Why Jackie Cooper's father thought Robert Phillips 'wanted to give her one'

Jackie Cooper founded consumer PR agency JCPR with Robert Phillips in 1987. She sold it to Edelman in 2004 and is the global chair, creative strategy for Edelman. Below she talks about dealing with panic attacks, the importance of work-life balance and her long term business partner Robert Phillips. These are excerpts from her interview in The Branded Gentry, a book written by Charles Vallance and David Hopper.

Jackie Cooper, co-founder, JCPR
Jackie Cooper, co-founder, JCPR

... long-time business partner Robert Phillips

I was asked by the editor of this yuppie magazine to think about a bridal wear feature and the trade guys recommended I went to see Robert Phillips.

A guy who knew about bridal was weird. Was he gay? No, he wasn't gay.

So I went to meet Robert, who fed me turkey and mustard sandwiches, which I'd never had together in a sandwich before. The conversation moved from bridal to marketing and PR, and Robert just came out with the comment that we were destined to work together for the rest of our lives.

He genuinely said that line. I remember telling my dad, who said: 'Oh, he probably just wants to give you one.'

When I left Robert that first day, I used that great PR exit line to get you out of awkward situations: 'Call me if something comes up.' But then, in a very, very Robert kind of way, he did - the very next day. 'Something's come up,' he said. This has been a defining characteristic of our relationship for 25 years. 'What's come up?' I said, immediately irritated by him. And he said, 'Sears.' That's so very Robert. He has to be very impactful. He can't just start small.

Long-story-short, we found ourselves on a train to Nuneaton to pitch our business to Sears. No business cards; nothing. I expected just a chat and we walked into a boardroom full of suits. I was 25 and he was 23 and we had to wing it.

Robert says he always remembers me saying: 'What you guys need is more sex.' Whatever we did, we walked away with a piece of business. And that was that.

At first, I didn't know if I wanted a full-time business partner. But Robert just dementedly pursued the idea of closer working.

In the end, we were really good together; very yin-yang. In fact, there were many reasons to merge the businesses and take our first office in Wardour Street which was massive.

Because my profile was a bit better known from the PR and marketing point of view, we just kept my name. So JCPR it was.

... listening to your instinct

When I was still only 23 or 24, I was headhunted with an offer of ridiculous money. I ignored my instinct, which was telling me not to go there. But I did and I ended up hating everything about it. Never ignore your inner voices.

There was one day when they told me to go and pitch for the Sanrizz hairdressing salon business. To do it, they gave me the previous presentation to use as a template. They had no sense of going to see what the client needed. They said to me: 'No, no, no. We have our template. Use it.' I had to present a creative brief for a highly trend- focused business and use the same template they'd used for the British Woodworking Federation. I just sat there and thought how awful it all was.

I tried to quit, but had stupidly signed a contract with a notice period of six months or something. They obviously wanted to make sure people didn't keep leaving. The finance director found me literally slumped over my desk, just feeling completely trapped. I said: 'I need to get out. I can't do this. It's killing me ...' So he took my hand, led me to his office and shredded my contract. To this day, I don't know why he did it. He just said to me: 'Go!'

... having panic attacks

Panic attacks are often because of a surprise event that you can't control. Then you have another panic attack and you feel wobbly because you don't understand why you've had another one.

The fear of the attack becomes bigger than the first event itself ... I still have them to this day, although I can control them now ... These days, I'll recognise the first signs. It doesn't leave you. It's your default state - so you get round it by stopping that default. People think they know me and they assume I'm invincible. But that idea is ridiculous. I'm not like that.

... having ME and finding work-life balance

I couldn't do anything for 18 months. No life; no work; utter misery. The doctors couldn't do anything. I spent a fortune, but no-one could help.

But then I met this homeopath called Simon Taffler and within six weeks I had my life back. I had to learn how to be different - how to be healthy ...

Over six weeks, I went on a very strict diet of not eating certain things - no alcohol, no sugar - to support the remedies. And after that, I swore I would never be that way, like a workaholic, ever again.

What have I learned from that experience? It's this: Have a life. Go home. Be loved.

I remember one time going to a designer launch that we were running and the editor of The Sunday Times supplement was there, but I could find nothing to say to him. Nothing at all. Because I was so wrung out and I was so exhausted, I couldn't even make the smallest conversation.

That was when I realized what trouble I was in. I'd got so geared up just working and working and working that standing around with a glass in my hand actually trying to have a conversation had finally got beyond me.

You need to have a life or you won't be a good person at work. Where are your ideas going to come from? Where's the source of your inspiration? So, to this day, I work part-time ... every Friday I do something that feeds my brain.

... having it all

Be it at home or at work, it's impossible to have it all, or get everything right. I just try to work smart rather than drive myself into the grave trying to be the perfect mum. There's no such thing. But women have to remind themselves of that and not feel a failure.

... making a difference

What's the point of doing any of this work unless you make a difference? This career has enabled me to make the most of this. And be rewarded for it. If everyone is going to the left, take a look at the right. Revel in the unusual. I think that's why our campaigns here work. I love the maverick, the brave, the counter-intuitive.

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