There are tons of ways people are keeping busy during this pandemic. Some people are starting a killer new workout routine, some people have taken up a new hobby, and some people have become baking connoisseurs – others have started a public relations (PR) agency. Wait, what?
Though it’s completely normal and okay to feel a lack of motivation and productivity amidst a global pandemic, some have used this time to jumpstart their careers.
Nadia Ali is a Humber alum who graduated from both the Fashion Arts program and the Public Relations Management Certificate about 10 years ago. Her career has been a fulfilling one – she’s interned in New York for Stella McCartney during her time at Humber and moved on to work for successful agencies.
Now, she’s started Konpa Consulting, a PR agency that she’s been dreaming of starting since entering the PR field. The timing just happened to work out during a pandemic.
Interested in learning more? Read on to see Nadia’s story:
Her experience at Humber College
Nadia started off studying in the Fashion Arts program where she got real hands on, practical experience with colour theory and learning about fabrics before moving on to the Public Relations Management Certificate program.
After graduating from the Fashion Arts program, she took her love for fashion and merged it with her love for communications. Though the PR field wasn’t something she knew much about, after researching she found PR would be the perfect way to combine all of her interests in one – and Humber was the place to be to kickstart her career.
How Humber prepared her for her career
Humber’s learning model combines practical knowledge with theory and prepares students for life post-grad by offering various internship opportunities – and that’s exactly what landed Nadia an internship at Stella McCartney – a thriving fashion brand with collections reaching over 77 countries and across 863 stores and specialty shops. Nadia recalls her experience as, “great because the knowledge I gained through the Fashion Arts program specifically landed itself to when I moved to New York to intern for Stella McCartney and People’s Revolution shortly after.”
There, Nadia got experience working Fashion Week’s and understanding colour matching and the psychology behind colours, fabrics, and working backstage at fashion shows. With the multitude of tasks she had to take on, Nadia says, “there were so many different things being thrown at me and if it weren’t for the education and knowledge I gained through Humber, it would’ve been much more difficult.”
Biggest internship takeaway
After learning so much during her time interning at Stella McCartney and People’s Revolution, there are many takeaways. The biggest one? Leave the ego at the door.
“What I took from it was have no ego. I was training interns and coordinating for Stella McCartney for Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out event in 2009. I was also packing boxes and moving garment bags across town,” explains Nadia. “No job is too big, no job is less important than another one, but the willingness to roll your sleeves up and do what you have to do was so important and such a great lesson for me to learn in New York. It gave me a work ethic that has taken me through these last 10 years.”
Two weeks into her internship with Stella McCartney, they made her the assistant to their global communications director because she was always the first person in and the last person out.
Though your instinct may be telling you that the key to success is overworking, Nadia explains that that may not be the best idea.
“Now, that is no longer something that I would recommend because of the effects it may have on someone’s mental health,” says Nadia. “10 years ago, the advice I would always get was work, work, work and then eventually you can calm down, but you can burn out by 22 or 25.”
Lastly, Nadia advises you treat internships like a real job.
“I’ve had interns that were so hungry and would come to me for project after project, but it’s not a race. Take your time with things. Show up on time and be presentable – I’ve had interns take two hour lunches when I didn’t even take a lunch, so having that knowledge and common sense to treat it as a job is so important and should be noted.“
Konpa Consulting and her motivation behind it
These are trying and uncertain times, for all of us. But, with all the extra time on our hands, Nadia took the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream of hers – to start a PR agency and have the freedom to be her own boss.
Nadia explains that the inspiration for Konpa really stemmed from her love of PR and sports.
After being thrown into the world of sports in 2012, when she started at an agency that was managing the PR for Umbro Canada, who had been named the Canadian sponsor of Canadian national soccer teams, she realized the best way to understand the brand and its supporters, was to immerse herself into the sport become a fan.
“I found success by finding a passion for this iconic brand, the beautiful game and its passionate supporters. It became an experience that transformed my life in more ways than one.
“I was always a very fair-weather soccer fan – come the world cup, I was a big fan but throughout the year I didn’t know anything about what was going on,” says Nadia. “I was stressing out about how to communicate effectively to Umbro’s core demographic in Canada when I didn’t really understand them.”
So, she became one of them. “I went to the games, I sat with them in the supporters’ pubs, I sat with them in the stands, I joined the supporters’ groups, I was jumping up and down at BMO field for TFC matches and I really got a feel for what the Canadian soccer fans wanted and needed from their sponsors and from their teams.”
Nadia explains that completely changed her life.
“I worked under a brilliant man named Gerald Woodman, who was the president of Umbro Canada at the time, and his passion for the game and love for what he did just takes over and you can’t help but want to do the brand and him justice – and that’s exactly what happened.”
According to Nadia, the passion, motivation, and drive exhibited by her former client and now friend has taken her throughout her entire career. Whether it be a new campaign, or a new job, she now tries to marry it with her passion for sports and storytelling.
“Looking back at what the Raptors were able to accomplish last year and unite an entire country, there aren’t a lot of influencers who are able to emulate that type of love and passion and there are very few things in this world right now that can bring people and a nation together. That’s where sports and my love for sports come from – it’s that feeling of togetherness.”
Along with sports clients Konpa is also taking on fashion and lifestyle clients, drawing from her experience over the past 10 years.
“I’m working with brands I love and that I believe in and that I want to see do well,” says Nadia. “I’m also working with Canadian athletes specifically, who don’t necessarily get the same opportunities as their American counterparts because of the market that we’re in – it’s not a fault of their own, it’s just a product of the Canadian market being smaller.”
Konpa believes there is a need to make sure that our athletes have the tools to properly communicate with their fans, their sponsors and with each other.
Nadia explains that when you love and are passionate about your job, it comes across in your work and makes the job so much better.
“There are very few things that will keep you up at 3 in the morning and if it’s not passion, love, and drive then I don’t what it is.”
Managing an agency during a pandemic and her typical work-from-home day
After being laid off in March due to COVID-19, Nadia took the devastating experience and decided she no longer wanted to be in the position where someone could take her job away from her again.
In terms of the day-to-day of running a PR agency, no day ever looks the same. Nadia starts her day bright and early around 6:30 a.m. Speaking on how she gets ready for the day ahead Nadia says, “I’ll either go for a walk or go for a bike ride and have a decent breakfast. Now that I can work from home, I’ll sort of ease into my day a little easier. Whereas, before, when I’d be rushing to get into an office my life was work, home, work, home.”
“Working for myself, I’m wearing so many different hats, so no day is really the same,” Nadia explains. “At any given moment, I have to switch gears. I’m working on my website right now with a designer, so I’m putting on that hat, but I also have to be on top of my invoices and making sure they’re being paid on time which is a mix of accounting, branding and investments.”
When working for yourself – a lot changes. Nadia explains that in order to ensure her paycheque she has to be projecting two months in advance to make sure she has consistent work, or she won’t get paid.
“You’re really dependent on yourself and I know the skills that I’m developing because of this will carry me through for another 10 years.”
Challenges and overcoming them
Starting a PR agency comes with its set of challenges, starting a PR agency during a pandemic comes with even more.
“When I’ve had client service managers or directors pull together all the assets, all I’d have to do is read a brief, set up a campaign, start a call, and go. Now, I have to be the one to write the brief, find the client, negotiate the terms, strategize, manage client and media relations while also developing my personal brand by working with developers to get my vision across.”
One challenge that she’s come across is due to the financial stresses that come along with owning a business.
Nadia explains, “the financial stresses have been difficult but so important and a lesson for me to learn because now I’m understanding to put away money for my taxes, understanding the financial side of owning a business, invoices and making sure they’re ok for my book keeper, paying my vendors – things I didn’t really have to think of before.”
When it comes to branding, Nadia knew she wanted Konpa to tell a story and find partners and clients that understand and abide by that vision.
“My parents are both from Trinidad and Tobago and konpa is the creole word for compass, so a lot of people ask me, “what does konpa mean or stand for?” I always want there to be a story because we’re storytellers as communication professionals.”
With everything going on, starting an agency is nothing short of hectic but she assures that her clients remain her top priority.
“My clients are my priority and then I come second. It’s a very interesting time to start a business but it has allowed me to learn so much in such a short period of time.”
Nadia’s advice on how to stay on track and motivated from home and how to make yourself stand out to employers
We must admit – it’s hard to stay focused when your bed is right there calling your name. So, what’s Nadia’s advice to students? Take advantage of your extra time by diversifying your portfolio.
“I started taking a digital marketing course in September because I want to make sure that I diversify my portfolio by understanding the state of media right now in Canada – which I think is in crisis right now. I have plans to continue with CSR courses and web development.”
With mass layoffs affecting people across the country, it’s important to stay nimble and expand your resume any chance you get.
“If you’re a PR student, I’d recommend you build your own media list at home,” says Nadia. “Understand who the media players are, where they work, and what their beats are. I would recommend PR practitioners to take digital marketing, crisis comms, influencer relations, and writing courses – do whatever you can to level up at home.”
Whatever discipline you’re in, enhancing your skills is always a good idea. If you have the time, take courses that’ll hone your presentation and writing skills – skills that are increasingly looked for by employers.
“Time management is such an important part of business day-to-day,” Nadia explains. “There are even tons of YouTube videos on how to get better at time management. Having those general skills, or an understanding of them, would help so much in an interview scenario.”
Another tip? Nadia also recommends you develop your online portfolio by starting your own website and fill it with schoolwork that would be relevant for your chosen career path.
We have to get creative nowadays, but the luxury we have now is time.
How students can continue to make connections from home
OK, with our typical coffee meet-ups being off the table, making connections may seem impossible, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“Given the restrictions due to COVID, we can still do Zoom,” says Nadia. “Businesses and our communities have really leaned into technology during this time which is great.”
Nadia explains that the key to broadening your connections is by expanding your personal networks by reaching out to people on LinkedIn who have jobs that you want and letting them know what you’re going through.
“I know I’ve gotten a few messages from people asking me questions, specifically about influencer relations and influencer marketing. I’m always happy to have those calls whether it’s an email you send with questions for someone to respond to – you can share a google document – that’s an efficient way to communicate.”
Emails not your thing? Zoom coffees may be the way of the future. Plus, given that people won’t actually need to commute to chat with you, they may feel even more inclined to help.
“Be thoughtful with the questions, be prepared,” Nadia advises. “If you want to pick someone’s brain, write down your questions and be respectful of the other person’s time because that will allow them to be more generous.”
Advice to recent grads
These are trying and uncertain times for all of us, especially recent grads and Nadia is no stranger to that feeling.
“I understand what recent grads are going through, having been there myself many years ago,” Nadia reassures. “Just be patient and use the time as best as you can because you’re not alone. Everyone is on the same boat. There are millions of people across the world who are now unemployed due to this pandemic. Do not take it personally – use this time as best as you can to level up.”
Though the last thing on the mind of recent grads is adding more education to their plate, Nadia insists it’s the way to go.
“Take the courses, If there’s something you can do that will set you apart from the hundreds of other people who are applying for those same jobs – do it.”
“Do the research, come up with a game plan, and execute,” Nadia adds. “Finding a job is a job within itself, so I would prepare for your job search just as you would prepare to start a job.”
Uncertainty may be scary, but you are not alone. Humber and the University of Guelph-Humber are here to support you with various alum services to help you land your dream job. From mock-interviews to job portals, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to make this job search run smoothly.
In need of more advice? Learn about the value of bad ideas with Justin Kan!