Arleigh Galant Vasconcellos – Founder of The Agency

[quote style=”boxed”]Find what you love to do and hopefully find a job or start a company within that realm. [/quote]

Arleigh is a bundle of energy and brings a wealth of experience and passion to all of her communications projects and clients. Working in the field for over 15 years, she founded The Agency upon her return to Canada.

Prior to coming home to her native Calgary, Arleigh lived in London, UK where she had the opportunity to hone her PR skills working with a diverse contact network including international government bodies such as the UNWTO and global business leaders in the banking, technology, and travel and tourism sectors.

Some career highlights include leading the global Communications and PR team for WTM at Reed Exhibitions – a trade show attended by 50,000 people from around the world, and managing the PR, Sponsorship and Promotions team at Virgin Holidays. In both roles she focused on strategic planning, change management, project messaging, and managing global communications campaigns.

Since her return to Canada, Arleigh has jumped head first into connecting with the interesting people who live and work in the tech space. Giving back to her community is important and she sat on the board of Digital Alberta, an industry-led organization devoted to promoting and connecting the thriving digital media community across Alberta, as the VP South for two years. She is also a part the TechRev PR Roundtable, a forum for discussing best practices aimed at educating Calgary’s technology sector about PR. Arleigh has spoken at various industry events including Accelerate AB Tech University, a program that helps Alberta’s startup community learn about relevant best practices, and for the Mount Royal University PR program, to help educate the next generation of PR practitioners. She was recognized as one of the Alberta Women Entrepreneurs Celebration of Achievement nominees in 2013 and 2014.

Arleigh holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Ottawa.

Where did the idea for The Agency come from?

The idea for The Agency came from my time working for companies and in PR agencies, and from my entrepreneurial spirit and always having the desire to start my own firm. Once I moved back to Calgary I saw that there was a gap in the market for a firm with both technology and international experience. I wanted to create the type of firm that would offer the level of service and relationship that I have and always expected (but not necessarily received) from an agency, and really felt was needed in the industry.

I was drawn to the whole idea of being one with our clients and becoming a part of their team – where we act as their internal team. Not only does The Agency help clients with day to day tactics and execution of campaigns; we help them build strategy and communications plans that align with their business goals to help them close sales.

How do you bring ideas to life?

It takes an interesting mix of personality to be in the communications and public relations industry. You have to be creative and detail-oriented; you need think very strategically; and you should have a strong head for business. That combination is the unique and balanced mix to finding an idea for a concept, whether it`s an idea for a client’s launch campaign, or a creative new way to gain some media attention. You are always treading that fine line between zany and what’s best for the business or client… and when you get the mix right, you can ‘kick it out of the park’.

I always have ideas percolating in the back of my head – it’s like I’m constantly playing Tetris. You have the majority of the pieces, but something isn’t jiving. Then that right block falls down the screen, it fits, and you get the perfect combination.

I come up with a lot of my good ideas when I’m doing mundane tasks. I think that’s a big thing with our industry and what we do – you never really shut-off – but sometimes you have to put things in the back of your mind. Then, when you’re mowing the lawn or taking a shower, that Tetris block comes down and you have that “aha” moment.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I don’t think there is one trend in particular, because they’re just that: trends.

I think that what makes The Agency successful with our clients, and what gives us the ability to provide interesting solutions, is that we monitor popular culture. I personally try to keep a pulse across all aspects of popular culture. Yes, we specialize in technology, so we’re always monitoring the tech space and what innovators are doing there… but I also look at fashion, travel, food, other consumer product trends, and general business culture. It’s important to keep an eye on what’s shifting and adapting. I feel that it’s often in unexpected places that you find interesting synergies and links for creating great work.

For example, The Agency planned an event in 2013 called Content Saloon, bringing together some of Calgary’s social media rockstars. We were interested in the event from a PR and social media perspective to help build our company brand and educate the Calgary business community, but the speakers we got involved were purposefully very distinct. We selected them because they were all from different backgrounds, areas of expertise, and personalities, creating a great juxtaposition for the event. The event itself was an ‘un-Stampede Stampede event’, consistent with the time of year in Calgary, was designed to provide people with the opportunity to; “Take more away from Stampede than just a hangover.”

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I lead my business first and foremost by example. I strive to be professional, creative and most importantly provide value to our clients. I work hard and expect my team to do the same, which they do. At the same time I do not believe in leading with ‘an iron fist’ and I absolutely do not tolerate bullying or intimidation. Instead, I aim to ensure that the work environment at The Agency is professional and committed but still fun – a place where people are happy to come to work each day and give their best effort to serving our clients. So far my management style and philosophy is working with our team!

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I wouldn’t say that any of my jobs have been bad. I would just call them “unglamorous.” My first job when I was 14 was pretty unglamorous: I cleaned golf clubs at a golf course. From this experience I learned to work hard, to get along with my teammates, and most importantly to find enjoyment in the mundane. Every job is going to have aspects that are mundane and that you don’t like, whether you’re cleaning golf clubs or you’re the CEO of a company. You just have to find a way to make the experience enjoyable.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I don’t think I would do anything differently. I’ve had some great challenges that I’ve had to overcome, but the lessons I have learned from these situations and the skills that I have taken away far outweighed the negative aspects. If I could wave a wand and POOF make my road to entrepreneurship a perfect transition from new university grad and newbie PR practitioner, to running global PR departments, to now running my own company, I wouldn’t do it, because it wouldn’t be my story.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Find what you love to do and hopefully find a job or start a company within that realm. Our project manager at The Agency posted a good quote the other day: “You spend a lot of time at work, so love where you work and love what you do.” I think that really resonates with me because if work isn’t “work,” you’re going to enjoy being there thriving and contributing.

The advice I give to people if they’re looking to start their own company: figure out your niche and specialization – don’t try to be everything to everyone. We say it in the PR world all the time: get your one key message and tell that story. If you try and be everything to everyone, you’re going to end up being confused, and you will most certainly be confusing to other people.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

I think the biggest strategy that has helped me grow The Agency is not trying to be too big too early. I was very calculated with our growth, with how we grew, and where we chose to grow. I did this because I had a very clear vision of what I wanted the company to be. I didn’t want to rush things and end up down a path that in five or ten years wasn’t what I’d wanted. I think being okay with slow but steady growth has really helped to establish us as a trusted resource within the industries that we serve. We get great referrals, and we have a great reputation.

Finally, it really helps that the whole Agency team believes-in and follows our core values.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I wouldn’t say it was a failure; it was just a really fantastic learning experience. When I first started The Agency I had a new customer come to me that had been referred by a business associate and I didn’t listen to my internal voice that kept telling me the opportunity was too good to be true. Surely enough, my inside voice was right and things with the client didn’t work out. But the lessons that I learned in terms of operations and necessary administration functions for a company were incredible. I’m glad that I figured it out right off the bat when the company was young, not five years down the road.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Whoever can create a program that accurately tracks all social media, its influence and value, then measure it and relate it back to real dollars spent within a company… you’re sitting on a gold mine. There are so many companies and startups that do different portions of tracking social media, getting one part of it right and doing it well. Currently, as far as I’ve found, there’s no one that is effectively able to translate tracking and measuring social media engagement back to the monetary value of the process, which is what executives in a company generally care about. They want to know if something is considered a cost centre, what value are we in-directly reaping from this program to justify keeping it going. If you can develop and effectively market a program that tracks how much value, sales, and therefore revenue a company is getting from their social media based on what they’re spending on personnel to run the program , you will definitely have a great (and most likely) profitable business that investors or big tech giants will want to be part of.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I played competitive golf as a kid – it was pretty cut-throat… Now I just play for fun and the odd beer at the end of a round.

What software and web services do you use?

We use the full Google suite of business tools – calendar, email, drive. We also use Dropbox and various other project management tools.

What do you love about them?

We really like Google because it is cloud based and we can access it from anywhere.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

My recommendation is a strange but one that I feel is very significant for entrepreneurs. The book is called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s a fiction book about the life journey of a shepherd. The story takes so many different directions and follows the shepherd through his life experiences and expeditions, communicating his openness to all of these. I feel this is something that every entrepreneur needs to be willing to do. When you’re starting your own company you have a vision and you want to achieve that end goal, but the path to get there isn’t, and shouldn’t always be straight. You have to be open to all of the twists and turns that come along. The story beautifully demonstrates how if you have that openness you can achieve great things and have fantastic outcomes.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

On the total PR geek side of influencers: Marshall McLuhan and Noam Chomsky, purely for their absolute brilliance in terms of being able to penetrate and deconstruct how the world communicates on both the macro and micro level.

My business perspective influencer is Richard Branson, because he is a true entrepreneur to his core. He is zany, creative, and out there in his passion and drive for starting new businesses and trying new things. He is also an extremely shrewd and diligent business thinker. Richard Branson embodies that perfect tripod of creative, detail oriented, and very strategic, which I think is what has made him so successful. I noticed it when I was working at Virgin Holidays – although we were able to be very creative in some of the PR promotions we did, the company itself was very structured and ran like a well oiled machine. It wouldn’t be the successful company it is if it didn’t have that strong operations and business function at its base.


Arleigh Galant Vasconcellos on LinkedIn:
Arleigh Galant Vasconcellos on Twitter: @ArleighGV
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