We had the good fortune of connecting with Jennifer Evans Gardner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jennifer, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
For a person who was “raised on a steady diet of fear,” as I like to say, the daughter of two of the greatest fear mongers on the planet and someone who has struggled with anxiety much of my life, I have taken some surprisingly bold risks in my life.
As a child, my family moved a lot — the last time we counted it was 21 times before I was 15 years old, mostly to random small towns in Iowa, Oklahoma and Arkansas, before “sticking” in Tulsa. As a result, I craved permanence, safety and stability, and I can see how that drove many of my choices. At the same time, I was intrinsically wired to be outside of my comfort zone, so I have accepted my fate as a lifelong, nail-biting adventure seeker. I can think of three significant risks that brought me to where I am today:
1. Moving to Los Angeles at the age of 19 without ever even having visited. I wanted to go to film school, so I applied, got into LMU, and got on a plane. Coming from mostly small towns in the Midwest, it was a move that changed my life. I was suddenly immersed in one of the most diverse, eclectic, energetic cities in the world, meeting some of the most dynamic individuals I had ever encountered. I loved it and despite the many challenges of navigating a big city, ultimately thrived, graduating and landing a career in the film industry.
2. Many years later, I was a development executive in the film industry when a writer’s strike rendered me, along with so many others, unemployed and waiting for a resolution. But I’ve never had much patience. Like many young women, I’d long fantasized about living in Paris. As the days turned into weeks of no work, I began exploring the possibility of moving to Paris. But what would I do with my apartment, my car? How could I make it work? A friend I had met on a recent visit to Paris let me know he had found me a place to stay temporarily, with his childhood friend in Neuilly-sur-Seine, no charge. The next day a friend called – she had just broken up with her live-in boyfriend and was looking for an apartment, ideally like mine. And a day later, as I was coming out of a Beverly Hills parking garage in my beat-up Nissan Sentra, the attendant asked if I might like to sell my car. Was the universe kidding? Could there be stronger signs? I thought not, so within a matter of days and with my keychain now empty, was on a plane to France. Other than my new friend, I knew no one there, but my heart told me this was a risk I had to take.
In the year and a half that followed, I explored the City of Light, pursuing everything that brought me joy including writing, eating, taking cooking and French lessons, traveling to the wine regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne and The Loire Valley, and unwittingly becoming friends with renowned art dealers, culinarians and oenophiles who taught me about not just how to recognize the exceptional, but ultimately how to trust myself.
3. My most recent risk was perhaps the boldest. In my 50’s as a VP at a public relations agency representing prestigious clients like Ojai Valley Inn, Shutters On The Beach, The Post Oak Hotel, Thompson Seattle, Mastro’s Steakhouse and so many more, I was in a fairly stable position when the pandemic hit. My industry was arguably one of the hardest hit, with millions of people suddenly unemployed within a matter of days. So what did I do? I quit my job to launch my own agency in the travel, culinary and lifestyle space. It was definitely a risk, but a calculated one. I had been thinking of leaving the agency in order to create a better work/life balance, and I saw what I thought might be a golden opportunity. When hotels and restaurants came back post-COVID, they likely wouldn’t have huge budgets for PR, but they would need help. I knew I could provide the support they needed to get their businesses back on track at affordable retainers. I took the plunge. A year into NextJen PR, I have a wonderful roster of clients, a team I love working with, and I have finally achieved that work/life balance that was previously so elusive. I am happier and healthier than ever before, so in my case, getting over my fears — or quite simply taking risks – has been the antidote for my life.
What should our readers know about your business?
As the founder and CEO of NextJen PR, I represent luxury travel, culinary and lifestyle clients such as hotels, restaurants and culinary brands, to name a few. I love what I do and the people I get to work with every day, and especially love telling the stories of my clients and helping them achieve their goals. I still get a rush from sending a client a media placement that I know is going to to make a difference for them.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Paseo Miramar – My favorite hike in Los Angeles overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the city. It’s a steep climb at first, but well worth it. Parking isn’t a thing here anymore, so you’ll probably have to take a Lyft. Try it any morning — or for something even more special — at night during a full moon.
Griffith Park Observatory – Head up just after sunset for the best view in the city, explore the gorgeous deco gem and planetarium, and end with a magical night walk under the stars back down the hill.
Bavel – A little trip to the Middle East via your tastebuds at Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ downtown LA spot. The baba ghanoush, fried pita and prawns will change your life.
Pace – My favorite neighborhood restaurant, a secret hideaway in Laurel Canyon with the most charming manager and bartender in the city. They serve consistently great pizzas, pastas and my go-to dish, a delicious, perfectly cooked cedar plank salmon with a side of roasted potatoes and sauteed spinach.
Enoteca 5 – NextJen PR client alert! This brand-new wine bar serves rare wines from the Cinque Terre region, to name a few, along with incredible charcuterie, Ligurian specialties and made-from-scratch pasta. I love how intimate this space is, and the husband/wife team who run it — Marlo and Gianba Vinzoni — are so warm and friendly, you feel like you are in Italy.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Who I am today is all about where I’ve been and who has supported me — and sometimes even not supported me — along the way (because doesn’t both the positive and negative shape us all?). A special shoutout goes to my mother for her love and support no matter how nervous she might have been about some of my choices, to my late father for the adventurous, wanderlust gene he passed along to me, and to my two brothers, who rarely blink an eye at anything anymore, but always make me laugh.