Nesh Pillay is the founder of Press Pillay, a digital communications agency on a social mission. She is also currently the Newcomers Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Toronto Public Library, where she works with new immigrants to bring their startup ideas to life.
She is a former journalist who covered international advertising and marketing as
a founding reporter of The Drum’s New York team. She later joined Toronto-based EQ Works as their VP of Marketing, where she honed the art of “marketing for the marketer.” Nesh has previously appeared in Canadian Association for Marketing Professionals and Direct Marketing Magazine. Her secret weapon is having learned the in’s and out’s of marketing, PR and branding from “the other side.”
She calls herself the “Robin Hood” of PR and believes that empathy can fix the world.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE FOUNDING OF PRESS PILLAY?
When I worked as a reporter, I wrote about the marketing industry and realized very quickly that it’s a broken one. Budgets are high, outputs are low and everything is fragmented. Not everyone is a giant corporation with million-dollar budgets so there’s a large segment of the business world that is left floating aimlessly when it comes to marketing and communications.
I decided that the only way to change this is from the inside, so I opened my own shop.
After founding the agency, I very quickly learned that entrepreneurship (stressful as it may be) is my life’s calling.
WHAT ARE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS IN MARKETING THAT CAN CONTRIBUTE TOWARDS THE SUCCESS OF A BUSINESS?
Know yourself. A lot of businesses rush to market without defining their brands and objectives. Behind every campaign or even social media post, there should be strategic thought. Ask yourself: Why are we doing this? What are our expected outcomes? More often than not, small businesses employ splintered and confusing marketing efforts. One brand voice on social with another on the website, and a third in subway ads. Audiences are smart. They recognize this and don’t respond to it.
Know your audience. Some businesses do a great job of knowing themselves but struggle to know their audiences. It’s crucial that you always keep a tab on the pulse of ever-shifting audience demographics. Knowing your audience’s age and location isn’t enough. You want to know what makes them happy. What’s important to them. What isn’t? Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to create marketing campaigns that truly resonate with your customer. You’ll be surprised by how far a quippy or topical campaign can take you.
Be firm, but fluid. Over the last decade or so, technology has moved at an alarmingly- quick pace. This, of course, has translated into marketing efforts. It seems like there’s a new “cool” marketing tool or platform every 6-months. This is exhausting and overwhelming. Businesses generally respond to this in two ways. Some have marketing A.D.D., flitting from platform to platform trying to stay ahead of the curve. But I don’t necessarily NEED my plumber making Tik Toks (look it up, it’s cool now). Others dig in their heels and refuse to adapt at all – these are the companies that flood your mailbox with flyers, though don’t have proper websites. The answer is to be somewhere in the middle: track the ways that people consume content and if a particular platform seems to have lasting power, adopt it. Stubbornness will get you nowhere.
YOU GIVE 10% OF ALL YOUR AGENCY’S INCOME AND DONATE IT TOWARDS HELPING THE “WORLD BECOME A BETTER PLACE”. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE FOUNDATIONS AND CHARITIES TO WHICH YOU DONATE A PORTION OF YOUR COMPANY’S PROFIT TOWARDS?
The amount we’re able to give-back directly correlates to how profitable we’ve been in a particular year. Since founding the agency, we’ve focused on diversifying our efforts by working with and supporting smaller nonprofits and charities like one that provides feminine hygiene products to low-income women in rural South Africa or another that gives shelter to victims of domestic abuse. We try to ensure that the values of these foundations mirror ours: empathy, education, and equality. As the agency grows, we hope these funds will be used toward an initiative of our very own: The Caleb Project.
HAVING STUDIED AND WORKED IN COMMUNICATIONS, ONE CAN SAY YOU ARE AN EXPERT TO ALL THINGS COMMUNICATIONS RELATED. HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU BELIEVE COMMUNICATION IS WHEN IT COMES TO THE SUCCESS OF A BUSINESS?
Last year, the agency put on the first-ever “Communications Week” event held in Canada. It was a huge success and we learned that there’s a huge gap when it comes to the appreciation and growth of Canadian business communications.
I think this is because there’s a lack of understanding of the importance of communication in any industry.
Communication is the foundation upon which every industry is built. Know any incredible lawyers who are poor communicators? Doctors? Servers? My point exactly.
WHAT MARKETING ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TO SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS WHO ARE JUST STARTING UP?
This translates beyond marketing, but I urge all small business owners to surround themselves with people who know more than they do. You should never be the smartest person on your team. Also, strategically frame your idea of success. Many, many businesses (including my agency at one point) make the mistake of scaling too much too quickly. However, success isn’t measured by the number of people on payroll, or how many neon signs you have in your office space.
With marketing specifically, I’ve seen businesses with incredible products forget about marketing support and strategy in their founding months. Marketing is more than choosing brand colours and a logo, it’s about ensuring that your product has an audience and that you have the tools to effectively reach that population.
YOU’RE VERY PASSIONATE ABOUT DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE. WHAT STRATEGIES DO YOU USE TO INCORPORATE THAT IN YOUR OWN ORGANIZATION?
I focus on diversity of thought and experience when I hire. This automatically translates to visible diversity.
Resumes don’t always share the breadth of a person’s knowledge – I also take things like life experience into account. Has this person travelled? What are their values? What personal challenges have they overcome?
Just like I do with client work, I take an unusual approach putting teams together but I find it works well.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE THAT COMPANIES FACE WHEN IT COMES TO HAVING A DIVERSE AND INCLUSIVE WORKPLACE?
I think a lot of companies struggle with defining diversity and understanding the value in it. Diversity doesn’t just mean filling an organization with a bunch of people who look differently (though the chips often fall that way).
Rather, true diversity brings together people with different experiences, backgrounds, and schools-of-thought to ensure that the workplace is as relevant and effective as possible.
YOU’RE A STRONG SUPPORTER OF WOMEN AND WOMEN OF COLOUR IN LEADERSHIP ROLES WITHIN THE TECH INDUSTRY. WHAT PERSPECTIVE DO YOU BELIEVE THEY CAN BRING TO THE TECH INDUSTRY?
I’m hesitant to say solely “women bring X” while “men bring Y.” I just don’t think it works that way. However, to my point above, I think that having the most diverse teams possible is what leads to the best outcomes possible. And yes, in this case, in particular, I mean women.
It’s a common misconception that women aren’t very technical (or that men aren’t very empathetic), but by having an inclusive team, you’re giving a voice and power to all experiences. Many brands that do the best today are the ones giving voices to those who simply weren’t heard before. They’re catering to experiences and solving problems that were previously undervalued and ignored.
ON A FINAL NOTE, WHAT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER? WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
I have two answers to this. One more specific, and another more general. Specifically, the agency put on an event last year under the Communications Week umbrella. I had a lot of great help on my team and a lot of wonderful partners. The event was a huge success and we sold out. I also learned of a great gap in the market that needed tending: Canadian Communications. We have since rebranded and will be hosting the event under the name Noted North early next year.
More generally, the highs of running a business are incredible. There’s nothing more exhilarating. However, the lows can be quite challenging as well. This last year, I took some time off from the agency to focus on my personal life. Being Type A, this stressed me out immensely but I’m incredibly proud to say I’ve learned that sometimes you need to turn it off. Some things are more important. And that’s OK. This realization has primed me to be more successful than ever before.