N atasha Koifman is a public relations superstar. Ask any of her clients. Natasha created NKPR in 2002 and under her guidance and leadership, the PR company has established itself as a highly regarded full-service public relations, artist management and digital agency with offices in Toronto and New York, representing over 40 diverse national and international brands including Swarovski, TD, and Links of London.
We sat down with the two-time Canada’s Most Powerful Women winner to discuss International Women’s Day, TIFF, and her passion for giving back.
Q: You’ve been running NKPR for over 16 years now. What inspired you to start your own PR company and what have you learned over that time?
A: After working in New York for a number of years as a Journalist and then moving back to Toronto to work for a communications agency, I realized that I really loved the industry, but I didn’t necessarily connect with every single client or project that came across my desk. When I decided to start my own company, the lesson I learned from my previous jobs was to really pick and choose who you work with and what you work on. Even though I didn’t necessarily know how to run a business at the time, what I did know was that I had these key values and principles that were important to me, based on everything I had learned in previous jobs. I knew that I wanted to make sure I was as transparent as possible with all of my clients, that I ran my business honestly and that my compass was integrity. When I started my company, those were the three things that I felt were the most important and acted almost as a checklist for all the different clients or businesses that I was working with.
Q: What does it mean to work with NKPR? How do you separate yourself from your competition?
A: What really sets us apart from other agencies is that we are results driven. We are hyper-focused on getting results that are actually meaningful for our clients and their businesses. The reality is, that we have so many more tools in our toolbox today compared to 17 years ago when I started the company. Social media and the ever-evolving digital landscape have changed PR completely and ultimately changed how we do business. We work with our clients almost thinking backward. First asking the question, “what do you want PR to do for you?” Success is different for everyone, sometimes it’s about building a brand and sometimes it’s about sales. We find out those priorities from the beginning so that we can leverage the right tools to generate meaningful results for all of our clients.
Q: How has social media transformed the way NKPR does business?
A: We took social media and we ran with it. We are the only agency in Canada that is verified on both Instagram and Twitter (@NatashaNKPR). We embraced it and I think one of the biggest things to running a successful company is being open to all the changes that are happening in the world, whether it’s in your industry or not. When I look at social media and how it has transformed our business, the fact that we can do our own market research, through the database and following that we have built on various platforms, is incredible - it’s direct market research. Where in the past we could really only reach consumers through media, today, we can go directly to the consumer to share information and drive sales. It’s an exciting time for the industry as these tools continue to evolve and create new ways for us to achieve our clients’ results.
Q: Each year, NKPR hosts 26 Hours of Kindness to raise awareness for Toronto’s homeless community during one of the coldest times of the year. Can you tell us more about this cause?
A: From the beginning, giving back has always been so important to me and one of the key pillars of my business. I started 26 Hours of Kindness several years ago during the holiday season when I saw a real need to support the community where we live and work. We are so fortunate to receive amazing gifts from our clients and partners each year and I wanted to be able to spread that love to those who really needed it the most. That’s how it started, from random acts to volunteering at local shelters the NKPR team spreads out across the city for 26 hours of giving back. Over the past couple years, we’ve moved the initiative to Valentine’s Day – one of the coldest days of the year in Canada. This year, we partnered with global organization #HashtagLunchbag to make over 600 sandwiches for shelters across the city. Our office transformed into KINDNESS HQ and we had over 80 volunteers from the neighbourhood come together to pack lunches for the community. For me, when I started 26 Hours, it was an extension of what we do from a philanthropic perspective. We were always doing so much abroad with Artists for Peace and Justice, it really made sense to look at how we could support our local community in a meaningful way.
Q: TIFF is an important time of year for you. Tell us a bit about what you love about TIFF and how it’s allowed you to make a difference to your clients and the charities you work with.
A: One of the things I love about TIFF is how the city really transforms into Hollywood North. I’m often in LA and New York for work and there’s always that buzz in those cities, but something happens to Toronto during the film festival where you can just feel the energy in the city. Since I started NKPR, it has always been an important time for us – for clients but also for causes that we believe in. I was in Los Angeles 11 years ago at a lunch and the topic of discussion was Haiti and how devastated the country is - It’s an hour and a half away from Miami, you have kids that are dying of malnutrition, families that are living on a dollar a day and we needed to do something. We were just two and a half months out from the film festival, so I suggested looking into doing a fundraising event. The timing couldn’t be better, with TIFF bringing in over 700 journalists and all the major celebrities and industry leaders, it was an opportunity to get global eyeballs on a meaningful cause. From there Artists for Peace and justice was created. Ben Stiller and Susan Sarandon are our chairs for the US, Yannick and Shantelle Bisson are on our board in Canada and here we are 10 and a half years later having raised over $32 million, of which a huge portion comes from the annual event during the Toronto film festival. I’m also excited to announce that we are also hosting our inaugural APJ gala in Montreal this year during Grand Prix.
Q: You are the chair of the Canadian Board for Artists for Peace and Justice and sit on the US Advisory Board as well. Why is being part of this organization important to you?
A: I often get asked why I support the charities that I do, and the answer is because someone has to do it. We can’t just keep talking about it, we have to take action and do something. When I think back to the earthquake in Haiti, where we raised over $5 million to build the first free high school in Port-au-Prince, I look at that and think, if we didn’t do that, who would have? Everyone involved in Artists for Peace in Justice truly wants to make a real impact in that part of the world. We know that every single dollar that we raise goes directly back to our school, programming and the hospital that we support in Haiti. For me, this is so important because it allows us to make maximum impact in the community. Now, more than ever, we have to talk about giving back and we have to take action. A retweet or repost is great, but we need to do more. This goes back to one of the reasons we also started 26 Hours of Kindness, I wanted my team to understand the importance of philanthropy. When you spend the time creating a program like #HashtagLunchbag or when you’re physically dropping off those sandwiches to these shelters, you realize how important it actually is. I think it’s imperative that we understand the value of taking action and giving of yourself to others that need you.
Q: Just over a year ago, you launched AN8, an angel investment firm with your husband, Anthony Mantella. Can you tell us a little bit about the company and what your motivation was to start it?
A: We decided to start this new company because I was speaking with so many businesses through NKPR that weren’t really in the position to afford PR but had amazing business ideas and strong leadership. Anthony was already doing a multitude of investments, so we decided to pair up together to support the next generation of entrepreneurs. We wanted to use my agency and our financial resources to contribute to businesses that could really benefit in a meaningful way. Then I started to look at some of the stats out there where only 7.4% of angel investors are female and women-led businesses get only 4.2% of venture capital funding. We felt that this was an opportunity for us to pick and choose the companies that we were going to invest in, and it was something for us to be able to do together.
Q: International Women’s Day is on March 8th where we celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality. Can you tell us a bit about what this day means to you and what needs to happen next to achieve a balance in business and society?
A: International Women’s Day has always been a big deal for me, even growing up. Every year, my father would always honour my mother on that day, and it stuck with me. I grew up in a household where there was an extreme amount of balance between my parents. They were partners and they worked together for the success and progress of our family. This year’s theme is “balance for better” and I think that’s so important because it is about both genders working together. It zeros in on the idea that women AND men have a part to play in opening doors and smashing through glass ceilings. You need both men and women at the table in order to actually achieve the progress we all strive for because you can’t have a one-way conversation, it has to be two ways.
Q: What is something that not many people would know about you?
A: I’m an introvert. Most people think that because I’m in a job that is so social and that requires me to be around a lot of people that I’m an extrovert, but that’s not the case. The only difference between the two is that I get my energy from quiet time, whereas extroverts get their energy from going out and being surrounded by people. We live in a world where there is this expectation that we have to go, go, go all the time, but quiet time is really important. You have to cherish the quiet because it’s actually when you recharge, certainly for an introvert.
Q: You’ve accomplished so much in your career. What advice would you give to young women looking to make a difference in the world of business?
A: There are a few things. The first being, have patience! Today, more than ever, because of social media and the rise of the instant gratification generation there is this expectation to be an overnight success. I often advise students and young women to take a breath and be patient with themselves. Have goals and work to achieve those goals, but they are not going to happen overnight. My second piece of advice is to be authentic. Authenticity is a word that is overused but often misunderstood. One exercise I’ve been doing for over 15 years is called the “The 5 I am’s.” I often do it once a year and what it does is help you really understand the five things that make you, you. They change every year for me, but the exercise will help you identify and determine who you are and what values are important to you. These are the values that should guide your decisions, both in your career and in life.
BY CASEY ELOGIO