Meet Mia Pearson, a pioneer at fusing digital innovations with earned media, the co-founder of North Strategic and Notch Video, and the CEO of MSL Canada, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women and was named RBC’s Female Entrepreneur of the Year and her company was recognized as one of the Top Marketers in Canada.
Who is Mia? define yourself
I am a serial entrepreneur, an innovator, corporate strategist, and pioneer at fusing digital innovations with earned media. I am the co-founder of North Strategic and Notch Video, and the CEO of MSL Canada, a Publicist company. I’m also a mom of two children, a sister, daughter, and friend to many.
Tell us more about your family, how were you as a kid?
I grew up in Fort Frances, a small town of 8,000 people in Northwestern Ontario. I was the second youngest of five children. I was instilled with an entrepreneurial mindset early on in life, watching my father build and grow his business. At 15 I secured a grant from the government to set up a small summer business from my house on the lake, teaching kids about small craft safety. I have always loved the idea of starting and growing businesses. At 18 I moved to southern Ontario to attend Queen’s University in Kingston. I went on to do a post graduate degree in Public Relations and started working in Toronto, where I have stayed for the rest of my career.
"What I have learned is that we always need to be disrupting the status quo and be comfortable with constant change. We can never rest of on our laurels and stop innovating"
You have a BAH, Political Science - International Relations at Queen's University, why did you decide to study that?
I had always wanted to be a lawyer and was told it was the right degree to build a strong foundation in law. I loved studying politics, but pursuing a career in that area was not for me. One of my first jobs out of school was with the Human Rights Institute of Canada handling their PR and I fell in love with the industry. There was no turning back. I went on to do my post-grad in PR and have never looked back.
It is very interesting to see, you have worked in the PR field combining founding your own company and/or working for big PR firms, as President Canadian Region in Fleishman-Hillard, High Road Communications as CEO and Co-founder, Account Director in Hill and Knowlton, now you are CEO in MSL Group Canada and Co-founder of North Strategic. How is your experience with it? is there any particular reason you did it?
I started my first company when I was 29 years old and three short years later, sold it to Omnicom. In 2011, at a time when the industry was changing so much, I co-founded North Strategic to create a new kind of PR agency, one that was social by design and quickly became one of Canada’s fastest-growing social and public relations agencies. Soon after, I co-founded Notch Video to disrupt the content marketing space with the first online community that would enable the agile creation of digital content. I always had a strong entrepreneurial mindset, and love the combination of strategic communications and business strategy. I love new business development, disrupting traditional industries and building best place to work environments for our teams. I am in a unique position where I have the best of both worlds – building and co-leading the business strategy and operations while working in an industry I love.
During your career, you have been involved with the most respected brands including Microsoft, Samsung, Indigo, Airbnb, P&G, Coty, Cadillac Fairview, Sobeys and many others. . What is the most important learning you got for working with these important companies?
That change is a constant and embracing change is the only way to win in the future. Working with some of the most iconic brands in the industry has enabled me to do some of my most creative work. These brands are willing to take risks, test and learn, and push the boundaries on traditional PR. They have also treated us like true partners, bringing us in early and often on senior strategy and giving us a seat at the executive table. What I have learned is that we always need to be disrupting the status quo and be comfortable with constant change. We can never rest of on our laurels and stop innovating. By always pushing hard to be first in the world and leading the industry you will continue to be motivated and inspired to drive change. The best successes come when you are doing things differently and disrupting the way things have always been done.
"Passion is king. Do what you love to do. Surround yourself with incredible talent and create best place to work environments where they can do their best work. Partner with great companies that are aligned with your vision. Opportunities don't happen. They are created by passion, a vision that disrupts traditional markets and a lot of hard work"
You have more of 25 years of experience in PR, social media and brand strategy, you are one of the most respected voices in Canadian media, A regular speaker at industry events, you sit on the advisory board for Marketing Magazine, member of CATA's board of directors, you were recently named one of Canada's Top 100 Most Powerful Women. Named RBC’s Female Entrepreneur of the Year and your company was recognized as one of the Top Marketers in Canada by Marketing Magazine, PR Agency of the Year for Strategy Magazine and Holmes Report, and Small Business of the Year by AIR MILES® For Business. What's the recipe of your success?
Thank you, that’s very kind. Success comes when you love what you do. I surround myself with incredible talent and create best place to work environments where they can do their best work. When you have a passionate team all working toward a common goal, great things happen. I also believe that you need to be constantly disrupting the status quo. Success comes when you can differentiate, stand out from the rest, and take calculated risks that deliver unexpected results.
When I co-founded High Road back in the 90’s we were the first boutique technology agency in the country. North Strategic was social by design and enabled brands to create more integrated PR and social strategies at a time when social was exploding. And, with Notch Video it was about creating an entirely new model that enabled the brands we worked with to create content quickly and at a scalable cost. But, it’s not just about being first. It’s also about the people you work with. And, I mean that from both an employee and a client perspective. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the biggest brands in the world alongside an incredible team of people who are passionate about what we do.
North Strategic is Canada’s fastest-growing digital, social media, public relations, and influencer agency. What does your company do that is unique in the market? What services does it offer?
Our business model is different from traditional agencies and has adapted to fit today’s PR world. We strive to be our clients’ best partner and create a collaborative environment where their successes are our successes. Unlike the traditional agency model, we do not have timesheets enabling us to put the client first, with the right teams, at the right time. At the end of the day, we are storytellers which means that creativity is king. We deliver insightful, creative and integrated ideas each and every day to our clients to help propel their business forward.
What is the reality of your day-to-day?
What I love about my job is that every day is different. Some mornings I’m at a client’s office developing their brand strategy for the year, other days I’m at the office working with our team of 120+ employees. We’re committed to developing strong relationships so we make an effort to have as many face-to-face meetings with our partners as possible.
"I think we need to be more confident in going for the roles that might feel like a stretch. Companies need to value the unique leadership strengths women bring to management teams and pipeline for diverse talent more"
Do you have any particular philosophy that guides your career decisions?
Passion is king. Do what you love to do. Surround yourself with incredible talent and create best place to work environments where they can do their best work. Partner with great companies that are aligned with your vision. Opportunities don't happen. They are created by passion, a vision that disrupts traditional markets and a lot of hard work.
What do you love most about your job? & what is the most difficult part?
The team hands down. We attract and retain brilliant people that are way smarter than we are and push the boundaries of creative thinking every day. The most difficult part is managing growth and finding talent fast enough for the opportunities that keep coming our way.
"I don’t think anyone has it all. I think there are times when things are going extremely well, and everything is in sync. But, there are others times when it feels really, really hard to keep life in balance".
In the case of women, what do you think it is the reason some of them do not thrive in the business world?
It’s definitely not for lack of talent. There are so many incredible female leaders in business and the number is growing. There is more opportunity than ever for women to thrive in business and I am hopeful that when my daughter is in the business world this won’t even be a conversation anymore. Ultimately, I think we need to be more confident in going for the roles that might feel like a stretch. Companies need to value the unique leadership strengths women bring to management teams and pipeline for diverse talent more.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Just go for it. It is easy to rationalize why you shouldn’t start a new business, but the upside is unlike anything you can do working for someone else. Believe in yourself, follow your passion, and the rest will fall into place.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Invest in the best talent in the market and success will follow.
You are a very busy woman and still, you have time to help, you serve on the board of Enactus Canada, a not-for-profit an organization dedicated to using the power of entrepreneurship to change the world. What drives you? what´s your motivation?
I love what I do for a living so that passion is a huge part of what drives me. I also have two teenage children and I think it’s so important to be a positive role model for them and other future leaders. They need to see examples of women doing these things in order to believe it’s possible for them. I want my daughter to know she can be a CEO and she can be successful and make a difference in the world. It’s equally important for my son to see women in these roles.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to spend as much time with my kids as possible. We spend time on the lake in the summer and on the mountains in the winter. I love being as active as possible when I am not at work and travelling whenever we can find the time.
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, a blossoming family life and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, ( I do not know if you are married) you have 2 children, so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
I don’t think anyone has it all. I think there are times when things are going extremely well, and everything is in sync. But, there are others times when it feels really, really hard to keep life in balance. What’s important is making sure you love what you do and you make time for the most important things in life which often have nothing to do with your career.
How are you as a mom?
You should ask my kids. My goal is to do my best to be a positive role model for my children. And, watching them as young adults now, I think I did a pretty good job!
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experienced the glass ceiling? if yes, What are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
What I love about being an entrepreneur is that term is pretty much non-existent.
What tips can you give to young girls who want to work in PR and social media?
Pursue your passion. And, start networking early. PR is an industry that relies so heavily on relationships so start building them now. Keep up to date on industry trends so that you can bring innovative thinking to the table.
Name: Mia Pearson
Sector: Communications and Marketing
Company: MSL Canada / North Strategic & Notch Video
Designation: CEO / Co-Founder
Social media: https://twitter.com/@miapearson