Katia Robillard: Vice President & General Manager, Citoyen Optimum

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With over 20 years of experience in the field, 15 of them in a public relations agency setting, Katia Robillard is a communications expert who knows her industry inside and out. This marketing communications specialist is a seasoned strategist known for the sound and accurate advice she provides to her clients on a daily basis. She strives constantly to do more for her clients, proposing effective and often bold creative tactics to help them stand out. As Vice President & General Manager of Citoyen Optimum in Quebec, she helps agency clients achieve their communications objectives and inspire a team devoted to helping its clients succeed. A born intrapreneur, Katia introduced the public relations marketing practice to Citoyen Optimum when she arrived eight years ago. She has generously shared her managerial skills and talents with the agency, working first as an account director before climbing the ladder to fill positions as vice president, chief of operations, and now head of the Quebec team.

How did you get into the industry?

My career started in advertising, on the client side. I was in charge of a lot of promotional print materials then and was already very meticulous at verifying each piece that went past the production line. Come to think about it, that might actually explain my eagle eye! A few months into the job, I found myself constantly looking for more challenges to uptake which, in time, allowed me to start negotiating for everything that pertained to visibility and media partner deals. In 2002, to jazz things up and to break what felt like a bit of a routine cycle, I transitioned to another advertising job, but one that was more sales-oriented, at a radio station. Later that same year, I came across a job posting for a small PR firm that was located on Montreal’s South Shore and joined, not really knowing what I had gotten myself into. In the beginning, I worked on fashion, beauty, tourism, real estate and food-related accounts, then tackled all kinds of consumer and corporate PR. And there it was: the genesis of my PR love story.

Any emerging industry trends?

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself often as things are ever and quickly evolving in the business. My role, as a vice president and general manager, is to understand what these industry changes mean for my clients and my team. How can we, as a company, make our people feel good and motivated each day when they come in to work? For instance, in my PR generation, there was no such thing as work/life balance. We just didn’t count hours we put in. With Millennials now being highly represented in the workforce, that’s a concept I’d like to tackle and that I really want to wrap my head around and be agile with. Also, with PR practitioners being ultra-connected these days, one thing remains essential to me: we all need some time off. I’m in fact a strong believer in the “work hard, play hard” philosophy. When you work in PR, you have to set some time aside to relax, unwind, take a step back and allow yourself to truly disconnect and rather connect with whatever stimulates you. Creativity is core in our practice and you can’t be creative if you’re not rested or inspired.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

The changing media landscape and new media platforms have drastically changed all the ways in which we used to work, traditionally speaking. As someone who has known the days where PR practitioners would send information to journalists by fax, I can truly appreciate the immensity of the transformation. I guess what’s important for us, no matter the change we see, is to keep adapting and make sure not to skip a beat; to know what’s hot and trending and how we can make that work for our clients.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

Being part of a holding such as Vision 7 International, one thing that keeps amazing me is the level of creativity there is within the building we share’s square feet! Our teams are highly talented and know of all the best practices. I find that very stimulating. Now more than ever and because of all of the industry revolutions, creativity is key, both in the way we release our messages and in the way we ensure they reach our targeted audiences. The fact that, as Vision 7 International partners, we have in-house access to 360 services, including an experiential team is definitely a key differentiator for clients.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Before I can address the future, I need to go back to the end of this past July, as that is when I accepted my new role as General Manager of the Quebec team. That’s a big change in itself and my goal is to create my own leadership signature. I have ideas as to what the future should hold, but that’s currently in the making.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

Very humbly, I take a lot of pride in having built the PR Marketing practice at Citoyen Optimum from the ground up in Quebec. I also take pride in maintaining an already instilled internal culture that’s based on trust and that allows employees to work similarly as entrepreneurs would, meaning that we give them responsibilities and consider them accountable for their work, and offer them the liberty to work from home one day a week, within flexible hours, notably.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

The reality with agency world is that not everyone is made for it. I personally always wish colleagues who decide to part ways with us all the very best, but the truth is that departures have their effects on our structure and come with their load of adaptation needs. My perspective on this is rather positive, as I understand that everybody needs to learn and feel as though they are progressing. This being said, as a manager, the reality is that I can’t always grant everyone all their professional wishes in the timeframe they want to see them be granted in. There certainly come times where leadership teams have to make decisions based on a variety of factors and that will make some people happy, and others a little bit less.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

I think that our 360 capabilities is definitely an added value. We’re a one-stop-shop for clients. Under the same roof, we offer advertising, PR, media buy and experiential services, which is clearly a time-saver and effective turnkey solution for anyone looking to make a big splash on multiple platforms.

How do you motivate others?

I believe in visualization and I want people to keep getting inspired. As such, we have a tradition in the office. In fact, every morning, one different person from the team comes to my desk and picks a quote out from our Joyful box. I think that’s so special, as the quotes always relate to situations in which we find ourselves in communication situations. I also think it’s very important to keep track of people’s progress with clearly defined objectives. In the agency model, there are opportunities for people to attain important milestones and hence, to grow. I’m the living proof of that at Citoyen Optimum, as I’ve joined the company a few years back and have since gravitated all the steps on my way to the top. Lastly, I’ve done some interesting reading as to zootherapy having been proven effective in work environments. As such, we’ve recently given our team the green light to bring in one dog per week on Fridays. That usually makes everyone very happy. In general, I would say that to motive others, it’s important to listen in on what they want, all while expecting them to deliver results that honor our client service excellence standards.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Since we’re in the business of relations, I’d say it’s important to start building relationships whenever and wherever you can. It starts with school, but you have to keep developing that skill as you evolve as a PR pro. Keep in mind that it’s insightful to be able to discuss and bounce ideas off people that work in different industries.