management. The idea is that these careers can be short, so what do you do next? How do you contribute now to build an image and brand that helps others but also serves your image? If you get let go tomorrow, what is your brand? Do you have a following outside of the uniform or off the stage? Not many agencies focus solely on this, and it can easily be mismanaged by a friend or family member.

I ask my clients, like Alexei Ramirez, the same things I ask myself. What do you want to talk to your family about? What do you want to be remembered for? Where do you want to apply your time, energy, and money? It’s all driven by passion.