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Your AHA moment came as a result of a high school project. How did you know in the moment, that this was the career path for you?
I knew and didn’t know at that moment. I think I was lost like everyone else in high school. I was good at the arts and had a passion for painting, drawing and writing. I was into music. I was into theatre, so I always thought that I would be in a creative role in my career. But I also didn’t want to be a starving artist. I was going through an exploration at that time like everybody else, and then my high school announced that they were going to be offering a program where you could take 3-4 business courses in your last two years of school. It would improve your chances of getting accepted into a business school.
Something inside me said that I should give this a try and I started taking accounting. I learned how to do my own tax return in high school. I took a strategic management course as well. Marketing and advertising was the course where I had the AHA moment because we had a project where we had to think about developing a product, the key messages and branding that went into the packaging, and then coming up with an advertisement for the product. That was the first time where I was able to take my creative thinking and love for art and merge it into a whole new world for myself. That’s when I realized that, “My God, if this is what a marketing career looks like, sign me up.” I pursued that path.
I did the Marketing diploma program at Sheridan and then upgraded to a Bachelor’s degree, majoring in Marketing, and minoring in Communications at Ryerson. I was chosen to be part of the Ontario Colleges Marketing Competition (OCMC), representing Sheridan in my last year. I also did the co-op program there and that is how I was able to get a job right out of school. The company that I did a co-op with hired me when I graduated. It seemed like everything was working together nicely and I got into a flow, but I was uncertain about my future like everyone else. I took a great leap of faith and I followed my creative hunches and I’ve been doing that ever since.
Striking out on your own took courage. Why was it important to you to have your own business? When did you realize that you had made it?
I always knew that I was going to own my own business. I just didn’t know in what capacity. When I was working in the corporate world, I was so hungry to learn everything. I aligned myself with my mentors, stood up for big projects and I was extremely ambitious. Being in a marketing capacity, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of agencies and I realized that I had these creative ideas. I would often help them with ideation. I didn’t know that I was going to own an agency myself. I had to work in an agency to figure that out.
I was like everybody else, dreaming of finding a big business idea where you think that you are going to find a gap in the marketplace or in your own industry and fill that need really well. It doesn’t always happen like that and I didn’t know all of the details or see a clear path, but I knew that I was creating something. I had to believe in my ability to consistently come up with ideas, conceptualize and to solve issues. It was ultimately when I came back from the agency side that I realized that’s what I was meant to do. I want to help small to medium sized brands come up with creative solutions.
What advice do you have for people who want to take the leap from their secure jobs to running their own business?
Believing in yourself is the first step. You need to have a great idea and you need to be really passionate about it. Think about it every single day and feel confident that this is what you want to do. It’s that belief in yourself and determination that has so much magic and power.
I’ll never forget this piece of advice that someone had given to me. It is related to the Japanese proverb about the two hares. You could be chasing two hares and not catch one of them, but the minute you start focusing on chasing one (starting a business in my case), is when you will actually catch it. That was so pivotal for me as a business owner to realize; that I had to go in 100% and believe in myself. That is when things started to grow and take shape.
What have you learned from your own mentors that has made you an effective mentor?
One thing that I learned from my mentors, especially from women in business, at least the ones that I have worked with, is that they have always used their voice. They have always been diplomatic, but have never really shied away from what they believe in. That was very important for me to learn as a young woman and for me to teach other young women as well, especially in this business of communication. If you aren’t comfortable with your own voice and using it, then you have some work to do. We all need to believe in our voice and use it for the greater good.
Winning the IABC Boutique Agency of the Year in 2016 must have been a huge honour. What pressures come with being an award winner?
It really is about the pressure that I inflict upon myself being a creative. I compete with and challenge myself all the time. There’s no doubt that when you do start winning the awards, and the industry starts looking, there is a pressure to continuously create great ideas. I thrive on dealing with the unknown and discovering new ways of doing something bigger and better. It’s how I continue to evolve and grow.
In addition to running your own PR agency, you are a certified yoga instructor and you have even written a book, “Fit & Fab Over 40”. How do you make the time for your other interests and yourself as a business owner?
Over the years, I became a big journal writer. I’m constantly writing, creating, getting new ideas and writing them down. I don’t get a lot of satisfaction in life if I don’t invest myself into personal pursuits that interest me. That’s why I’ve made the time for my creative interests and hobbies outside of work. I took a yoga course that was a 250-hour certificate program on weekends. I wrote my book on evenings and weekends where I would find some time, go to a coffee shop and just let the ideas flow out of me. I invest in myself by finding space to dream and create. I feel like I need to do that for myself first before I do it for others– it’s a form of self-care for me.
It’s amazing that when I invest in my hobbies like writing a book, doing yoga, cooking, gardening, traveling or painting, it takes me out of the mundane and it gives me an opportunity to create in other ways that I don’t get to do at work. What I do at work is a very different type of ideation and creation that is always tied into goals and objectives. When I take the time for myself, it opens up more space within myself to create more – it’s all interconnected. When I expand and create on a personal level, I find that it mirrors its way back into my work life.
Sometimes it feels in business that women over 40 are in a void. There is so much attention on millennials and Gen Z. Do you think that that brands are overlooking women in that age group?
There are a number of things happening. As women get older, they are busier with their careers and families and they aren’t posting on social channels as much as younger women are. It’s easier for a marketer to target a millennial or Gen Z because they are really engaged, especially on social media. That is likely where the disparity seemingly happens.
Millennials are making first-time big purchases and Gen-Z is developing brand preferences, so there is a keen interest in shaping and influencing these targets. Whereas my cohort knows what she wants, has the propensity to spend, and is in a stage of life where she is upgrading and enjoying life. It would be wise for marketers to take interest in all segments.
That is not to say that women in my age category are being overlooked. There is an opportunity from a marketing standpoint. Many of the brands I work with, do look at different demographics and opportunities in the marketplace, and with all the technological tools and information at our disposal, targeting the right audience is a lot easier these days. However, when one cohort is more active on social platforms for instance, it may seem like they are getting all the attention.
COVID-19 will impact the relationship between brands and consumers like never before. What changes do you predict will come from the pandemic?
From a communication standpoint, it has forced us to think critically and communicate with a more compassionate and inclusive perspective. This is because people are going through many different emotions at the present moment, and you have to be mindful of this collective experience. Technology has certainly been the glue in keeping us informed, and connected like never before and I foresee greater technological advancements, especially in how we work. There will be a greater need for more genuine and direct communication from the C-suite and government leaders, to consumers and constituents.
There is no question that there will be more changes that we cannot fully see yet. I’m an optimist, so I think there is good change brewing. Change is the new norm and we are all becoming change agents. It’s not just the entrepreneurs anymore.
There has been so much change and adaptation in a short period of time with the social distancing rules. I am amazed how so many businesses like grocery stores for example, were quick and nimble to adopt new protocols to keep people safe, and we all have adapted well. I’m also amazed at all the support and compassion for front-line workers. Companies that have feared change are not only being forced to look at new ways of doing business, but they may have to continue do so for quite some time.
This is an opportunity for all of us to think of better ways of doing things, to think of how we can collaborate, communicate and work with each other more effectively. For me, personally, I’ve been thinking about streamlining my own business and life. I’ve been reflecting on how I can be a better person. Can I consume less? What do I really need to be happy? How can I support others? How can I support the environment? If we experience another pandemic in 5 years, where do I want to be and what can I do differently and improve for next time?
You have inspired many women. Who inspires you?
I’ve worked with a lot of great women in business and some that were absolutely horrible. All of these people taught me how to be and how not to be. One woman that I have relied on over and over again, who’s been there for me and who’s been a rock in my life has been my mother. She has been so inspiring to me because she was an immigrant. She was pregnant with me when she and my dad decided to move from Portugal to Canada to create a better life for themselves and their new family. They didn’t know the language, the culture or the country.
Looking at my mother, I realize how excited and to a certain degree, how fearful she must have been, but she took a risk and believed in herself. She took a huge leap of faith along with my dad. I watched them work so hard throughout my whole life. I was not entitled or given everything that I wanted; I was given everything that I needed. If there was one thing that they taught me, it was to persevere and continue in the face of adversity. Things will get better – they always do. But, that sense of optimistic risk taking and determination was in my DNA and led me into a career as a marketer, and eventually an entrepreneur.
Final Thought: The great artist Henri Matisse once said “It takes great courage to be creative”. Story of my life!