| In this episode of Innovators Can Laugh, I sat down with Julija Jegorova, founder of Black Unicorn. We discussed what it was like moving from Lithuania to the UK along with some of ideas on how startups can generate PR exposure when trying to grow their brand.
Today, my guest is Yulia. It got over. AI-driven PR specialist and founder of black unicorn PR based out of London, which specializes in global PR and communications for startups. It hasn't been an easy road for Yulia who was born in Lithuania. But move to the UK a few years ago. And our conversation we cover not only her personal obstacles like depression.
That she had to overcome. But also talk about the mistakes startups make when trying to grow their brand through PR without further ado, let's jump into the conversation.
And to gonna, it took me a couple of months just to realize that I seriously don't care what others will think, or how they will perceive me because by the end of the day, it's my decision, and it's entirely my life. And if I decide that this is the way my election be shaped that's it.
how old were you when you got to the UK? I was 19, so fresh out of school. When I was probably 15, I knew already what I want to study and I have never considered staying in Lithuania.
That was never on cards. So I was deciding between the universities and France and the universities in the UK. I don't know why France, I didn't speak fluent French that sounded like a good challenge. But yeah, I w I knew what my mom and knew, I guess that have to go abroad and study because obviously it gives you more opportunities and you speak English fluently and then just absolutely different life that you can get.
If I would have stayed in Lithuania, because I think my ego on my ambitions were very huge at the age of 19. So yeah, this straight out of school went on my own to the UK. I was studying in Bristol and before I moved to Bristol, I've never been to the UK. I've never been to Bristol. So that was and also it was a funny story because I had to sort out my student accommodation, but obviously I haven't been there.
So I couldn't go and see what the apartments are like who I'm going to be living with. So I had to do everything via phone and they had to transfer money to someone in 2009. And I remember I'll play in was very late. I think we landed around midnight and I to be honest, by that time, we were not certain if, when we're knocking the door, those apartments, when you one will open up, it were just a scam.
Now I think about it and I was like that was crazy. But then it was very normal. It's just yeah, you do that. And that's it. What was Bristol like as a city. It was a fun, yeah, it was fun. It was like very cool in terms of student lines, they have two universities there.
I was living with British girls. There were a few like shocking things to me when it came to the UK that people were eating beans on toast. For me, it was something crazy or that there were like canned spaghetti or dogs. I think for me too, being should be in a taco what to means full stop.
Yeah, so it was, but it was really fun it was great. And I think. At the time, it was like very much free spirited and very open to a lot of opportunities. So if I was doing promo anything, if it was something going on with me I still would like, yeah, I'll do that. If someone was organizing an event yeah.
I'll help out. There was an intern. I had like multiple internships at the time and I managed to study and I managed to party. And now I'm like, yeah, I could not do that again.
So you mentioned the beans on toast.
Do you remember any other embarrassing things or kind of quirky things from your experience there? When we went out the first night to like on the Knight's house to like a club, but it's, I think it was called Oceana or something. It was one of those student night clubs. I've never been to a nightclub before in my life, in 19 years old was doing the studying and making sure that get good grades and get into university.
So when everyone was getting ready in their own rooms, I was like, okay. So what do you wear to a nightclub? Probably like jeans t-shirts and like some traders, because they're reasonable and then, or we're going to be out all night. Absolutely. And then when I met my housemates in the kitchen they were wearing like short dresses and high heels and makeup on.
And I think I have a photo somewhere where it's I look so out of place, I just look so out of place it was fun. But then I got into it. Then it means on toes, but definitely wore heels. And
you still keep in touch with a lot of your housemates from back then. Yeah, one one of them is still my best friends, so we stayed in touch for out. So it's been what, 12 years now, so yeah. Yeah. Wow. So right after right after Bristol, right after you finished your studies, did you jump into PR how did that come about?
So I was doing PR whilst I was studying. So my primary goal in life was to be a journalist. Hence the reason I was studying journalism I was very much into political journalism award journalism want to be a workers on a one to go to rock, to run just cover those hot war zones.
And my mom thought that that will pass at some point because I was a huge fan of . So she is she was a Russian investigative journalist who was writing a lot about checking and Putin and all those things. Then she was killed on Putin's birthday, but that's that's a whole different story for a podcast.
So she was my hero in a way because the books she wrote were absolutely fascinating. So when it came to the UK, that was my idea that I want to be an investigative journalism. But when I was actually invited to go to a war zone in 2010 an hour called my mom's Oh this is so exciting.
was invited to go to Warsaw. No, I think it was in Palestine when the conflict just started. Yeah. And my mom was like, no, that is not happening. You have to think about the difference to your career. And obviously the war zone is bad, but that one is so unpredictable because it's not like there's a fine line where one side is on the other and the other side.
No, this is anywhere. Anytime in a bus, in a hotel industry. Yeah. Absolutely. And when it was gone, just started brewing. So it was, as you said, extremely unexpected and me being a 19 year old, quite naive at the time, let's face it. I don't think that wouldn't have been the wisest of decisions probably would not be having a conversation right now.
So that was a bit heartbreaking, but then I thought, okay. So if I can't really do this investigative war type journalism what can I do? And there were a lot of PR agencies in Bristol area and they were always organizing really cool events. So one of the events that actually was life-changing was organized by JVP PR Bristol agency.
And they have invited Nick Davis. And Nick Davis is probably one of the best British investigative journalists. He is the one who uncovered the whole hacking scandal with the Royal family. And I think it was in 2011. That was absolutely fascinating just to go and hear him speak because it was just so great with the phone hacking because I'm watching the crown and they go up to 2011 context.
What was that all about? Journalists were tapping phones of the room family, and then leaking the news. So that was a big deal. And then they realize that it's not only the Royal family that they can have been hacking into. They will always, I think some of the politicians, obviously it's entirely unethical regardless of whether you're a journalist or not.
And it was related to Rupert Murdoch and then there was a trial and it was just absolutely fascinating. And Nick Davis was on his way of trying to figure that all out. So I've met him just before it broke. And he wrote his books and then he became like a Superman sister.
And the thing is we were having dinner. With him because I was on a national union of journalists as a student. So I wasn't in to have dinner with the journalist and I was sitting in front of him and I was like, Oh my mom was not letting me go to Warsaw. Could you imagine it? And she was like, yeah, quite reasonable.
So I asked him, what would you recommend doing if I can't do this particularly investigative journalism, because I was not into Bove and I don't know, whatever fashion, beauty stuff. And he was like, Oh, why don't you try public relations? And I was like, okay watch sex in the city.
That sounds fun. Yeah. And yeah, it was Samantha. So she, she didn't seem to do much, but she seemed to be earning a lot and just do cool stuff and mingling with loads of people. So that I'll definitely I'll try that out. And what I did is I literally started stalking the lady who organized the event with Nick Davis, because she was a part of that PR agency.
I was writing her emails every day saying, hi, Sarah, if Sarah is listening to this, she will appreciate that. I was like, can I please have an internship with you guys? Can I please have an answer? You please please really want to try myself and just see how it goes. And I think a couple of months in harassment she just gave in.
And I came to the office and I said want to do everything. Just show me how it's done. And I started working for them. It was an internship. And then they also gave me a chance to go to London, to work with parliamentary at first a team. So I went to London and it was really fascinating because I spent there a week and it was also one of the first times when I went to London.
So couldn't really figure out tubes. And just generally, if you give me a map, I will not. We'll just. Not know where to go. So I couldn't figure out how to get from one station to another station. So it was literally making laps just to get from a, to B, but I was always at work like first thing at seven in the morning when the office was closed, I would just stay sitting, waiting, writing some stuff up just because I was so eager to get in and do things.
Okay. So now that you're exposed to PR, you're seeing what they do. Obviously this started to interest you. Where did you go from there? Yeah. So I was deciding what to do after that. So after I finished my studies, like my bachelor's degree, it was quite reasonable that after your bachelor's, you should get your master's degree because that's what you do.
You can get your master's degree that probably you getting your page D then you find a husband, then you get married, then you have children. That's the end. What I've decided is that I wanted to do my masters, but I didn't want to do my master's in the UK. So I found masters in science of persuasive communication in Netherlands and Amsterdam.
In Amsterdam. Jj lands a role with tom
so you're at, yeah. What was your main role there? What were you doing there? So I've started as an executive in a very small team. So even though like Tom TomTom was still is quite huge, they had, I think, five to six people that were dealing with public relations, meaning that I had access to a VP of marketing right away.
I was helping with press releases. I was helping to look after events. I was helping to organize a variety of events, press trips pretty much you name it. And it was absolutely fascinating because that is exactly what kind of corporate. PR is. And then once, I guess at the time, so that's set me in terms of what I want to do.
And when it actually came to my studies in in university I've decided that I just can't move forward with it because at the time I became extremely depressed. So we're talking about the fact that I just did not want to leave my bed because it was, I just could not find the motivation to go to uni and do something that I don't see that brings me value.
And what I've realized for myself is that I just really try to fit in the pattern what was expected of me as I thought by society that you go to university, that you do another degree that you get a well paying job. So it feels like there's always a certain path that you have to follow.
And for me initially, I thought okay, so if I do not finish my master's degree what does that mean? What will people think of me? Because I was always extremely successful when it comes to universities to my degree. So it was always the leader. And I thought Oh, will my image be shattered?
Or will people think that I was not smart enough? And to gonna, it took me a couple of months just to realize that I seriously don't care what others will think, or how they will perceive me because by the end of the day, it's my decision, and it's entirely my life. And if I decide that this is the way my election be shaped that's it.
I have to tell you, JJ, when I was on black unicorn.com and I was looking at your portfolio and clients and some of the work you did. It didn't even occur to me that that I should have been looking like for your university diploma. No one has ever asked me for it. Okay. Okay. So you're at Tom, you're getting some good exposure to PR some really good experience.
And then what sparked your interest in to maybe starting your own company one day? So I never had I'm not one of those entrepreneurs who said Oh, from a very young age, I definitely wanted to have my own business. Was never really the case. I, to be honest, I always was very much into working in a big corporate company because I could learn from people because after I left back to the UK because at the time Amsterdam and Netherlands seemed to with two great.
And then to rainy or the UK. You know what it is raining more and Amsterdam than it is raining in London. That's a fact I lived there. I know that's a fact. Was what am I going to be doing? What w what exactly I want to pursue in my life. I started working in a marketing agency and doing both marketing and PR and events, and I was working for visa doing social Olympics.
So I had a chance once in a lifetime opportunity to actually going to Russia live during Satya Olympics, during the Olympics and Paralympics for, I think it was three months. And it was absolutely crazy. It's also, it's like another episode of probably because I've never been to Russia before.
So obviously I have Russian roots, but I've never been to Russia. And for Russians. I am not rushing and fluctuating as I'm not Lithuanian. So I don't really, and for British people I'm not just some sort of weirdo, so I don't really fit in anywhere, which is fun, but yeah, so it was really fascinating to live in Olympic games just to see how the thing goes, but then I've realized that it's more on a marketing and events side, which I did not like as much.
So I said, I'm going back to PR while in Russia. I'm assuming that you could speak Russian or is that yeah. I speak fluid Russia. Yeah. That's my first language. Okay. Lithuania, are there two different languages? Absolutely different, but most of the way he lived with you and speak Russian.
Yeah. They used to, I think nowadays you does not speak Russian as much, but I think if you were around 30, you would probably be able to have a conversation in Russian. Yeah. So growing up were they speaking Russian in schools? Like how did you learn both languages? I went to a Russian school, but we had to study Lithuanian from pretty much the first grade.
So that was that was not an option. And because my mom figured out that I have, I think for languages, I always had tutors for Lithuania and for English since I was probably four. So it has the reason spoke all three languages fluently. But by the time I was 18. Yeah. Fascinating.
Okay. So you said you weren't really expiring from a young age to be an entrepreneur. You weren't one of those people, but something did spark your interest to go out on your own? It did. Yeah. Yeah. So when I was working in one of, the fastest growth startups at the time, and I was heading PR.
It was extremely crazy. So I could stay in the office until like early hours in the morning. Sometimes I would be picking up phones at 11 o'clock say hi, hello, Julia speaking. And my CEO would say like, why are you still in the office? But there was just so many things when you work at a startup, if you're like heading PR you do.
And I'm like the other thing is communications and marketing and events. And it's just crazy. And I am extremely dedicated person. So if I'm doing something I'm just giving all myself. But then my grandma's that are having problems and health issues. Because I'm the only child. And my mom raised me on her own.
I'm the biggest support that my mother has. So what I was doing, I was flying from the UK to doing every Friday evening and coming back every Friday or every Monday morning around like six in the morning. And right away from the airport, I was going to the office. And it was heartbreaking just because my mom needed a break, at least during those couple of days when I was there.
So I would stay with my grandma in the hospital and it was just like leaving your family and not knowing if the next time when I'm come back, if I'm going to a funeral, or if my grandma's going to be better. So that was very sad. And then on the first day, so the day before it was meant to fly out and my mom calls me and says, Oh grandma has passed away.
And for me it was just it was absolutely crazy because it was very close to my grandmother. And for me, the fact that I was not there when my family needed me, simply because I had work to do and work commitments that I was committed to someone of a van, my family who should always take a priority.
So what I did it was around like four o'clock in the evening, UK time. I had my bag, I had my laptop and I went straight to the airport. I didn't go home. I didn't pack my bag. I literally, the first thing I did is I just flew back home. And what shocking is that my grandma passed away Thursday.
The funeral was on a Saturday or Sunday. I was upset. I was expected to come back to work on Monday. After explaining to them that you've had your grandma passed away and you're going to people. Yeah. Yeah. And I'm all for nothing. No, it was very much expected that I will be back right away.
So what I said guys, seriously, I can't do that. So I had I literally, I found a psychiatrist who wrote me a note saying that Julia was a little bit too distressed to to come back to the office for a week. And that was the moment when I've realized that the most important thing that we have is time.
It's time of our family. The time with clients that you have. So if you are with someone like you and I having a conversation right now we're fully immersed in each other because we having conversations same goes to your family, right? When you're having dinners, you're not going to be looking at your phone because.
You just especially life is also so precious and your family is, and that was for me if I can afford going and see my family, whenever I feel like I want to go and see my family, or someone is having an accident or they need me simply because someone tells me like, Oh no you have to write this press release.
So for me, it was a bit of a weird moment. So what I did is I said, I'm leaving. And we can't say that we left on good terms. I have a feeling that it was still the speak to the C-level executives. And that's a huge change because it was nothing personal. And I went up to Bali late.
I think I read too much of each pray, love movies. I went to Bali for a couple of months. I took my mom with me because also for her, it was absolutely heartbreaking. So I think we just needed a bit of a break. Yep. And we were trying to find out ourselves I'm a traveling experiencing things together, do a lot of things together.
And I've realized that maybe once I come back to the UK after my sabbatical I might just try growing and working for a couple of agencies. And an opportunity came of a person that I knew that he said I'm really looking for someone who can help me to scale my business in PR.
I'm looking for someone who is very business savvy and goes out and speaks and does things. And I was like, yeah I'm going to be doing that. So I started working at an agency. But because I was working at agency only a couple of days, that was not necessarily covering the expenses that I had when living in London.
So what I did, I started working with a couple of more agencies and just because my kind of 10 years prior to that was very much in-house focused. I've realized that there was now, there was no match between what the agencies are doing and what I'm used to be doing. So because when you work in agency, you get a retainer, right?
And then your main objective is to get media placements, which is the objective of any peer agency. But I knew when I was working in the startup, when I was working in Thompson, when I was working with visa that you talk about thought leadership, the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you dress is very much shaped by.
Be a professionalist most of the times. And like the events, the speaking opportunities, and like all of those things that you do that kind of shape you in the public perception, that is part of PR. And I thought okay, so there is a gap in the markets, right? So I want, if I'm doing something, I want people to feel that they can call me the middle of the night, if they're having a problem and we'll have a conversation I'm going to be there for them instead of them calling me in the middle of the night.
And I was like, okay, so I'll charge you like a couple of hundred cringes for this conversation. So it was literally a frustration because I realized that's, what I have to offer is it's relatively unique and just want to pursue that. And I want to have my time. Fantastic. That is such a good story.
So a little bit about what you do and your experience. I noticed that you focus on startups. What are what's a bad recommendation that maybe you hear that you've heard in your profession? About startups or even smaller midsize company that's looking to do PR like what is something that you hear that no, they shouldn't do that.
Or that's actually waste of money that's really a bad recommendation. I think with startups early stage startups, what I see quite frequently, especially in Eastern Europe is that they using newswires. They write a press release, then they just pay, I don't know, like 500 quid someone, and then it gets reprinted and sometimes it's pure on Yahoo finance or in Forbes or Bloomberg or whatever, but it will it will be clearly labeled that it is a news wire.
And obviously if you are looking to target your peers or sophisticated investors, they will realize that it's not actually a journalistic piece of work. I do think that startups tend not to understand or underestimate the. Influencing the public relations can have on a business. And what we see a lot of times is that some people coming to us saying, Oh we want to go out with the press release tomorrow.
One would try to explain them that it takes four to six weeks to prepare for things to think things through. Yeah, so a lot of them are doing that just right away. But newswires are evil. That sounds like one of the worst things a company can do for a PR stunt. Let's do a press release, but they're clearly not ready once to follow up on that.
Or has a question for the CEO or something. Absolutely. Absolutely. And also I think when it comes to let's say any sort of media outreach, what we do is we just try to understand the client inside out. When we produce a press release or where we start media relations, that we don't need to ask them every single time, so what do you think? So we try to be in the founder's shoes to be able to to represent them to, to our best abilities. Okay. What would you recommend that a startup to, if they only had, let's say they only had 10,000 pounds or dollars. Yeah. And they're trying to think should we put this toward PR or should we put this toward media?
What would you recommend for that story? I think it's extremely important to understand first and foremost, what exactly are you after? So with public relations, it's, it doesn't happen overnight. So it's a long-term investment in relationships with the media. So if you're looking for let's say easy wins, probably marketing and those Facebook, social media campaigns would be the right fit.
If you're looking to stablish yourself as a brand and kind of working on your reputation, then obviously PR does everyone need a PR agency? I'm going to be shooting myself in the foot saying, Nope, not everyone needs a PR agency, which is the loss off of the business probably. But there's certain things that.
Startups, especially that are extremely bootstrapped, can do themselves prior. Let's say to getting someone, either in-house or an agency, media relations key when it comes to journalists. Being on Twitter is an absolute necessity. And a lot of people think, Oh, if I'm Twitter, I have to tweet 75 times per day.
And I have not much to say. But in reality you just following journalists, you just seeing what they're writing about. And a lot of times journalists are interested in personal stories, right? So as no one is interested in a business, they just started because they want to be rich and famous.
Everyone wants to understand what was the struggle? Why are you doing what you're doing? So I'm building those relationships on social media and just pitching some of the ideas is possible. If you have time having said that PR is ridiculously time consuming, right?
So you have to always be able to think, I don't know, five steps ahead saying, okay, if I'm sending this email, what will happen and what will be the outcomes and that what will that mean for a company? And you have a variety of options to do that. But definitely invest in, in your time, best investment Yulia.
What would be, or what's been one of your proudest moments since you've launched a black unicorn? Oh, that's a good question. I think one of the proudest moments when someone swimming in the streets and the said Oh I know what you do, I'm following your story.
I was a bit creepy like we're following pretty much what you guys are doing because what's here compare with, tried to do way. Of course we don't see our clients are just people that are paying money and we pay our bills. It's a part of a family is a part of our network.
And the other thing that we tried to do is we try to educate people on public relations. So as you said if someone doesn't have enough resources to hire a PR agency that is fine you can go on our website, we have a blog and we'll tell you pretty much the mistakes that people are making mean how we can do things.
So being recognized not necessarily on streets, but also within the industry by investors, by other startups. And when someone says Oh, I've heard about black unicorn PR, and I know the work that you're doing, it's a. It does not feel real most of the times. Okay good answer there.
What would be your advice for aspiring PR professionals? Oh grow thick skin and don't take things personally. For me it took quite a few years, almost a decade, not to be able United, to take things personally because we work with people. So what we need to do is to be able to adapt to a variety of different personalities on a day-to-day basis.
And some people are going to be having a bad day just because of having abandoned that'd because they hate you and want to make you miserable. But it is your job just to make sure that you're going to smooth those corners and that there's no conflict. I'm not taking things personally, because I think as a PR professionalist, if you do everything that is in your power, like literally absolutely everything that you can then, if something doesn't work out, of course it's no one's fault, but at least that you did your best and you can't say anything, Oh should have done this or should have done that. Yeah. So fixed skin be patient don't take things personally and stress is a part of the job.
It's not going to be going anywhere. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks psychotic. You're not even in a war zone. Exactly. I don't know what would have happened because I'm suffering from depression, anxiety and panic attacks since Amsterdam times. Funny enough. But I've learned how to live with my demons and sometimes it's, sometimes I'm having bad days.
Sometimes I'm having good days. But stress of course can fuel certain things and you feel overwhelmed and you feel like you have a lot of stress. W what do you do? I just take five minutes. I just take five minutes off my computer, off my phones and just try to spend like those couple of minutes by myself, ideally somewhere in a dark room, because also, I think when you are suffering from like anxiety, depression, and all those crazy things that can happen is that there you feel overwhelmed because you just don't know exactly what to do.
And you try to play like you start panicking, but if you take your like a couple of minutes and try to remove yourself from the situation that started that it really helps. And also I know that for example, the way I am with all the crazy thing that's happening in my life, that is the way.
I am, and this is who I am. So I've learned how to live with that and you know how to manage my stress. So it never affects, let's say my work, sometimes it can affect my personal relationships, but then a lot of my friends and just, they're much used to knowing that if I need some time off them that's going to be absolutely fine.
Okay. Yulia, where can people learn more about you? Where can they find out more about your business on our website. So www.blackunicornpr.com. And I am on Twitter. I'm on LinkedIn. I'm on Facebook. I'm not on tick-tock, I'm too old for that. I just don't get it. People can always just get in touch with me if they if it's an aspiring PR professional or someone just needs professional peer advice I am always up for coffee chats while virtual coffee chats and okay.
Thanks Yulia. And for those of you listening, I will be back next week with another amazing guest here on innovators can laugh.