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December 17, 2017
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Natasha Koifman, Founder and President of NKPR. Courtesy of NKPR.

Dressed in a black strapless Greta Constantine frock and perfectly on-trend gold accessories, Natasha Koifman is a beacon of composure at the centre of a storm of energy. It is Day One of the Toronto International Film Festival and Koifman's public relations agency, NKPR, is hosting its seventh annual IT Lounge; a gifting suite which in past years has hosted celebrity guests such as Catherine Deneuve, Olivia Wilde and Jennifer Garner. This year, Koifman and her team transformed the lounge into a portrait studio, commissioning celebrated fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier to snap the stars as they tour through the lounge. The Genteel's Charlotte Herrold sat down with Koifman at the end of a whirlwind day to talk about how the collaboration with Demarchelier came about and what she's learned after ten years at the helm of one of Toronto's top public relations firms.

Charlotte Herrold: How would you describe your career path prior to launching NKPR? Did you always know you wanted to work in public relations?

Natasha Koifman: No, because when I started out, PR didn't even exist. So I didn't even consider PR; I was a journalism major. It's interesting - to this day my parents don't even know what PR is or what I do. But what I love about PR is we get to create the stories. As a journalist I was always told what to write, but for us [in PR] we get to create the stories and think of the strategies, and I love that about this business.

Natasha Koifman started NKPR 10 years
ago and has helped the company grow into
one of Toronto's top public relations firms.
Courtesy of NKPR.

CH: How did you go about starting your own agency?

NK: I started in my basement. I [had] worked at a PR agency before and what I realised about the business is that unless you're promoting something you're really passionate about, you're not going to be successful at it, and it's not fair to the client. So I went out on my own with the motto that I'm going to pick and choose what I work on - even if I have one client for the rest of my life, I'm OK with that. To this day we still pick and choose who we work with and what we work on. 

CH: How exactly do you select the companies you work with?

NK: I pick and choose based on the products that I would use and the people I like to work with - and also clients that will allow us to do what we do well. This year's IT Lounge is a really good example. We came up with the idea of changing the lounge experience to being more of a portrait studio [as opposed to a traditional gifting suite] and we had some clients that said, "We're not going to support you on this" and then we had others that said, "We're in!" and they took a chance on it, because it's a brave idea. 

Our lounge is more experiential - it's not as though we're giving away cars, we're giving away an experience. The photos, for example, by Patrick Demarchelier - you can't buy that. And I think that's what separates us and makes this lounge more interesting.

CH: So is that how the partnership with Patrick Demarchelier came about - you were trying to take the lounge experience to the next level?

NK: Well, yes - like everything, we realised that [the lounge] needed to evolve in some way. But how it really came up was I was watching The Devil Wears Prada and Meryl Streep's character kept saying "Get me Patrick!" and I thought, "Yes - we need to get Patrick!" [The concept] marries our love of fashion and photography. In PR that's what we really should be doing - it shouldn't be press for the sake of press, it should be thinking of those interesting ideas and integrating them with sponsors or brands or clients that are like-minded.

And then I was at a women of influence event and the president and CEO of Walmart [Canada, Shelley Broader] said, "It's not about work-life balance, it's about work-life integration." And I swear I had an epiphany.

CH: Was that the same idea behind the recent collaboration between your client RW & Co. and behind-the-scenes fashion blog The Coveteur?

NK: That was exactly it. We presented the idea [to partner with The Coveteur] to RW & Co. a year ago when The Coveteur was just starting. And since they [RW & Co.] were working at launching their e-commerce site, we thought it was a great way to create a strategic alignment.

CH: Ten years after launching NKPR, what would you say is your proudest career achievement?

NK: There are many, but one is the people, for sure. I've loved watching the team grow, and the girls [on staff] evolve. I love watching them become the best them they can be. Sitting here today and observing them - they are so good. And I'm so proud of that. 

CH: Do you find it difficult to balance your personal life with a demanding career, especially during TIFF?

NK: I always struggled with this whole work-life balance thing and I always felt like I was failing at it. And then I was at a women of influence event and the president and CEO of Walmart [Canada, Shelley Broader] said, "It's not about work-life balance, it's about work-life integration." And I swear I had an epiphany. Balance would mean you have a three-and-a-half day weekend - it's impossible, it's not attainable. So everyone is trying to achieve this work-life balance and feeling they're failing at it - well, of course you're failing at it. Work-life integration is about bringing your work into your life and your life into your work.

CH: What advice would you give to young PR professionals getting their start in the industry?

NK: I have two tattoos on my arms and one says "Be brave," the other says, "Gratitude." "Be brave" is a constant reminder to do just that - and that is the advice I would give: to be brave in the choices that you make, whether you want to start you own PR firm or whether you have a really great idea but you're afraid to share it. We have a lot of interns right now during the film festival and one of the things I keep reiterating is it's OK to share your ideas - that's what we want. It's about being brave - in anything, whether it's your career or your personal life. I sometimes think we get stuck and settle for the life that we kind of arrived in as opposed to the life that we want.

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