We’re Not Just Pretty: Deb McCain

Deb has over 15 years of experience in public relations and communications.  After completing her Master’s degree at the London School of Economics, she worked as a communications advisor to cabinet ministers in the Ontario Government before rounding out her communications experience across a number of sectors with Hill & Knowlton and GCI Group in Toronto and Hill & Knowlton, New York. Deb worked in-house for a media agency during the dotcom boom, and ultimately returned to Toronto to set up her own shop, launching Deb McCain Communications in 2004.


Since starting DMC, Deb has worked with many HGTV personalities from Sarah Richardson and Tommy Smythe to Peter Fallico, Suzanne Dimma and the original Designer Guys, Steven & Chris.  She was involved with the creation of
Inside Entertainment magazine and FQ Magazine (with editor Jeanne Beker) and has worked extensively with Canadian fashion brands Ron White, Smythe jackets and Dealuxe. Deb has substantial experience in Canadian television across a range of production companies and networks including CBC, CTV, W Network, HGTV, Slice, Discovery and TVO.

DMC works with a number of charitable initiatives throughout the year including CAMH (Unmasked Fundraiser 2008-2011), The Ron White Foundation (White Knight Galas 2009-2011), The Writer’s Trust (Gala Dinner 2010), and Casey House (Snowball 2012). Outside of the office, Deb stays busy on the home front with a husband and two young girls.


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

How does your company leverage PR (i.e. to generate press, to build reputation, to manage crisis communications, etc)?
We use media to extend our client’s brands. We look for opportunities to layer stories and create multiple points of contact. We know the right people to get it done.

What qualities are most important to you when hiring a PR team member (PR degree, internships, etc.)?
Strong knowledge in the sector and loads of initiative.

Who gave you your first big career break?
Mike Coates, CEO of Hill & Knowlton Canada. He let me talk him into transferring me to the New York office. The rest is history. 

What’s your biggest piece of advice for PR pros, both junior and senior?
Know your journalists and what they’re writing about. Read as much as you can and stay current. Some of the best pitches have a hook that ties in with this week’s news.

What do you love most about your job?
The thrill of the kill.  There’s nothing like opening  three newspapers on a Saturday morning and seeing our stuff in ALL of them.

If you weren’t doing PR, what would you do?
I’m a media junkie so I don’t know. Maybe work in TV? Or magazines? I should definitely NOT own a bar.

A little more from the fourth floor:

Website:
TorontoLife.com, Twitter, Dealuxe.ca, LaineyGossip.

Designer:
Smythe – I’m biased, but I’ve loved their stuff since day one and probably have one of the largest existing collections outside of the designers themselves (and Sarah Richardson).

Store:
Again, biased…Ron White Shoes. But, c’mon, where else can you go and get a foot massage and luxury water (chilled or room temp) and get to try on things for hours??

Book:  
Naked by David Sedaris and Catcher in the Rye both have a perm spot on my nightstand. Guiltily half-read at the moment is My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler.

Snack:
Rainforest crisps with any and all cheeses.

Sexy: 
Barry White.

Inspiration:
My daughters Davis and Daphne.

Drink:
Plenty of white wine.

Motto in two words:
Under promise/over deliver (take your pick but they are best together).

Idea of perfect happiness:
The sweetspot of the weekend – Friday night 7 to 11 p.m.

Indulgence: 
Poutine.

Celebrity crush:
Owen Wilson, hands down.

Favourite tweeter to follow: 
@j_knoxy, @debgee, @MissMarlowG, @shinangovani.

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.