Lara Banlaoi is a Communications Coordinator based in Toronto, Ontario. She graduated from Humber College and went on to intern at two PR agencies. She currently works for Cadillac Fairview.
How did you break into the communications industry and advance to where you are today?
The story I always like to tell is that promoting a high school play that I wrote (without a budget) was how I became interested in public relations. Other than traditional grassroots tactics such as word-of-mouth marketing and putting up posters around the school, we relied heavily on a paperless tactic — social media. With that said, my first communications job was actually in social media.
One of my first jobs was working as a social media assistant for a non-profit arts organization, running paid and organic campaigns for various programs. During the second summer that I worked there, I began assisting with media advisories and releases along with acting as a liaison for media outlets. Prior to that summer, I also interned at an agency through my internship program at Western University, which reinforced my interest in working at an agency after graduation.
As with many PR professionals, I took a post-graduate program at Humber College and interned at two different agencies. One of them was North Strategic. While working with one of my clients, I received an offer for a full-time secondment at my client’s office. This meant I had the opportunity to focus more on corporate and internal communications, which allowed me to further expand my skillset early in my career.
What has been your approach to networking?
It can be difficult to network when you’re an introvert (or an ambivert like myself). As a compromise, my approach is generally starting with a one-on-one conversation by sending them a short message over LinkedIn rather than mingling at events.
Whether I’m looking for general industry advice from someone I met at an in-class speaking event, or more information about a company I’m interested in, I always do my research before reaching out. I approach networking like a media relations strategy — targeted outreach is always best. This allows me to focus my questions or craft my pitch to the specific person I’m reaching out to, and I can always revise my messaging before I send it out to avoid making that dreaded “fatal error”.
What skills do you think a person needs to survive in the communications industry?
Adaptability and critical thinking are two qualities I live by as a communications professional. With traditional industries continuing to change and new industries expanding, there’s always room for creative ways to communicate effectively for a brand. While it’s necessary to have a plan, it’s important to provide space for flexibility during the planning stages and execution stages.
You might choose to have a blueprint for a communications plan based on a past study, or you might choose to start from scratch altogether. Nonetheless, it’s key to consider crafting a communications strategy that fits the needs of a business.
Critical thinking skills must always work in tandem with adaptability. As a POC, diversity is quite important to me. However, I’ve seen past campaigns with a corporate social responsibility element that have fallen flat because they were tone-deaf. With campaigns like these, it’s integral to incorporate a variety of perspectives and think about the best way to use this information constructively and responsibly. We have to constantly remember that we are serving as a company’s voice, and we have an obligation to consider all factors of a potential communications plan.
What do you most enjoy about your current job?
Although I’m devoted to one client on a full-time basis, I haven’t lost the fast-paced environment that I’m used to at an agency. As part of the Corporate Communications team at Cadillac Fairview, we serve different departments that function as clients. The only difference is adhering to one set of brand guidelines (which is admittedly a huge help). I hadn’t considered being in a corporate environment this early in my career, but it’s definitely been a beneficial learning experience that introduced me to different ways of approaching communications.
Most importantly, this opportunity introduced me to a powerhouse team who have become mentors and friends. Any workplace environment can be challenging when you don’t mesh well with your team, but I’m incredibly privileged to be working with women who continue to inspire and motivate me while remaining genuine people.
What has been your most rewarding career accomplishment?
In general, my most rewarding career accomplishment is playing a hybrid role on a holiday campaign for a client. During my first year at my current agency, I was required to work on both the social and PR team with a variety of moving parts.
This resulted in significant PR and social impressions, along with building a foundation for a client relationship moving forward. I believe my role was a huge factor in the opportunities I’ve received, including working with five different clients and obtaining my current secondment (where I got to work on the internal portion of the same holiday campaign).
What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or experienced at your current job?
Most of the coolest things I’ve experienced happen at events. Two of the ones that stand out would be meeting my favourite content creators at our past Streaming at CF space last summer, and meeting Bianca Andreescu during our annual Tree Lighting event at CF Toronto Eaton Centre.
When do you know it’s the right time to move on from a job?
It can be easy to fall into company loyalty, especially when working with a great team. That said, it’s important to pay attention to the pulse of the PR industry (i.e. keeping job alerts on) and review your career goals along the way.
Although there are days when you’ll feel tired and overwhelmed, there should be a significant degree of excitement that keeps you coming into work every day. This rut might be a result of doing the same work across different projects, conflicts with your team, or a general fear of being stagnant. If you’re constantly feeling unmotivated and unchallenged even after speaking with your manager, it may be time to consider moving on.
On a personal level, another thing to think about is whether your company aligns with your values and is putting in work to understand social issues — both on an external and internal level. As I previously mentioned, campaigns with an element of corporate social responsibility can run the risk of being tone-deaf, and it’s important to continue having open conversations. Not only does this make you a more effective communicator, but it also ensures that a variety of perspectives are brought to the table.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
Being a communications professional during a pandemic can be a challenge, regardless of whether your audience is external and internal. There is a constant need to stay plugged in with your colleagues, with your clients, and with the news. While it’s easy to fall into a habit of overworking, my advice is simple — unplug.
Unplugging doesn’t mean you have to do stereotypical self-care activities like do yoga, take a hike or even wear a face mask. Self-care comes in many forms, including rewatching the same season of the same show — twice. You produce your best work when you’re rested, so when you get a day off, remember to unplug. Unlike your phone, you can only plug back in when you’re semi-charged (since weekends aren’t always long enough).
What advice do you have for someone who has had difficulty finding a job?
The first thing an employer sees is your resume or your LinkedIn profile. It’s important to look at these carefully before job hunting. Sometimes, job descriptions might look vague and don’t do your work any justice. To avoid this, the best advice I’ve ever received is to keep your to-do lists for projects you’ve worked on. Compile key tactics and results into main points that showcase your accomplishments, and elaborate on your various projects in your cover letter. You can also perform A/B testing to compare which format or language in your resume results in the most callbacks.
If you don’t receive any callbacks, reach out to the human resources contact and check in to see what you could improve on — whether it’s on your resume or your initial interview. Most importantly, don’t be discouraged — try to stay rational and productive. If you need to step away and take a break, do it.
What are some of your professional goals for the future?
Everyone has a list of dream companies they want to work at, myself included. In general, my main professional goal is obtaining a senior position at a company where I can drive its communications strategy. I want to oversee a project from planning to execution and retire from the industry with a portfolio of projects that I’ve successfully led.
Most importantly, I want to oversee a meaningful campaign that focuses on social change. Corporate social responsibility has always been an area of communications that I’ve been interested in, and one of my personal and professional goals is to lead a campaign that brings awareness to social issues. As a POC calling for more opportunities for marginalized communities and as a professional communicator, I want to be a voice that amplifies other voices.