After living abroad and working in travel and tourism for over a decade, our latest PR Profiles guest, Arleigh Vasconcellos, moved back to Canada and founded The Agency, a Calgary-based strategic communications firm specializing in serving clients at the intersection of technology and B2B. “A lot of the individuals in the companies and organizations that we work with are ridiculously smart,” says Arleigh in her interview for the podcast. “They’re building software and hardware that’s going to potentially change the world.”
The challenge for these organizations is effectively communicating what benefit they bring to their audiences. “Our job as their strategic partners is really to understand what they do,” says Arleigh. “It’s to deeply understand their product so that I could [in theory] go to a sales meeting and sell.’ That level of detail is where we want to go with our customers.” Once she knows her clients on such a level, Arleigh says, “the story almost writes itself.”
And as PR pros know, it’s all about the story. “One of the philosophies that we tell clients all the time is—it’s our job to help you tell the right story to the right people on the right channels,” says Arleigh. “And that doesn’t mean everyone everywhere.”
While Arleigh’s clients often tell her they want to see their name in lights or want to be featured on a show with the aplomb and numbers of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Arleigh directs them back to their target audience. “Maybe it’s not as glamorous, but let’s work with those niche publications your exact audience is reading, and where you can probably get in front of the exact person that would buy from you,” says Arleigh to her clients. “Let’s get your name in lights there, because in the end, that’s a higher value to you than a shoutout on Oprah.”
Knowing her clients and knowing their audience is how Arleigh determines who the “right person” is. It’s not about prestige or following size—it’s not even about which journalists she might already know. “Regardless of how good your relationship with a journalist is, if the story doesn’t intrigue their audience, they’re not going to publish it,” says Arleigh. Everything comes down to the story and how it’s pitched.
Arleigh shares an anecdote from her time working in the UK. “I had to build a media Rolodex. That meant picking up the phone and cold calling and pitching. And I remember the first time I picked up the phone, I called a journalist that we’d been trying to get for a while from The Times, and he hung up on me in the first 30 seconds because I didn’t have my pitch down.” Arleigh is grateful that he did. “It forced me to really understand that it’s my job to communicate to the journalists why the story is good and why it’s relevant to their audiences.”
Story matters, not just to her clients and the media, but to her as a PR professional. Her advice to upcoming or new PR professionals, “I think first and foremost, it’s about finding the stories that you’re passionate about.”