Transiting from a stable job at a large public relations and communication agency to taking a risk as a new mother to launch a ‘one-woman-band’ agency is no easy task. Armed with a laptop in one hand and a toddler in the other, PR expert Lisa Pasquin gave birth to her second baby—Craft PR Agency in 2014.
Six years later her determination and perseverance paid off. This month Pasquin was named a PR News’ Top Women in PR honouree, one of the foremost distinctions one can receive in the industry in North America. Craft PR was also earlier this year named “Small Agency of the Year” by the International Association of Business Communicators and furthermore to add to her growing agency and already list of elite clients such as Nintendo, Moosehead, Tetley, GE Appliances—Craft PR won the Tim Hortons account.
Her secret to success? She is a “passionate cheerleader” for her team—“Our business model is to hire the absolute best people, and to do everything we can to train them, to reward them well, to treat them with incredible respect and to give amazing opportunities for growth. We’re a small company, but we’ve consistently make deep investments in our people—from our unlimited vacation policy to the ‘Curiosity Fund’ (money they can use to explore anything they’re curious about) to our annual profit sharing program to world-class learning and development experiences (in 2019 alone, we sent team members to conferences and events in New York, Austin, Washington and Montreal) to our annual team retreat (we’ve had to delay the trip we had planned to Disney World for Craft’s 5th anniversary this year—but we’ll get there eventually!),” said Pasquin.
An essential part of the Agency’s successes is able to identify the company’s weaknesses. “While we have amazing women on our team, diversity is a weakness for us. As it has for so many individuals, and so many business leaders, 2020 has driven significant self-reflection on the need for better representation in our team. Our agency doesn’t look like our country. We need to do better—and we’re taking action to change how we attract and hire employees at Craft to get there,” she added.
Pasquin spoke to The Edge about her voyage from international recognised agencies to being the CEO of her own.
Describe your journey from working in established marketing, communications and public relations agencies to launching your own agency?
I never thought I would launch my own business. Ever! I loved working on big, collaborative teams. I had the opportunity to work at some of Canada’s best agencies – Weber Shandwick, Harbinger and Veritas—on amazing brands, from McDonald’s to Labatt to Unilever. And I learned so much from incredible leaders at all of those companies.
But over the years, I became incredibly dissatisfied with the “big agency” model. Being part of an agency that’s owned by a publicly-traded holding company—as so many larger agencies are today—meant a ruthless focus on profitability, and a culture where the key metric of success was how many billable hours you could contribute to the bottom line. Because profitability is higher with junior employees, work was often being pushed down to the most inexperienced person capable of completing it. And because more billable hours meant more revenue for shareholders, being busy was good—and being very busy? Great. Working in a large agency often felt like a constant battle to see how hard we could get people to work before they broke. I knew there had to be a better way.
What inspired you to launch Craft PR?
I wanted to create a small agency that offered the creativity, strategic thinking and excellence in execution of a large shop. Focused and dedicated teams of smart, senior strategists who would work closely with their clients to create and deliver incredible work. A team motivated by a passionate focus on helping our clients achieve their business goals. And a true commitment to our “craft”. The vision was to get the best people to do truly great work in service of incredible clients.
At the time of launching Craft PR, it was a one women band. The International Association of Business Communicators – Toronto earlier this year honoured Craft PR with the title of “Small Agency of the Year”, which is a great achievement. Looking back on the first day on the ‘job’, what were some of your initial fears as a new entrepreneur and how did you conquer these fears to reign as one of the leading PR minds in Toronto?
It’s funny that you put the word ‘job’ in quotation marks—because that’s exactly how it felt: like a bit of a hypothetical ‘job’. I launched Craft after my maternity leave, and one day the nanny I had hired showed up and I realized I had to figure out a way to actually build this company. I crowdsourced a logo on the internet, bought myself a new computer, and suddenly, Craft was born. But I will say this: it was never scary. It was exciting, and there was a huge learning curve and it was a heck of a lot of fun—but I knew what I was capable of, and I knew that what I could offer had value. And I think I was right.
Craft PR recently won one of Canada’s largest accounts, that of Tim Hortons, to add to a list of other elite accounts such as Nintendo, Moosehead, Tetley, GE Appliances, etc. Coming from a PR background myself, I understand that this is a huge feat and takes immense work and a great team to win such accounts. What is the Tim Hortons account worth and tell us more about the process and challenges of winning such big accounts?
We’re incredibly proud of our entire client roster—we get to work with some of the most amazing companies in Canada, and some of the most collaborative and creative clients every day. Our approach to winning those clients is no different than the approach we bring to our work with them every day: we approach every pitch with honesty and transparency, we show up with passion and enthusiasm and we bring incredible creativity to every challenge.
What was the company’s strategy to use COVID-19 and the global pandemic as a positive spin for your clients and how did you inculcate in your client’s branding / messaging?
To be clear: I don’t think there’s a “positive spin” for anyone in the COVID-19 pandemic. The last year has taken an incalculable toll on us all, as people and as organizations. That said, we’ve certainly had to adapt, and to help our clients adapt to marketing in this new reality. And I’m incredibly proud of how we’ve achieved that. We’ve helped clients from Nintendo to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair connect with consumers virtually in entirely new ways (check out Nintendo’s recent “Challenge a Champ” program as a perfect example—we gave Canadians the opportunity to compete virtually, through Nintendo Switch Online, against “champions” at relevant games – Mario Tennis Aces again Bianca Andreescu, anyone?). And we’ve worked with clients like Travelzoo to adapt their messaging to resonate in this new reality (with a focus on local travel, and on providing expertise in navigating ever-changing travel restrictions). We developed programs for clients like 19 Crimes Wine to bring joy and delight to consumers where they are – like the seven foot tall statues of Snoop Dogg that we commissioned artists to create for liquor stores to celebrate the launch of the brand’s new Cali Red wine.
Based on your team predominately identifying as women, you are evidently an advocate of equal opportunities for women in the workforce. Was this part of your original business model and how has this given your agency an advantage?
Our business model is to hire the absolute best people, and to do everything we can to train them, to reward them well, to treat them with incredible respect and to give them amazing opportunities for growth. Our goal is to be the destination-of-choice for the top people working in PR in Canada today—and if you’ve had the chance to meet anyone who works at Craft right now, you know we’re succeeding.
As a successful female entrepreneur, and as a woman with many responsibilities, overworking sometimes can control one’s life. What is your secret to maintaining a balanced life? Do you have any specific routine?
I’m answering these questions on my couch while my six-year-old plays Minecraft beside me. So I certainly don’t have any magical formula for balance. But I’ll say this. As much as I love Craft (and I really, really love it), it’s not the most important thing in my life. It never will be. And I know that’s true for everyone else who works at Craft, too. And I think that’s a critically important perspective. I can give my heart and soul, my energy and my time to this business – and I do – but it always comes second to my son, and my family. Always. So that perspective helps. That, and being an early riser! I get more done before 6:30 a.m. than I used to get done in an entire day.
What are the future goals and objectives for the agency and where would you like to see the company in five years?
My goals for the next five years are no different than my goals for the last five years. I want Craft to be an absolutely amazing place to work. I want to attract and retain the most talented people working in PR in Canada today, and I want them to love their jobs every day (or at least, most days!). I want them to do business-changing, award-winning, culture-shaping work that they’re proud of. And I want that work to be in service of clients who treat us as true partners. If we can do that, nothing else matters.
In your opinion, what core characteristics do you portray that makes you a great leader and not just another ‘boss’?
You should really be asking my team! I guess I would hope they would talk about the ways that I’ve brought Craft’s values to life in the way I’ve built this company.
And finally, I would hope they just see me as a huge cheerleader for them, for their work and for this agency. I’m so proud of Craft, and I’m so proud of the people who work here. And I’ll tell that to anyone who is willing to listen.
Veruschka Mungroo | Senior Editor