Putting the personal touch back into public relations

Shauna MacDonald of Brookline PR talks about putting together campaigns that lead to measurable results

Shauna MacDonald is principal of Brookline PR.

Shauna MacDonald
Shauna MacDonald, principal of Brookline PR

Calgary’s Business: Tell us a little of the history of Brookline. How and when it got started and why you started the company?

MacDonald: I founded Brookline in October 2004 after returning to Calgary from Boston, where I attended Boston University for my master’s and began my career at a Boston-based public relations and strategic communications agency.

The reason behind my return to Calgary can be summed up in two words: a man (my now husband), and the reason I started Brookline can be summed up just as succinctly. I originally had my sights set on becoming an investment banker but once I began working at the agency in Boston, I fell in love with PR and PR agencies and there was no looking back.

I had grown to love the city of Boston during my time there as well and when I made the decision to start my own agency, I knew I wanted to pay tribute to the city that had become a second home to me. First, I named the agency after an area of Boston where I had lived – Brookline. And over the course of time, I’ve sought out office spaces that have that signature Bostonian feel and incorporated Boston-themed nuances into the interior design.

Over the years, Brookline has grown from a one-woman show to a 15 woman powerhouse agency with the vision of becoming the leading boutique PR agency in Canada. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done in Calgary and in markets across the country and look forward to seeing Brookline grow in size and influence as we head into our 15th year of business.

CB: How have you been successful in a field dominated by big agencies?

MacDonald: For five years, prior to starting Brookline, I held the position of vice-president and managing director of Western Canada for an international public relations firm (big agency). During this time, I noticed that the industry had started to become saturated with big box agencies and the personal touch was completely lost. There were a variety of agencies that could service big business or small startups but nothing that could cater to both. Many firms geared their practice toward very specific industries and I quickly recognized the need for someone to provide general counsel to a variety of clients.  More importantly, I felt the industry was losing the most vital part – individually tailored PR programs and a personal connection.

With this as a basis for how I have structured the agency from the beginning, I believe Brookline’s success stems from our ongoing commitment to deliver PR campaigns that achieve a balance between strategic planning, creative programming and relentless execution. Brookline is dedicated to providing both established market leaders and emerging players with top-notch campaigns that lead to measurable results. Our breadth of expertise includes: media relations, corporate communications, crisis communications and issues management, integrated marketing, social media and event management.

With increased brand awareness comes the challenge of ensuring that Brookline’s business offerings and culture are well recognized among potential clients and recruits. By using strategies and tactics comparable to those implemented for our clients, the Brookline team enhances knowledge of the agency and its business acumen, while continuing to diversify our roster of clients seeking public relations services. We also take a strategic approach to marketing the cultural elements that set us apart from our competitors. This is accomplished through continuous strategic efforts that establish an understanding of Brookline’s unique culture and appeal to the expectations of the largest currently employable bracket.

CB: What has been your biggest challenge recently as an entrepreneur in Alberta?

MacDonald: The current economic environment and business perception are both factors that can impact business success. With the current lull in energy investment in Alberta, many organizations are not looking for support from external agencies like they used to. Brookline has always had a diverse client portfolio and the variety of integrated services we offer have allowed the agency to thrive and grow in the current economy, while continuing to service energy industry clients. Brookline has had the strategic fortitude to look beyond our own backyard, expanding into other markets and verticals over the past years, which has enabled us to be very successful. We also continue to pursue opportunities to support emerging sectors like the quickly growing cannabis industry.

CB: How has your industry changed over the years?

MacDonald: Over the years, the PR industry has definitely become more digitally focused and services have become more integrated. Influencer relations has become a critical element of any consumer PR campaign while traditional media struggles with resources and content. In addition, clients have a better appreciation for the value placed on PR for business. In general, the agency-of-record model and retainer-based fees have also become more the exception than the norm. That said, Brookline continues to win agency and retainer-based business based on referrals and references.

CB: What are your plans for the company going forward?

MacDonald: For Brookline, we see growth in other markets such as Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver. We have several clients with interest or offices in these locations and we will remain focused on these markets in the next few years. We also see great opportunity in new industries and will continue to drive social and digital as key offerings.  

– Mario Toneguzzi

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