Tiffani Lee is a PR and Communications Specialist at the technology company, Unbounce, which is headquartered in Vancouver, BC.
Connect with Tiffani: Twitter | LinkedIn
Why did you choose to pursue a career in the communications industry?
I fell into communications by chance. In school, I studied business (marketing and human resource management) thinking I would go into digital marketing or recruitment. While I was working at my first job post-graduation, I attended a local networking event targeted towards students and new grads. I ended up meeting someone from NATIONAL PR who would later become my boss!
While I enjoyed aspects of my first role in digital marketing, I knew social media management wasn’t what I wanted to do full-time. When I saw NATIONAL was hiring, I reached out to my soon-to-be boss right away and the rest was history.
Communications is the perfect blend of digital, brand strategy, and marketing. It’s one of those industries that’s constantly changing and evolving with so much opportunity. I love being able to grow brands through storytelling and creativity beyond just social media.
What was your first job after graduation and how did you land it?
My first job after graduation was as a content strategist/community manager at a small digital marketing agency.
My role wasn’t posted publicly at the time and I actually reached out cold! I emailed the client lead at the agency to see if they could use some extra support part-time and it eventually led to a full-time position. It never hurts to reach out and see if there are any upcoming openings that may not be posted yet.
What do you know today that you wish you knew before you started your career?
This is a great question. I wish I knew that it’s okay to take a chance or decide to do something else. Every time I decided to either take a different path, change my major, or go after a new role, I was so hard on myself. Instead of being excited about my new adventure, I always found a way to make it seem like I failed at the last one – that’s why I was making a switch. Remember, it’s okay to try something new. If it doesn’t work out, at least now you know that’s something you don’t enjoy!
A current CTO I know started off his career in acting! He has a musical theatre degree and ended up as a Chief Technology Officer for a growing startup later in life. There’s no need to rush and no need to talk yourself out of it. It takes a few mistakes, some changes, and a lot of trial and error to figure out your career and sometimes, life in general.
You made the transition from working at an agency to working in-house. What have you found to be some key differences between agency and in-house communications work?
Choosing to leave an agency and go in-house was a difficult decision but I’m so glad I decided to give it a try. The biggest difference I found moving in-house was getting to go beyond a set number of campaigns and dive deeper into how the marketing, product, and growth strategies intersect with communications and PR.
While the agency allowed me to have long-standing client relationships, our work still revolved around various milestones, launches, and campaigns that were separate from one another. Being in-house allows you to gain a bigger picture of what is happening at the company and how your work in PR and communications ties back to the overall business objectives. It gives your communications strategies new lenses and perspectives to tap into, ones you weren’t thinking about as much before.
Being in-house also gives you an opportunity to explore other avenues and experiment in your tactics and plans. Budgets can be more flexible when you aren’t working directly with clients so there’s more room to try something different. The one thing I found challenging was adjusting to how I structure my day.
Before, my day revolved around executing client campaigns or client meetings but when I moved in-house, I had broader and bigger goals to work towards. I had to learn how to break down these goals into smaller milestones and schedule my day around these bigger tasks. It takes a little getting used to but I’m glad I took the leap!
What’s your best advice regarding maintaining strong relationships with media professionals?
Maintaining strong relationships with media professionals is essential in any PR and communications role. With journalists, I continue to connect with them beyond specific media relations campaigns or my 9-5 news emails. Take the time to check in with them and ask what topics they are interested in and align your news with their chosen topics.
But be respectful. If you know the news you’re pitching is not in their wheelhouse, acknowledge it or don’t send it! Create your media lists with research and only include journalists and writers who discuss those topics. Once you build those relationships, reporters can count on you as a trusted source with exciting information.
I’ve made some key relationships through Twitter and Instagram. Twitter has been a huge resource for me when it comes to connecting with reporters that align with my industry. Many reporters share their emails and beats in their bio and tweet about the content they are interested in. Engage with them on social media, whether it’s responding to tweets or liking content. This is also a great tactic with influencers as well! Be genuine and engage with their content even if you aren’t actively working on a collaboration.
Describe your typical workday. What are your key responsibilities?
Now that we’ve gone fully remote, my typical workday looks a little different than it used to. Normally I wake up, do my morning routine, and start my cup of coffee as I check my Slack messages. I then do some email and message triage to figure out what my top three priorities are for the day. I like to have a weekly to-do list but I find selecting 3 top priorities from that list to focus on each day helps to keep me on track and make progress on my tasks without feeling like I’m neglecting another.
After picking my three priorities, I time block my day. This has been such a game-changer for me and I wish I started doing this earlier. I sketch out my day in 30-minute intervals, place blockers for meetings and lunch, and then start plugging in those priorities based on how long I think the task will take me. If you haven’t tried this, I highly recommend it for deep work and staying focused.
At Unbounce, I currently lead our thought leadership programs, influencer campaigns, social impact communications, and awards. I also work very closely with my team to support new project launches, corporate news, and internal communications. Day to day, this looks like connecting with various departments outside of the core marketing team, managing our announcement calendar and providing PR and communications expertise for launches and news.
We also support and seek opportunities for our spokespeople to share their knowledge whether it’s pitching for speaking opportunities, media interviews, or my favourite – podcasts. The beauty of being in PR and communications is the variety you get from day to day. It’s never the same and I love that.
What do you most enjoy about your current job?
The people! My team at Unbounce is full of talented folks and I love collaborating with them. Working in-house gives me the opportunity to connect with people outside my wheelhouse like software developers, operations managers, product designers and more. Hearing their stories and learning more about their roles and contributions makes my job as a communications professional easier. I’m able to understand different perspectives and gain new insights that I can use for creative campaigns and thought leadership opportunities.
Unbounce also has an amazing corporate culture. I’ve never seen a company that fully lives and breathes its culture out loud through all aspects of the business. You feel the core values through the way we conduct meetings, provide feedback and reviews, build products, and our interactions in the community.
Since joining Unbounce, a big part of my role has been growing our social impact awareness and creating campaigns that encourage other companies to build social impact programs. I’m so grateful and thankful that I get to work on projects that make changes for good.
Canada’s tech industry is booming. What have you found to be some of the benefits of working at a tech company?
Tech is a rapidly growing industry especially in Canada so first off, there are lots of opportunities and room to grow. In Vancouver alone, we’ve had 9 unicorn companies this year! Working in tech is an exciting challenge, there’s always something new going on whether it’s new products, new features or new companies looking to experiment and disrupt an industry. I love working in tech for a few reasons:
- Emphasis on culture – I’m sure you’ve heard of the typical free snacks, casual dress code, paid volunteer time or beer on tap benefits (don’t get me wrong this is great), but many tech companies take it a step further. Tech companies make it a priority to ensure employees feel valued and cared for. At Unbounce, everyone from our leaders to contractors lives and breathes our values out loud and it’s something I’ve seen more often from tech companies than any other industry.
- Flexibility – Remote work is the norm now but before the pandemic, many tech companies were already remote-friendly. I find the tech industry emphasizes flexibility, giving employees control over their hours and how they manage work. It’s okay if you want to start a little earlier so you can make that workout class you’ve been meaning to take or if you want to step out for a walk during the day. As long as the work gets done and you are keeping your team in the loop, it doesn’t matter from where.
- Learning and skilling up – I’ve learned so much outside of my regular expertise since joining the tech community. There’s so much opportunity to jump into different projects that might not be in your wheelhouse but you’d like to get your feet wet in. By interacting with developers, product managers, engineers, I’ve been able to build technical skills I wouldn’t have otherwise that I can take to future roles. The diversity in the type of projects you’ll be exposed to is another great reason why tech is an industry to consider
There’s a big misconception that in order to work in tech you need to have a technical background but I can say for sure that there are lots of roles where you don’t need the technical experience right away.
While it’s helpful to have some of that background knowledge, you’ll be able to learn it on the job or pick up skills with online courses or webinars. If you’re someone who thrives in a changing landscape and is looking to make an impact, give tech a look!
What have you found to be the most important thing to keep in mind when working in a team environment?
Stay open-minded. The best part of having a team is the diverse and unique set of experiences, thoughts, and ideas. Not only do you get new perspectives as you build out campaigns and strategies, but you also learn something along the way.
The world is a diverse place and without different views, you’ll never be able to reach the audiences you are looking to connect with. Taking the time to absorb and understand these perspectives makes you a better communications professional.
Do you do any freelance work on the side, and if so, what?
I do a bit of freelance work from time to time. I’ve acted as a communications and digital marketing consultant for bloggers and small businesses looking to grow their online presence. I specifically specialize in content management and digital strategy.
Next year, I’d like to take on a few more clients or even join the agency family again as a part-time contractor. Something I’m considering is also leading workshops on thought leadership and personal branding.
If you have the capacity, freelancing is a great way to keep your skills up to date and grow your personal brand. It’s also fun to dive into other industries and businesses outside of your regular 9-5.
Is there anything else you can tell us about your career that would be helpful to new grads?
Many students and new grads ask me about my experience in agency and whether or not I would recommend it. I always say that agency is not for everyone. It’s fast-paced, hard work, and irregular hours on occasion but it’s one of the best learning experiences for someone at the beginning of their career. You’ll learn so much very quickly and have the opportunity to hone in on key skills that will build your foundation in PR and communications. Understanding client relations and the ability to think on your feet is extremely valuable no matter what job you choose.
Working in agencies also allows you to grow your professional network both on the PR side and through your clients. These relationships will help you throughout your career whether it’s asking for advice, keeping up to date with new trends, or having a group of communications pros you can chat with when life gets tough or you need a sounding board. I’ve been extremely lucky to meet some of the best mentors in the business through my time at agency and I still speak to many of them today!
If you’re thinking, “Yes, agency is where I want to go” then I’d recommend doing research into the type of agency you want to work for. Every agency, big or small, specializes in something different so take a peek at their team, their experience, their client roster and recent campaigns they’ve done. Pick an agency that has clients, projects, and values that align with your interests and potential industries you’d want to work in. My team at NATIONAL focused heavily on the tech sector and that experience was invaluable when I was looking to move into a tech role in-house.
Also, consider whether you want to join a national firm or a smaller boutique agency. Each has its pros and cons so take the time to decide what that trajectory might look like for you depending on the type of agency you decide to join. Then, reach out to folks who are already there. You’d be surprised how often people are willing to chat or help. The best way to get to know an agency is by talking to those working on the front lines already.
If you have the opportunity to join an agency team, I’d say do it! But get ready to move fast, absorb lots of learnings, and think creatively.