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One On One With Jacquelyn Corbett Cyr, Espresso

jacquelyn_corbett_cyrHere is the first in my One on One series, during this interview I had a chance to chat with Jacquelyn Corbett Cyr, CEO of Espresso, a Toronto-based communications agency.

DF –  How did you get into PR?

JCC – Hm, you know, I’d say I got into communications and took it from there. I started my career as a very young entrepreneur working in entertainment – record label followed by magazine publishing both print and online – and the success of those businesses propelled me into communications. I’d developed a knack for building brands using grassroots tactics, from PR stunts through to relationship-building in online communities. When I started my agency life, I found it very challenging to separate the various facets of communications when the little entrepreneur inside was constantly screaming about integration. And thus I ended up where I am today!

DF – What is involved in your role on a daily basis?

What *isn’t* involved in my role on a daily basis? Hah. Typically, I am in bunches of meetings. Internal ones typically involve ideation on client projects, new business scheming, or financial analysis. External ones typically involve client meetings, new business pitches, and that whole meeting-strangers-for-coffee thing, where I often get lots of great new ideas from people who are taking different initiatives in our field. When I’m not in meetings, I spend a lot of time obsessing over numbers – yes, I am totally geeked out. I love making ever-more-clever spreadsheets that help me in my internal reporting and help my clients to better analyze their own business and obsess over the software – my baby! – we developed to determine return on infiltration and try to brainstorm additional components that will allow it to bring further efficiencies to clients. I read my RSS – a combination of industry and client-specific sites – and the bazillion related stories my coworkers share every day. I also try very much to make things fun for the staff – we get really, really busy which can produce stress in a work environment. It’s super important to me that everyone feels good about the work that they do and can laugh despite the madness, so I try to build an environment that fosters that – I am constantly thinking about how to do this better.

DF –  What the biggest change (s) to the PR industry in 2009?

You know, I don’t know that I’m the best person to answer this, because I’ve never been a classical PR person/marketer/etc., and think more of myself as an integrated communicator. (Oh, the semantics!) Personally, I suspect that the recession has spurred clients to ask more questions about return, and this is a sure advantage to smart PR firms. Obviously, the whole social media thing is also hitting its critical mass this year, which poses an enormous challenge to companies that didn’t start fully embracing what it means to communicate from a brand perspective in this channel over the last couple of years. While it’s certainly not rocket science to figure out the delicacies of human interaction, those who are learning-oriented and intrigued by change will obviously have the advantage.

DF – What are some of the challenges you see the PR industry facing today?

I suppose an ever-present challenge is figuring out how to put together your numbers. I think the recession, as I noted above, made clients think more consistently about numbers. Those organizations that haven’t positioned themselves for this type of orientation – particularly important when combined with digital, due to its inherent trackability – are not doing themselves any favours.

DF –  You recently expanded the company to the United States, why during such a turbulent time? Has the expansion been everything you expected?

We expanded because we saw opportunity, plain and simple. Hilariously, I think of myself as pretty risk-averse, but I am really good at settings things up so that calculated risks are always propelling growth. I set up appropriate investment and expectations to ensure success, then push the living daylights out of the reality – that’s my modus operandi, and our board has consistently given me the chance to make it happen. The expansion has been amazing to me thus far – we’re getting great response and have a talented managing director getting us into doors we previously wouldn’t have even seen from our offices in the north. We’re bringing our business philosophy to a range of new clients, and I am just thrilled by it.

DF – What is the difference between how US vs. Canadian companies use PR as part of their business?

Well, I think every company uses communication tools differently and has its own comfort level with certain types of risk and innovative initiatives – I have yet to encounter two clients that want to take a similar approach! Hah.

DF – What impact are you seeing the current economic climate having on the PR industry?

Every field in the communication toolbox is being impacted by shifting budgets, but being able to operate through that should be no major challenge for companies that are operating at efficient standards. (This, of course, excludes losing accounts, etc., which obviously transitions one’s operations.) In fact, I think the recession is good for PR, if companies are taking the time to think about numbers in a smart way. Given its nature, there is no way it couldn’t be.

DF – Newspapers and other tradition media have been going through a major shift with many downsizing and lay off staff, what impact does this have on the PR industry?

To be honest, I don’t think I can answer this question, as we do very little work with traditional media.


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