As senior manager of public relations with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Laura Quinn manages the media relations and corporate communications efforts at one of Canada’s major cultural institutions.
She has worked in public relations for 10 years, starting as a temp with the publicity and promotions team at Alliance Atlantis Film Distribution, and leaving six years later as the publicity and promotions manager.
She has executed promotional campaigns for theatrical releases across Canada, run press days at seven Toronto International Film Festivals, and handled media relations for many film openings. After a séjour living in Paris, France, Quinn returned to Toronto and managed PR campaigns for Kiehl’s and the CONTACT Photography Festival through her work with a Toronto PR agency, and led public affairs for broadcaster TELETOON.
How long have you been in your current position?
I’m in my third season with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
How does your company leverage PR?
What’s really interesting to me is that as much as the TSO is about music making, we are also about audience making. In that sense, each department in our organization is leveraging PR every day – from customer service making sure patrons have a fantastic experience, to our development team engaging supporters, to our artistic team producing incredible concerts that have the world’s best artists thrilled to perform in Toronto with our orchestra, and our education team communicating with schools and young audiences to spark music lovers of the future. At every concert, each of the dedicated musicians of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra perform their best to create exceptional and inspiring concert experiences – and that, really, is the best PR ever.
The PR team at the TSO works to make sure each part of the organization has what it needs to communicate with its audience and help support spokespeople. We work specifically with media for reviews and advance coverage, and we create collateral (we produce 18 unique house programmes each season among other communication vehicles) to help tell the TSO’s stories.
What qualities are most important to you when hiring a PR team member?
A positive attitude; someone who believes in approaching life with creative solutions. I also look for an instinct for storytelling and a passion for connecting influencers. You’ve got to be smart, quick, organized and polite.
Who is your mentor or professional in the industry you admire?
My first boss at Alliance Films, Susan Smythe-Bishop, was a real mentor for me. She gave me the opportunities for the experience that led me to where I am today. I feel very fortunate that I was able to learn from her. She is creative, thoughtful and leads by example with lots of class and heart.
What are your feelings about how PR has been positioned in the media in more recent years, on popular TV shows?
I watch Sex and the City and see Samantha and think “Man, PR people are lame.” Then I look around at my peers and realize that we are nothing like these caricatures. Honestly, if you want a good gab with some smart, hilarious and thoughtful people, hang with some of Toronto’s fantastic PR pros.
I don’t pay much mind to the fictional accounts on television. I don’t think doctors get too hung up about the actors on Grey’s Anatomy either.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for PR pros, both junior and senior?
LISTEN. In PR, we spend a lot of time talking, but the most valuable moments in my work come from listening, I want to know what our artists are saying, what media are saying, and how we can help continue the conversation. And general career advice: do what you love and it will all fall into place.
What do you love most about your job?
What I love about PR is how democratic it is. All you need is a great idea and you can help support something, big or small, through your promotional efforts. I really believe in what we do at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and am proud to put my efforts around supporting the organization.
I also love that PR is about people and relationships. I really like people; they are different, they are wacky, they are inspiring, they are challenging and it’s our role to engage them all.
Every day I am inspired and motivated by TSO musicians and their performances. It’s a real luxury that I can take a break in my day to sit in on rehearsal to experience fantastic live music.
A little more from the fourth floor:
Snack: Chocolate covered almonds.
Inspiration: Is everywhere.
Drink: Tea, water and on winter evenings, warm, spiced rum.
Motto in two words: OWN IT (not in the consumer sense, but rather in the passion sense).
Idea of perfect happiness: France with my fiancé during soldes season.
Indulgence: I get my eyebrows done by Tarah at Civello on Queen Sreet West.
Celebrity crush: Gwyneth Paltrow.