Walking into the NKPR office feels like a revelation for anyone who’s ever wanted to go into media as a kid. There’s an enviable stack of coffee table books, exposed brick and perfectly cracked leather, orchids in full bloom. You can be assured that your romanticization of the industry’s energy and creativity is indeed real life, despite the neon sign by the front door, winking at you on your way in, that reads: “it’s all lies, darling.”
It’s an apt introduction to founder Natasha Koifman, whose fascinating juxtapositions colour her meteoric rise in public relations. As a former journalist, she imbues a refreshing dose of authenticity amidst the gloss and polish. From building on brands’ community involvement to their work in Haiti with Artists for Peace and Justice, each NKPR project combines substance and truth-telling with play and possibility. Splitting her time between New York and Toronto, she’s a proud introvert in a decidedly people business. For anyone who’s ever wondered how feasible their ambitions are — in a culture that broadcasts simultaneously everything and nothing about ‘the life’ — read on.
Being a former journalist yourself, what are your thoughts on how the word ‘story’ has evolved over the past decade?
We’re now doing storytelling in a very condensed way. With Twitter, we have to get people excited about storytelling in a 140 characters. It’s changed the way we are able to absorb information. It’s changed the way we communicate. We just don’t have the same attention span we’re used to, and that’s the unfortunate part.
Agreed. It’s also a manner of being able to see yourself as the protagonist in the story as well; particularly as social media empowers public opinion like never before. Do you have a project that defines your approach to this shift?
From our standpoint, doing more digital strategy and social media for brands was an opportunity to give brands an authentic voice. When we started doing 26 Hours of Kindness last year, it really helped us get the community involved and on board. That’s one of the reasons I love social media so much: It gives you that opportunity to get people excited and inspire them to do good. Ultimately, that is a very important aspect of why we do what we do. I look at the work that we’ve done in Haiti with Artists For Peace and Justice. Seven years ago, we decided to build our school, and we now have our first graduating class in June that we’re going to be able to celebrate and watch happen.
You seem to get a lot of meaning from the proactivity and action of your current job—a privilege that isn’t always afforded in the objective reporting that goes into journalism. What about being a journalist inspired you to get into PR?
When I moved back to Toronto after living in New York, I had the opportunity to either work at the Toronto Sun, or work in PR. And I chose PR. [laughs] I saw our industry as the one that had the opportunity to actually provoke change and devise strategies. I love the way we think in PR. As publicists, we tend to think backwards. We’re always thinking about the end result. I saw a huge opportunity where I could translate what I learned as a journalist: From being on the receiving end of pitches, to developing strategic outreach resulting in meaningful awareness for brands.
Working in media can make you feel like you’re on a never-ending treadmill. Ideas become obsolete very quickly. What would you love to see have a comeback?
I miss the telephone. When I first started in PR, after reading the paper, or a magazine article, and the first thing I’d do is call the journalist. I wouldn’t know them, but I’d think, ‘wow, that was so well-written.’ I wanted them to know how they had inspired or affected me. That’s how I would build my relationships in an authentic way. And back then, they’d actually used to pick up the phone. Now, if you were to call somebody, you get a voicemail that refers you to an email address. Phone conversations just don’t exist anymore, and I miss that.
“Introverts can be just as powerful as extroverts. We’re just much more calculated with how we put ourselves out there.”
What’s your current approach to relationship building?
For me, relationship-building is that one-on-one connection. I want to understand what makes people tick, whether it’s ten years ago or today.
I’m an introvert, so I’m much better one-on-one. I didn’t discover I was an introvert until seven or eight years ago. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t love being at parties. During film festivals, we have 20 events back to back. I’d escape to the bathroom for five minutes, just to have some alone time. When you’re an introvert, you need that because it’s how you recharge your batteries. We get our energy from time alone, and from that one-on-one interaction, whereas extroverts get their energy from interacting with lots of people.
Reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: Unlocking the Power of Introverts inspired me to write about it for the Huffington Post. It also inspired a speech I gave at Women of Influence. It was incredible to see how many people are introverts. And what they want to know is: How can we be seen in the world? As introverts, we’re quiet. We tend to hide a little bit and be behind the scenes. With that book, you realize the power you have as an introvert. If you understand how to use that, introverts can be just as powerful as extroverts. We’re just much more calculated with how we put ourselves out there.
Can you tell me about a mentor of yours in the past?
It’ll be an unexpected choice: John Hunkin, the former CEO of CIBC. That was one of our first clients. Cause and philanthropy was a very big part of his working agenda, and certainly he led the way on that in such a way that was kind, but firm. We worked together for about four years. They were during the early stages of my company; very formative years. It definitely left an impact on me.
To this day, I could still call him up and ask for his advice on some things. He showed me that you lead by kindness. You lead by example. You never lead by fear, and that’s certainly something I think about when I consider my leadership skills. I would never expect anyone to do anything I would not do myself.
It’s nice to be in an age of media where we can reflect and explore the leadership styles and dynamics among the women around us.
This is an office of thirty women who get along really well. It feels like a family, and that’s really important for me. I’m definitely a girl’s girl. Female empowerment is very important. It’s come a long way, but we’re still not far enough.
Last year I did an interview with ET Canada about feminism. And there were all these young actresses who were saying they were not feminists. They don’t know what it means. Do you think the man next to you should be making more money just because he’s a man? It’s our responsibility to continue educating women on the fact that we should be treated equally. Why shouldn’t we?
You’ve spoken about your love for Marilyn Monroe. Is there a female icon in history who you think is underrated?
Marilyn is interesting. She was underrated at the time, because she was known for her appearance, but she was very good at manipulating the public. I have a Bert Stern piece in my living room that was taken six week before she died, and I chose the piece because that’s when she looks the most flawed—and the most beautiful. I think she knew exactly what she was doing when she would put that sultry act. I do think she was damaged. We all have a bit of that in us. She was a lot smarter than people gave her credit for.
Do you think we’ll be saying things like that about women like Kim Kardashian in, say, fifty years?
Probably not. Kim Kardashian has built a huge empire. People love to hate her, but at the end of the day, she’s made some very smart decisions.The clout that she has out there is real. We’re all about popularity right now, and they are popular. If her and Kanye did decide to run for President and First Lady, it’s actually possible for them to win. Look at Trump, for god’s sake. It’s entirely possible. She’s defined this generation.
What are you looking for when you hire?
Attitude and kindness. We want people to listen; too many people do a lot of talking, in general. A willingness to learn, and soak in. Your twenties are all about learning. I learned my twenties, practiced in my thirties, and at forty, I’ve honed it. Whereas in your twenties, a lot of girls are like, ‘I should know this.‘ And they get frustrated.
You’re better off taking a step back and asking a lot of questions, use that opportunity to learn, and get great at what you do. The only expectation is to be open to learning your craft. I wish people in their twenties would be a little more understanding of themselves, and have a little patience to be able to know that you’ll figure it out in your thirties.
I find we hold our mistakes in greater weight than they deserve.
I would have a very hard time being in my twenties now. There’s so much pressure put on this generation, and social media is a huge part of it. You’re seeing the best of everybody, but you’re never seeing the struggle. That struggle—those learnings—are so important. You’re not going to learn unless you make mistakes. And mistakes are okay. I don’t think anyone’s providing the tools to make it easier, and that’s why twentysomethings are really struggling.
What kind of legacy did you want to leave in your twenties? How has that changed?
I had my son when I was really young. A kid, with a kid, in university. From the moment he was born, I always wanted to be someone that he could be proud of. That was what navigated my entire life from that moment.
He’s just graduated law school and now in his twenties, dealing with the pressures we were talking about. Without him, I would’ve made a lot more mistakes because there’s no gauge. I didn’t know who I was going to become. I didn’t know the road that my life was going to take. But I did know that every decision, from the minute he was born, I made to make sure that he would be proud of me.
How did you learn to be so comfortable with vulnerability?
I’ve always felt this way. Being authentic is very important to me because it’s the only way people will connect with you. Vulnerability is about being brave enough to say ‘this is who I am.’
It is a confidence thing; I wasn’t like this in my twenties. You learn that no relationship can happen without a real connection to somebody—whether it’s for thirty minutes or a lifetime—unless you give the authentic you to them. Otherwise, what’s the point? I don’t even want to waste one minute with somebody if it’s not real. I’d rather have one real minute than thirty fake minutes.
“I’ve always felt this way. Being authentic is very important to me because it’s the only way people will connect with you. Vulnerability is about being brave enough to say THIS IS WHO I AM.”
How do you think being an introvert helped you succeed in PR?
As introverts, we listen. We really connect and pay attention to everything’s that’s going on around us. I don’t drink; I don’t party. I just go to the events I have to and I go home. I feel like I don’t have the same distractions as some other people. For me, it’s being able to make these one-on-one connections and really… feel them. Introverts do that really well. They’re never going to be the life of the party, but they will mean something to the person they connected with. That, to me, is more important.
A lot of people have this misconception about needing to be the life of the party in order to succeed in PR because they orchestrate the event. But you make a good point; for those in PR, parties are work. And you need to put in the work.
What I love about the industry is the thinking behind it. The idea that an event strategy can actually help our clients connect with their target audience. Do I always love the five hours spent at an event? Not necessarily. But do I love what comes out of it? Absolutely. That’s the difference between an introvert and an extrovert. I always say I live the life of an extrovert, but as an introvert. It’s a kind of balance, the same reason why I live in both Toronto and New York. When I’m overstimulated in New York, I can come back here. When I need that New York fix, I can go back.
You mentioned your home being very similarly decorated and arranged as your office. How does that principle of balance apply there?
I really believe in work-life integration. All this stuff about work-life balance we’ve been hearing about over the past few years is bullshit. It doesn’t exist. If it did, we’d have a three-and-a-half day work week and a three-and-a-half day weekend. I was failing at it, because I was trying to achieve something that was never going to work. My work is my life, and my life is my work.
I’m not saying people should work 24/7, but you have to love what you do enough, and love what you want to do outside of work enough to be able to integrate it into your life. Even in looking for a partner. Instead of leading this double life and having that separation, you have an opportunity to have a full life on both ends.
“All this stuff about work-life balance we’ve been hearing about over the past few years is bullshit. You have to love what you do enough, and love what you want to do outside of work enough to be able to integrate it into your life.”
What are some challenges you’ve found in intertwining your personal and professional lives so closely?
I don’t have any, honestly. I love my life, and I love it because I get to do everything I’ve always really wanted to do. I’ve surrounded myself with people I genuinely care about.
It was probably about two years ago when I realized that I’m happy and grateful. Before then, I didn’t really experience joy. And I was trying to understand what it was, asking questions like, what is that? Where do I find that? What I came to the conclusion of was: the only way you can experience real joy is when you’re actually bringing happiness to somebody else. During my last trip to Haiti, I was holding this little girl, Winnie. Her mother was yelling at me in Creole, saying: ‘Take my daughter. Take my daughter with you.’ It’s so devastating there, and she just wanted her daughter to have a better life.
The things we can do for a place like Haiti… we were building the first free high school in Port-au-Prince, when they normally wouldn’t have an education beyond junior high school. You think about that scenario, and you think about where we are, and how fortunate and grateful we are. Doing something good for someone else is something we should all be doing. The impact you’ll have on a human being can actually change their world.
It’s not everyday you get to see your own empathy come to life like that.
My therapist says I have a lot of empathy. She might think I have a little too much of it. [laughs] Everybody should have a therapist. Mine’s on speed-dial. We’re in this world and this life to figure ourselves out. So why brush it under the rug, right? Deal with things head on. That’s how I try to live my life: try and figure out things that don’t make sense.
“Doing something good for someone else is something we should all be doing. The impact you’ll have on a human being can actually change their world.”
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