In late March, just two weeks after the San Francisco PR agency JAM Collective instituted a remote work policy to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus, a message circulated from the team.
"We're taking things virtual with our new series #JAMSessions!" it read. "We encourage you to step away from the thought that, while working from home, you need to be working all of the time. Breaks are needed, and we would love you to take them with us! In the coming weeks, JAM will be hosting online workshops, yoga sessions, challenges, tutorials, happy hours and so much more. Let’s continue to stay connected while working from home!"
At that point—the first #JAMSession took place March 25—the notion of virtual happy hours and Zoom-based yoga was still relatively new. A torrent of similar efforts in the last two months has made the practice of blowing off steam via chat software seem ordinary, but just 60 days ago, the idea was fresh.
"They led the way, not just among industry PR people, but among everybody," said Matt Bean, editor-in-chief of Sunset magazine, who hosted a #JAMSession last week called "Building Strong Relationships: Brand & Media" with Joe Peters, marketing director at Vasque. "They were some of the first to say, 'This is a moment to come together and be creative.' Then you started to see other brands take advantage of the same thing. JAM was the first not only to talk about it but to put it on the calendar."
The events grew organically from an initial Zoom happy hour that JAM founder Julie Atherton hosted for her staff—an idea that "expanded and expanded," she said, until the formal #JAMSessions were born.
"Part of JAM’s DNA is connecting in a meaningful way. It wasn’t a matter of if we were going to do something, but how we were going to make it happen," said Amy May, director of outdoor PR at JAM. "The most important thing is to keep the connections alive. We knew this would be the spark that kept our friendships and relationships going, both with our team and with our brands."
JAM Connect virtual show launches to serve JAM's clients and journalists
This week, that spark grew when #JAMSessions evolved again into a full-fledged virtual media show called JAM Connect, bringing together its client brands like Vasque, prAna, Osprey, and OtterBox with journalists and editors around the country. The format was similar to previous media shows put on during the pandemic, with a few modifications. Whereas shows like Reveal, hosted by ECHOS Communications last month, relied on a conference format for all brand presentations, JAM Connect included one-on-one virtual appointments between journalists and brand reps.
"We wanted to be very conscious about the fact that different media members have different interests, different things they want to write about," said Atherton.
"It’s a lot like how we structure attending an in-person trade show," said May. We offer one-on-one appointments as well as small group sessions. That translates to how we do our work every day, knowing that no two people are the same. We need to offer lots of ways for people to connect. It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing."
Bean, who attended the show, said the individual appointments were a plus.
"I always prefer one-on-one connection," he said. "There’s a difference in dynamic when you're in there with 10 times the number of people. This makes it feel a little more like you're hanging out at a happy hour."
JAM Collective is planning another event, happening sometime in the coming months, for brands to launch their Spring '21 products to media. In the meantime, the #JAMSessions will go on.
"They did a full commit from the beginning," Bean said. "It's like they went right up to the edge of Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson and did a double backflip. They said, 'We’re just going for this,' and so far they’ve stuck the landing."