In our “Up Close and Professional” series, we shine the spotlight on the people who make up The Agency as we discuss their career paths, areas of expertise and what drives them to excel at what they do. In this edition, we catch up with our fearless leader Arleigh Vasconcellos, Founder and Managing Director of The Agency, for an insightful conversation about her love for storytelling, the art of running a successful business and the changing landscape of the PR industry.
From working with companies like Virgin Holidays, Tourism Whistler and World Travel Market to starting her own PR and marketing firm, Arleigh has over 20 years of experience in the strategic communications and PR industry. With The Agency’s 13th birthday just around the corner on March 31st, Arleigh reflects on her career so far and the exciting journey ahead.
Did you always know you wanted to work in PR? What sparked your interest?
I knew I enjoyed writing so after graduating from high school I started at Carleton University in their Journalism program. But after my first year I realized that it didn’t fulfill my career aspirations and I quickly realized how much I love the art of storytelling. So I transferred to the University of Ottawa and instead completed an Honours degree in Communications with a minor in Mass Media. It was at U of O that I fell in love with public relations. At that time PR was not something a lot of people knew about or were doing, but that didn’t stop me.
From a junior PR professional to starting your own agency, what does your journey look like?
My professional career began in my second year of university when I interned for the summer at Vecova and had the chance to dip my toes into the world of media pitching and planning. I took on a few other internships and soon after graduating I moved to Whistler and dove into PR full-time. My time in Whistler was fast-paced and I learned a lot, got exposure to media from around the world, and in my last year living there planned over 350 media itinerary visits for local, national and global publications. A few highlights include The Wall Street Journal, The Times, BBC, MTV Brazil, and a live mountain-top broadcast with the Australian Broadcast Corporation.
After four years in Whistler it was time to move on. I always wanted to live and work in the UK, so I decided to explore what one of the epicenters for PR has to offer. Moving to London really accelerated my career. It is where I went from a doer to a manager and burgeoning leader. The experience and programs I was able to manage and oversee in London truly shaped my skill set and strategic thinking process.
What made you start The Agency? And why Calgary?
Home is where the heart is, and after living away for 12 years it was time to be home in Calgary, closer to the mountains and to have my family a 10-minute drive away, not a 10-hour flight away.
I always toyed with the idea of starting my own PR agency. But it took an unpleasant interview experience for a job in Calgary, in which I was mansplained, to finally push me to follow my dream. Three days after that interview, The Agency was born. It has been thirteen years since then, but sometimes I still pinch myself to make sure it is all real!
What made you focus on the tech and innovation scene in Canada, especially in Calgary?
I have always been fascinated with tech and innovation. When I was setting up The Agency, Calgary’s tech sector was just starting to get more of a foothold. And I like a good story, whether it is about science, technology, engineering or innovation. Looking at how Calgary’s tech and innovation sector is growing, I’m glad I made the decision to focus here because it has propelled The Agency to really flourish.
On the business side of things, the tech sector in Calgary represented an untapped market and created opportunity for sustained growth. As an entrepreneur, sustained growth was important to me considering the amount of time and effort I had poured into the business. A friend of mine once said to me that The Agency is as much my baby as my kids are. And given the late nights, celebrations, learning, growth and tears that have gone into it, I definitely agree!
What is your favourite part about running The Agency?
It’s the people I get to work with, whether it’s my team or our clients, and the stories we get to tell. We are a group of people that truly enjoy working together and it is wonderful to see how everyone brings their unique expertise and strengths to the table. I can honestly say it’s the team’s spirit and energy and our clients that are my favourite parts. The business and entrepreneurial side of things is also very exciting for my strategic mind.
It is also important to me that the organizations we work with understand the value of PR and strategic storytelling. At The Agency, we’ve built a great culture and even as we grow exponentially, we’re keen on keeping our culture alive and thriving.
What kind of professional development opportunities do you like to explore to strengthen your executive leadership and strategic storytelling skills?
Once a PR and news junkie, always a PR and news junkie. I’m forever a student of interesting things. I like to stay on top of the news even if that means tuning into a podcast while driving to a client meeting. Also I must credit my mentors and friends who have provided sage counsel over the years – and sometimes just an ear to listen.
I enjoy both participating in and leading professional development workshops. I’ve been a mentor with the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), where I discuss all things PR and communications with CPRS students. I’m also a speaker at the Platform Junction program and the Accelerator, where I cover topics ranging from strategic communication to brand messaging and more. I am also involved in providing entrepreneurial leadership coaching and have worked with over 200 startups over The Agency’s history. An important part of learning and development for me is to support the community as much as possible. Most of the professional development opportunities I take on also aim to give back.
Any words of advice to someone just starting out in PR and marketing?
I think the common public perception is that PR as an industry is rapidly changing and as professionals we need to keep up. I’m an oddball because I disagree with this notion. I think the tools we use are evolving, but the core values and fundamental skills required for PR are not. PR is still about telling the right story to the right people on the right platform.
Having said that, my one piece of advice would be that you need to be able to use both your right and left brain simultaneously. What I mean when I say this is, you need to simultaneously be incredibly creative and able to identify stories, but also detail-oriented, analytical and laser-focused. These skills are developed over time, so spend time honing and nurturing them.
My last bit of advice is to also always find time to do the things that you love to relax and unwind – you’ll be sharper and more mentally present in your day-to-day work and life if you do!
Thank you Arleigh – we love working under your leadership and expertise!