Toronto is always buzzing with glamorous events and festivals – from the celeb studded TIFF to the very anticipated World MasterCard Fashion Week. We see the flawless photos, attend the chic parties, but often we forget that each event has an extremely talented and hard working team behind it.
I have worked and been introduced to a few PR companies in the past but one specifically stood out. Shine PR is an all girl team taking Toronto by storm and I knew I couldn’t pass on an opportunity to feature them. Glamour always seems to be attached to the profession and the Shine team certainly did not lack that. However, just like with every profession, there is much more than meets the eye.
We asked the founders – Jess Hunichen and Emily Ward a few questions to give us a peak into their careers!
What are your current job title(s)/Industry?
E: Founder and CGO (Chief Glitter Officer) of Shine PR
J: Founder and Chief Glitter Officer at Shine PR.
What are your educational backgrounds?
E: BFA Hon from York University in Dance and then a post graduate degree at Humber College in Cultural Management.
J: I am from Melbourne, Australia – so all of my study was done there.. I studied a Bachelor of Business, majoring in Marketing.
What did you want to be growing up/while you’re in school?
E: I truly thought I was going to be a dancer for most of my school years. I love the arts and everything to do with performing and the stage. My passion for dance led me to intern in the PR departments at the National Ballet and the Danny Grossman Dance Company. I realized there that for a career, I could be the one who helps communicate and plan the events. I never would have guessed a performing arts background would have helped me in this industry as much as it has. I’m a natural story teller, have innate confidence with large scaled events, and definitely enjoy the opportunity to exercise my creativity when it comes to concepts and decor.
J: Everything… vet, professional gymnast (ha!), accountant, wedding planner, the list goes on.
What type of training did you need to complete to be in the career you are in now?
E: There are some amazing PR schools in Canada. PR; however, is also something that can’t be taught if you have the right drive. At Shine, we don’t necessarily look for team members with formal schooling but those with an aptitude for creating networks, and who have that ‘chameleon’-like personality who can understand and translate the language of a brand.
J: I don’t believe that you need to have studied Public Relations to be successful in the field… It certainly takes a particular personality type though. I never learned how to write a press release, or liaise with the media, that was all done on the job.
What are some previous jobs you’ve held?
E: My first job out of school was starting the PR department for the boutique marketing agency – The Adlib Group. The owners were extremely entrepreneurial in their processes and encouraged me to dive head first into the world of PR and find a way to make it my own. From there, I worked under Martine Levy at DDB Public Relations for several years alongside her killer team. Prior to Shine, I had operated my own freelance company working on brands including Vegas Tourism with Aerial Communications and Pilsner Urquell with Sarah Waldock.
J: I had a boutique agency in Melbourne that I launched straight out of university, after three years, I wanted to be part of a larger team, so I wrangled myself a job in television. I worked in marketing for Channel 10, then moved on to the publicity team at the Nine Network before relocating to Toronto in February 2014.
What type of female would you recommend going into your field?
E: Ah, we LOVE working with ladies. I adored the bond of PR girls and think there is always room for one more. Someone who will be successful in PR has to have a knack for problem solving and be able to find calm in the craziness. We all can pre-plan the perfect campaign, but it is the ones who are able to be nimble, flexing and adapting to the changes along the way who are successful in the end.
J: You need to be a people person, someone who can think on their feet, roll with the punches and at the end of the day is happy to jump in and get their hands dirty. It’s definitely not glamorous all the time!
What are some aspects of your job that people might not consider before entering it as a career?
E: It’s not as glamorous and easy as it seems. To an uninformed person, they might think it takes mere minutes to pick up the phone and make an editorial pitch. Those in the industry know that PR practitioners are always listening and learning. We research the subjects, tones and trends of every outlet before a story opportunity is presented. We dive into a client’s brand to find the true nugget of interest beyond the marketing strategy. It take an acute and creative mind. Even the seemingly frivolous pieces have concentrated strategies and steps behind them. Nothing is by luck.
J: I think that the common perception of PR is that it is all champagne and parties (which it is at times!)… but there is so much work that goes on behind the scenes, which the general public doesn’t see. But I guess that is the beauty of it, making all of the hard work appear flawlessly executed.
Who are your role models?
E: I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Botkin this year of Think8. She is an absolute inspiration for female entrepreneurs. A women who is unapologically full of class and intelligence dedicated to empowering others. She has been integral to Jess’ and my personal and business development helping us “newbies” navigate the waters of being successful women in business.
J: I’ve been extremely lucky in Toronto to be able to surround myself with the most incredible, crazy clever group of women that seems to keep growing and growing. They are all role models. And I must make mention of one very special man, Peter Sisam, since I moved to Toronto, he has become my adoptive family, the ultimate connector and my biggest supporter. Above anything else, he is unbelievably kind.
Who do you see as a strong female representation in your field?
E: ….how many can I list??
– My partner Jess Hunichen, for one. She boldly moved across the world from Melbourne and has quickly created an incredible life here in Canada for herself. She is smart, fearless and can make me laugh in just about any stressful situation.
– Keka DasGupta – VP of DDB Public Relations – I worked with Keka during my DDB days. She is a mother of two beautiful boys and an incredible strategist. Amongst the chaos, Keka has always been someone who can zero in on the target and make magic happen. Although it’s been years since I’ve been at DDB, when caught in a bind, I still will give Keka a call (….alike many of my DDB alum) to help talk through the details and get to the root of a problem. To gush about her a bit more, Keka is also one of my favorite presenters. Genuine and real – there is no rehearsed play to her delivery. She builds instant rapport with an audience, because she is confident to simply share her knowledge.
J: I’ve worked with some amazing women… my last boss in Melbourne, Michelle Stamper, is one of the best in the business, who I had the privilege of learning so much from. And more than anything at the moment, I am so inspired by the girls on the Shine team.. our little PR pixies. Some of them are fresh out of school, so eager, such creative little problem solvers and completely brilliant. I’m sure they will take over the world one day.
How would you define your style?
E: Oh lordy, I think my style is constantly evolving. I swear I was pregnant or with a newborn for five years so only now do I really feel like I’m getting back into my adult style (i.e. I’ve ditched the leggings and running shoes for inappropriate heels at the park).
J: It is uber feminine. You can most commonly find me wearing floral dresses and inappropriately full skirts.
What is your day to day like?
E: Busy, but rewarding. I have two little ones, so I’m up early and probably spend my most concentrated time with them before school. From there, I hop in the car and usually meet Jess for a client meeting somewhere. If we aren’t jumping to another meeting, we adore working at Colette or the Spoke. Usually a day or two each week we get the entire team together to work at our home office space. I think it’s great to have the ability to work on the go as well as be together as a team.
J: Just like the world of PR, it is constantly changing and no two days are alike. I love working in environments that are conducive to creativity, so you will often find us working at Colette, or the Spoke patio, or if it is a particularly sunny day, the Thompson rooftop. The joys of being your own boss!
What do you find most meaningful in your job?
E: Working with the team (aka PR Pixies). I am immensely proud of the development of the #LadiesofShine. Almost all of our girls have found us and requested to be part of the agency versus us seeking out a candidate. I love seeing how much the girls have grown and their abilities to be creative and responsive to all the situations that are thrown at them.
J: Being able to build something that I absolutely adore excites me every day. And I get to do it with Em! I’m so proud of the brand build we have done for Shine and of the team that we have acquired along the way.
Which upcoming project would you say you’re most excited about?
E: We are thrilled to be helping Young People’s Theatre with their 50th Anniversary Gala in October. It speaks to my arts background and provide Shine the opportunity to promote this incredible organization….did I mention Drake and Kiefer Sutherland are alumni???
J: My favourite projects so far have been our proprietary Shine events. We started with Shop and Shine, and just did Stretch and Shine. Whilst I love working on client projects, it is always nice to have complete creative freedom when planning an event. Next up… Skate and Shine, when it gets a little colder.
Is there something in your position/career/industry you wouldn’t mind changing?
E: The black & white mindset of some companies. Media Relations, Social Media, Influencer Relations and Events are all evolving channels. Where an end goal can be established, the journey to reach it in an authentic manner can’t always be set in stone. We are lucky in that Shine attracts clients who both understand and respect the relationships we assemble on their behalf. With trust, we have been able to accomplish great things.
J: I’d love to see more collaborations between agencies. PR can be a super competitive industry, but we love working alongside other PR agencies. That’s when the real magic happens!
Looking back on your career, is there anything you would have done differently? Or any advice you’d like to give to young women who are considering going in to PR?
E: I wished I had taken a year or two to experience life and be a little less serious when I was first out of school. I was the girl who ticked every box she was supposed to and probably missed out on some important lessons you can’t plan along the way. In essence, I would take the direction we give our clients by establishing the end goal but being flexible in the journey. xx
J: Advice wise… I have always been a big believer in asking for what you want.. If you never ask, the answer will always be no.
Photos by Jessilynn Wong