Getting to know Switchboard PR & the Founder, Kathleen Reid
Kathleen, could you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Kathleen Reid. I'm the Founder and Managing Director of Switchboard public relations. Switchboard is a full service PR firm based in Vancouver, Canada. We work with technology companies across North America, from small startups to large multinationals as they're on their journey growing and scaling.
What inspired you to create Switchboard?
Well, good question. Um, in terms of inspiring me to start switchboard, my family's pretty entrepreneurial, so I have a blended family. So I have a mom, a bonus mom, a dad, a bonus dad, all of them are founders and run their own businesses. So I like to say that it was a bit in my DNA. I started my career in public relations at National Public Relations, which is a large firm across Canada, and when I was there, I just loved agency work. But I went in-house, really liked it, and loved working at a large multinational, working in the corporate affairs department, and I saw how agency-client relationships really should work. So that was exciting for me. And then I thought, “oh, I kind of need the variety and missing that in- house” and I started consulting on my own. So that was Kathleen Reid Consulting and then that morphed into Switchboard and that is where more client work came in and it morphed into finding real passion to work with tech companies and tech enabled companies.
What's your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is solving clients’ problems because when clients come to us, their problem can seem really big. It might seem like a level 10 issue that needs to be managed, and we can come in smoothly, take control, and help them move through that issue. So I love chaos. My husband jokes that my childhood must have been pretty chaotic, because I like being in chaos. And when clients are having issues, I love managing them. Crisis communications is probably my favorite area of PR.
What kind of clients use your services? And why do you think companies need a PR agency like yours?
I think the type of companies that use our services primarily are either technology companies that are a startup stage, but maybe have done a bit of financing or have a really good story to tell. We don't work with a ton of startups, but when they're ready, we do, then I'd say probably a small and medium size companies that that are, you know, groundbreaking that are able to announce a raise, or on a big talent and recruitment mission and that they're growing and scaling pretty quickly, and they might need to reach audiences outside of British Columbia. They want to go for all of Canada or all of the US. And then I'd say multinational companies that really need boots on the ground, either in BC or Alberta. We have offices in both Vancouver and Calgary. And we're continuing to grow and scale Switchboard, so hopefully we'll have offices soon in Seattle and Toronto, other cities. And I think companies come to us when they want a data driven approach. KPI, we're really driven to make sure that we're hitting our key performance indicators that we put out, and part of that is, as a founder myself, I know how important that is when someone's putting a dollar figure to a service, right? So when we're using our law firm, or our accounting firm, all those dollars matter to a business as they're growing and scaling. So that's something that we really have embedded in our culture. And I think what's unique, but I think what's unique is that we're very community driven. Our relationship with Vancouver Startup Week is a good example of that. And we really do know the technology space, so I think people come to us for that institutional knowledge of technology and of the media landscape and Canada and the US.
What kind of qualities do you look for in a person before they join your team? Does an individual need to have a degree related to PR in order to be considered as a candidate?
No, you don't need to have a background in PR. My background is in political science, international relations and economics, so I didn't even know about PR when I was in university. We have had folks on our teams with accounting backgrounds, legal backgrounds, journalistic backgrounds, so really, a PR degree or certificate isn't going to get your foot in the door at Switchboard. What we look for in folks that are joining our team is really someone who's a problem solver. So you’re strategic, you're not going to come with more problems. You're going to be very solutions driven. We look for folks that are detail oriented. You're not wanting to have a typo if you work for a PR firm. So my team's used to me saying, “have you triple checked this?” You know, “are you 110% sure?” Like, go to the triple check, go to the 110.
I'm someone who likes to continue to innovate. So we have that in our DNA at Switchboard. So it's always “this is great, but how can we get to the next level,” you know, celebrate the wins and pause to reflect on them, but let's push to the next level. And then I would say you have to really enjoy technology, innovation and science. If you don't, it's going to be a difficult industry to work, a difficult company to work at because you wouldn't know those industries. And then we look for connections, are you connected to members of government, the media, the ecosystem, the community, and if you are, you probably have a good chance of working with us.
And maybe I'll plug just that we're hiring right now for a coordinator position, and we're hiring for a consultant position. We may have those on our career page early next week. And if we do, I'll make sure that I send them through to you.
For anyone who wants to work in public relations, what advice would you give them before they find a job. Also, if you offer any internships at switchboard, tell us more about it.
So I think if you want to work in public relations, you have to decide what sector you want to work in. I like the business technology, science sectors within PR, some people really prefer lifestyle PR, I'm not someone who enjoys that space. So find out the industries and sectors that you like, and then find a firm that represents those sectors that you could work at. I'd say firm experience is really important because it allows you to manage client files. I learned so much from my time at National.
And you've got to be a bit of a comms generalist, because you're touching various areas. So you might do a bit of public affairs work, crisis communications, media relations, and you can find areas within PR that you really, really like. I think the other thing is a lot of people come out of their PR programs thinking they're going to write pitch notes and talk to the media right away. It takes some time. There's got to be some building blocks that happen. And I think the biggest thing that communicators need to know is you've got to listen. And really actively listen, because there's those little golden nuggets and peeling the layer of the onion and you want to get to those moments with your clients.
And if you're not listening and asking creative questions, it's harder to get there. In terms of summer student positions and internships, we have a relationship with SFU’s communications programs, so we always provide a practicum student placement from SFU. And then also we're looking at this year running one with Capilano and Elan on our team is running those. And we usually put a summer student position and job description up in late April, early May for summer students, and I think we've had a summer student for the last three to four years. We've been around for five, so most of the time, we've always tried to support a summer student. And the summer student position is always paid.
How would you say PR has changed over the last 5 years?
I think the landscape has changed so much. I think now more than ever, really solid public relations matters. I think the industry is actually growing, even if where we get our news is changing. So I think the ways that we get our news, the mediums that we're using have changed. I mean, the Clubhouse post is a good example of that, right? Is it going to kill the podcast sector? Who knows? We don't know yet. We're gonna have to wait and see. It's definitely making authentic communications more accessible. In some ways, I would say in some ways, it doesn't. You know, just being mobile and things like that.
I think that those ways it's changed. I think people want more authentic communications now more than ever, and that human interest stories and some good news stories, people are thirsty and hungry for those right? We see so much doom and gloom in the news that if you can break through some of that noise to tell your story, there's some good opportunities there. I also think
Crisis comms is an area that's grown quite a bit with everyone having a smartphone and certain narratives coming up, that I think you need to make sure that you're ready when that happens, because people expect a really quick response now. And that's, that's way different than at the start of my career and even five years ago, so with social media and with just the availability of information and how quickly the media will have deadlines, you want to make sure you're getting back to them ASAP.
What was the hardest thing when you started your journey with Switchboard PR?
I think the hardest thing at Switchboard, and I think it's for anyone who is a founder, is some of the loneliness that comes with that. Sometimes it can feel like you're the only person pushing through. I think it takes a while to kind of break through and find your groove as an entrepreneur, and once you do, it can continue. And I think there's always highs and lows, right? Generally, I think founders tend to be like half-glass full, really positive people, because there's a lot of risk involved. I think every year, we just did a five year blog post that had some of this in it, but every year, there's a different challenge and a different opportunity. We had an audit once from the CRA that was held to go through, like I wanted to pull my hair out, I wanted to close down switchboard, I was so stressed, we used a great accounting firm, lots of good opportunities came out of that by working with some different experts and our former accountant and different things. But while you're in it, it can feel pretty isolating and lonely.
And I think the other thing is, you know, that classic story of the butcher shop. If you go to the butcher shop after hours, who's probably going to be there? Probably the founder, the owner or the family member. So you've got to be there to turn the lights on. And we've got a great team. It's definitely not just me, there's an extension of our team here. But at the end of the day, it's the founder. You've got to push through when things are difficult. And I think you've seen a lot of resilient founders in Vancouver and Canada, and BC, especially during COVID. People have had to be agile, they've had to find ways to make things work. So I think you've got to be creative as a founder, which is really fun.
What made you sponsor Vancouver Startup Week?
I think that you've got a great team. And Viv and Katty, and others are a huge part of that. I've always loved the Vancouver Startup Week community. So I know I've spoken at Vancouver Startup Week, we've had clients go to Vancouver Startup Week, I think it's so important that our ecosystem has companies of all sizes, and startups are an important part of that. I think for small and medium sized companies, it's a great event as well to get their foot in the door to make connections. I think community is so important. People say Vancouver is a hard city to make friends, it's a hard city to live in, and all of these things. And I think we've got one of the strongest communities out there. So I'm really happy to put Switchboard services behind Vancouver Startup Week.
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