Image by Jenna Marie Wakani
Amy Burstyn-Fritz has always been a maven – her ceaseless energy lends itself well to her field of public relations. She’s a Partner at The Knot Group (TKG), home to clients like Canadian Opera Company, AVEDA, and Maison Birks, amongst an impressive group of clients. Freshly into their North American expansion (New York City), TKG has a fire that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Read on, and hear about what it’s like to build a business while owning your confidence in doing it.
What compelled you to go into the PR space, especially from an entrepreneurial standpoint?
I always liked to create, and I always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was 10 my friend and I started a Devil Sticks business (remember those?) and we would go to the lumber yard and get wood, make them into something, and sell them on the school yard.
I always want to be sure of what I’m jumping into, so I like to map out all my various opportunities. I started on the editorial side as an English major, and then ended up in a contract position that transitioned me into the PR side. I always had a natural knack for the business, someone once told me that I was “very optimistic”. I liked to see the exciting side of everything. I was sure that’s what I wanted to do, and I knew that Tatiana (Partner at TKG) and I would be compatible. Getting into a business is like a marriage, so I tested a few things before diving in completely.
“I liked to see the exciting side of everything.”
Once I decide to do something, I’m headstrong in my decisions and there isn’t really doubt in my mind. We’ve grown a lot – 50% every year, and there’s no stopping it.
What were the growing pains in time of joining the company, to now?
I think with anyone that joins a startup, you there are the obvious pains of capital, so taking a hit in terms of your earnings. You sacrifice a couple of years for the good of the business. Taking on a business takes a lot of energy. Staying up until 2am and making nothing. You have to sustain yourself on drive and enthusiasm. Having a partner with you is a nice part of it too, because you can share the vision, not feel as crazy.
“You have to sustain yourself on drive and enthusiasm.”
It all happened pretty quickly, so that period was fairly short, and we saw results quickly. I think all entrepreneurs face that at some point, you see the end game but the road to it is more challenging.
How did you build the roadmap to know what you wanted, and what the right things to do to get there?
In PR the business is a lot about skills and relationships. We had a good network here, and it was about getting in front of the right people and creating the right opportunities. I was never nervous about that, it was more a matter of time, versus whether we thought it was possible.
“It was more a matter of time, versus whether we thought it was possible.“
Along the way we had very similar goals in place, for us it was always about quality over quantity. When you’re building a brand it’s really important that you think about not just growing, but how you’re growing, who you’re aligning with to create your brand DNA. The clients you take on establish the type of agency you want to be. We wanted to grow, and fast. But we wanted to do it in the way that was right for us. Looking at the long game was more important.
When you talk about the brand and brand DNA, I always thought from the outside that “Knot PR” (original name) had a pun to it. What was the thinking behind that?
We definitely liked the Knot name, we like to consider ourselves on the “intellectual” side. It’s three fold – it was a) not vs. Knot in the cheeky way, b) To tie a knot, to build relationships and c) connections and lastly, it’s a conversation starter. That’s ultimately our goal – to have people ask questions, “why Knot”? It lets us talk about our business. We wanted to create a business that had legs to grow, vs. a name.
“That’s ultimately our goal – to have people ask questions, “why Knot”? It lets us talk about our business.”
Being based out of Toronto, and having an international mindset is a very interesting way to go about business. There’s advantages to being in Toronto, and to seek opportunities elsewhere too. What’s your lens in doing that?
Our New York expansion is natural, we know that space really well. Many of our clients operate out of Canada and the United States. Our Partner Hilary had been working out of New York for the last decade, and we saw a lot of opportunity in that space, and to cross over the markets and understand them both.
A lot of our clients who are here were asking about services in New York. We wanted to make sure we established a business and system out there, and we decided to start putting that together. As with most things you’re building, you talk about it for a long time and then things start happening. Hil came on in February, and we launched in August with two people on the ground in New York.
How has the growth of a company affected your personal growth?
I got married in 2013, two years into being at TKG. Tatiana got married about a year after, so we went through large life events during that time. Because we have such a great partnership, we’re able to balance each other. It’s difficult as a woman, but you figure out a way to do everything. I don’t think you choose one thing or another, you figure out a way to do everything you love to do. If you have a good partner and a strong business, then it’s all doable.
“It’s difficult as a woman, but you figure out a way to do everything. I don’t think you choose one thing or another, you figure out a way to do everything you love to do. If you have a good partner and a strong business, then it’s all doable.”
What’s your way of balancing everything? We joked earlier about balancing even going to the gym, how do you manage your already-full plate?
I think the challenge is to be more selective – when I started out, I never said no. I would do as much as I possibly could do. We’re lucky that our business is much more established now, so we have the opportunity to choose what makes sense. You have to cut out the things that just take up time, and focus on the things that will make you feel successful, and that you want to do. I make working out a priority.
“You have to cut out the things that just take up time, and focus on the things that will make you feel successful, and that you want to do.”
When you’re making these decisions for yourself, PR is a very “always on industry”. What do you do to force yourself to turn off?
I always say to people that “you’re never done” – your work is never “finished” – you need to know when to leave your desk and push less important tasks to a later date. You learn how to work smarter – say you’re a morning person, then use that time to your advantage to be productive. You have to know yourself and how you work.
One thing I’ve realized is that everyone is “busy” whenever you ask them how they’re doing. One of my resolutions is to stop saying that I’m busy, and I think it’s a frame of mind. One person’s busy is someone else’s relaxed. Get out of the state of mind where you’re overwhelmed.
“One person’s busy is someone else’s relaxed. Get out of the state of mind where you’re overwhelmed.”
I started meditating. Meditation has helped me become more levelheaded, they even have meditation to help you be more productive. It’s so good for your mind to be able to focus, and be in the present, not thinking about everything that’s going to happen. Focus on the the now. It trains your mind to be more present, and helps people be more successful and healthier. I started off with Headspace, because it’s goal oriented (though it’s a bit more commercial). It’s just about starting, get out of your head and just get started. Do something palatable. Don’t go in with huge expectations.
“It’s so good for your mind to be able to focus, and be in the present, not thinking about everything that’s going to happen. Focus on the the now.”
It’s like anything, it’s a skill – being able to clear your mind is not something that people naturally do. I find it really helpful for work, it’s allowed me to get through wildly busy times in a more relaxed and efficient way. It’s about accepting yourself.
How do you balance your social life with all that you do?
I tend to do work events that allow me to socialize with many people, but when I’m at home I try to make relaxing a priority. I’m lucky that I’m still close with many high school and university friends, that take me out of that “work space”, but I find it hard to make time to see everyone. In your own mind you beat yourself up.
I started coloring again! I think I remembered myself being a better artist than I am now…
Do you ever take time to reflect on your success and everything you’ve done?
I’m a forward looker…I wish I reflected more. I think the path of growth is interesting, I find opportunities like this help me go through the past and remind myself of the story as I’m telling the story. A lot of the times you’re just thinking next, next, next. It’s good to linger on the wins instead of looking immediately at the next opportunity. The nature of our business causes us to look to the future. But it’s good to use our experiences to move ourselves forward.