We’re Not Just Pretty: Desia Halpin-Brill

Starting out in the culinary world, Desia Halpin-Brill soon realized that unless she got to eat with her friends, cooking and baking were not going to cut it. Looking for a new creative world, she attended Lasalle College in Montreal and received a scholarship to study at FIT in New York – where she found her fit.  After graduating with a degree in Marketing and Communications, she worked with a few agencies honing her PR skills with experiences that took her to the Cannes film festival, the AMA’s in L.A. and New York Fashion week.

In 2001, Halpin-Brill returned to Canada and Brill Communications was born. Over a decade in the biz later, she’s still enamoured with the PR world and runs
an agency with her husband  focusing on fashion, beauty and lifestyle.  With a fantastic team, Brill has grown to full service, bilingual PR agency. The client roster includes large retailers, beauty brands and Canadian designers, keeping everyone all busy as bees.  

Desia, second from the left, during a client event.
Twitter: @BrillComm



How long have you been in your current position? 
10 years.


How does your company leverage PR for your clients?  
We work predominantly with fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands, so it is anything from previews and launches to openings and pitches; sample trafficking; early morning shows and autograph signing; to fashion shows and presentations. We keep our couriers running and our showroom bustling, but never our clients or editors waiting.


What qualities are most important to you when hiring a PR team member?  
Personality. You have to have one, everything else can be taught or learned.
 
Who gave you your first big career break? 
A fashion PR agency in New York. I had helped organize a Halloween party for a friend and a publicist attending said they could use someone like me, and that’s all she wrote – I was hooked.


What’s your biggest piece of advice for PR pros, both junior and senior? 
Be real, stay connected and always – I mean always – treat others the way you would like to be treated.
 

What do you love most about your job? 
The people. I love meeting new and interesting clients, editors, stylists, producers, actors, singers, etc.


If you weren’t doing PR, what would you do? 
Raising llamas.


A little more from the fourth floor:

Designer: Proenza Schouler.  
Store: I am kind of a shopoholic, so my stores change frequently. Currently it is Muji.
Book: Right now something fluffy: Chasing Harry Winston.
Snack: Cheese, in any form (except in a spray can. Yuck!).
Sexy: Sparkly eyes and a great smile.
Inspiration: Nature.  
Drink: Perrier.  
Motto in two words: Less is more (oops, that’s three).
Idea of perfect happiness: Sunshine.
Indulgence: A great glass of red wine.  
Celebrity crush: I have several: Brad Pitt, James Franco, Josh Hartnett, George Clooney and Mark Ruffalo.  
Favourite tweeter to follow: @pliving; @coreymintz; @designmilk.
  

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Teacher’s Pet: Big agency vs. boutique firm

Today’s Teacher’s Pet post is about the differences between interning at small firms and large agencies. It’s the time of year when many PR students start to look for internship opportunities, so this post should answer lots of questions for you. 

Natalie Schoffer is currently enrolled as a student in Humber College’s Postgraduate Certificate program. 

I am looking into internships and jobs right now and I am wondering what the difference is between working at a large agency and a small firm?
 
Michelle‘s answer: Both small and large PR firms offer interns a lot of solid PR work experience. It’s our opinion that the top two areas of distinction fall under day-to-day tasks and clientele, outlined below.
The Tasks
Small (boutique) firms: These interns get a lot of hands-on experience, including working events and receiving RSVPs, developing first drafts of media materials, building media lists, helping with media monitoring and tracking coverage, assisting with a company’s social media initiatives, and more. Interns have the opportunity to assist everyone from the president to junior staff, and the intimate atmosphere provides invaluable access to senior staff.

Large agency: The atmosphere can feel more corporate than a boutique, and these agencies employ many staff, so there are a lot of smart, savvy people to learn from. Large agency interns are part of an account team (with up to five staff members) and provide support on foundational tasks like media monitoring, managing press reports, building media lists and more. Many of the large firms have offices all over the world, opening the door to work-related travel, or relocation, which can be a fun perk (if you’re hired on after your internship).
The Clients
The size of company you choose also depends on what you are passionate about.
Small firms: Boutique agencies like rock-it promotions, Brill Communications and Pennant Media Group offer the chance to work with a range of clients, from local start-ups to national businesses to global enterprises. Boutique firms often work within multiple categories like fashion, entertainment, fitness, lifestyle, beauty, restaurants, etc. since there aren’t separate departments.  Budgets can be smaller than with big agencies, so creative outreach is appreciated.

Large agency: Large firms like Edelman, Strategic Objectives, Hill and Knowlton or National Public Relations are often separated into specific departments dedicated to client areas like consumer, health, technology and corporate communications, so you can benefit from tailored industry experience, which is amazing if you have a passion for a specific genre. Large corporate clients often have more regulations and specific branding guidelines, so getting a super creative idea off the ground isn’t always easy, but the larger budgets mean there are endless possibilities.

The Conclusion
An internship, wherever you do it, is really what you make of it. Make sure you ask senior staff about how you can help on an account, complete the tasks you are assigned impeccably, be cheery and personable (without being irritating), be eager to learn and go above and beyond. This will help land you a job, or at least a wonderful reference letter. Should you intern in an environment that just isn’t right for you, you can (and should!) easily transition between small firms and large agencies.