Since Jayne Wallace has taken over as VP of corporate communications at Virgin Mobile, she's shepherded the company through some of its heftiest PR challenges. Wallace has ushered Virgin Mobile through its IPO, its acquisition of Helio, and a transition away from its long-time firm.
In January, Virgin Mobile switched PR agencies, naming Shift Communications its AOR, to focus more strongly on social media and its newly launched post-paid phone service. And earlier this year, Virgin Mobile, like all sectors of the economy, was faced with a deepening global recession.
“It has certainly been fascinating... stuff [that] a PR person can sink their teeth into,” she notes. “I've been here three years and there have been some major changes.”
Yet the recession also presented an unexpected opportunity for the cell-phone company: a chance to shed some misconceptions it had been grappling with for years.
“We sell a product that used to have a lot of baggage attached,” Wallace says. “People thought pre-paid phones were not for [those] who use their cell phones a lot or it was only for poor people.”
Virgin's line of messaging has long appealed to budget-conscious consumers, but when the economy suddenly failed, a much larger pool of people quickly fit into this niche.
“Everybody is leveraging the economy in some shape or form,” Wallace notes. “It doesn't matter what sector you're in. But in our case, there was a genuine connection, so it really resonates.”
In January, Virgin hired Shift, replacing Ruder Finn after just six months. Prior to that, the company worked with CooperKatz, which helped launch Virgin Mobile.
When Wallace joined Virgin in 2006, there were already rumblings that it was slated to go public. Others predicted it would go for private equity.
“Virgin was committed to growth, so that was certainly attractive to me,” she explains. Within her first few days there, she was already organizing events and parties with headliners like Kevin Federline, Britney Spears' former husband.
The IPO indeed happened in 2007, and Wallace's job shifted dramatically. “When you're private, you sit on announcements for two or three months and orchestrate a campaign on your schedule,” she points out. “When you're public and you sign a deal, you have a certain number of days to get that out.”
Wallace learned the tricks of the trade, like delaying contract signings, but other rules for a public company aren't so flexible. Then, in 2008, Virgin initiated talks with Helio, placing relentless pressure on the communications department to frame efforts around what would happen if the acquisition went through.
Corinne Nosal, manager of corporate communications, joined the team two months after Wallace. She says Wallace's varied career track – includes agency work, entertainment publicity, unions, and broadcast cable – helped navigate the company through these changes.
“Jayne knows how to handle any situation, whether it is pitching the media or dealing with a phone launch that leaked early on the Internet,” Nosal adds. “She has a calming effect because you know she's been there.”
Virgin Mobile, VP of corporate comms
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