For our career series “How I Got My Job,” we’ll be talking to real people, working real jobs across a variety of industries. These people are pushing boundaries and have made their mark. They’ve found success on their own terms, and now we’re extracting their advice on how to carve out your own career path.
As the the president and founder of Toronto-based public relations company Matte PR, Heidi Ruggier has worked with a lot of great clients. From the Toronto Entertainment District to Hillcrest Mall and Malia Indigo, there’s never a dull moment.
But her success doesn’t stop there. She also finds success in mentorship and amplifying the messages of others she believes in, and currently sits as a mentor on the Toronto Fashion Incubator, and the advisory councils for Ryerson’s School of Fashion, Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario, and Toronto Entertainment District’s John St. Cultural Corridor.
We had the opportunity to talk to Heidi Ruggier about how she got her start, her advice to entrepreneurs, and more. Take a peek below.
What was your very first job and how did it help mold you into the person you are today?
First job? I was a soccer referee with Glen Shields Soccer Club. I refereed two nights a week, the kids were under six-years-old. They were like little bees swarming at the ball. So cute! I also played REP soccer for Glen Shields, so soccer culture was really a lifestyle for me back then. I would play and practice three nights a week, referee two and then watch Serie A soccer on TeleLatino with Alf DeBlasis. Obsessed. Our family loved Glen Shields because its jerseys were the same colourways as A.C. Milan, our team. I played defence. Paolo Maldini was my fave player. My Michael Jordan.
Refereeing and playing soccer taught me the importance of integrity, hustle, and consistency. It taught me that courage — and the practice of making the right call even though it might be unpopular — is part of the game.
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My next job was at my neighbourhood’s local grocery spot, Concord Food Centre. The place is still a local destination, known for its amazing deli, bakery fresh fish and meat. I started in the bakery and café, learning how to make a flawless espresso, creamy cappuccino foam and pastries like Zeppole and Rhum Baba. After a couple of years, I started working in the deli too. There, I got to work with and learn about all the different imported cheeses and deli meats from Italy. I tasted Bresaola for the first time and Auricchio provolone. And different varieties of olives, anchovies, and giardiniera. I learned why certain products were considered “real” or “authentic” and how to spot the designations marking them as such.
This has now come full circle, and this passion is playing out in new ways through my work with the Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario. In partnership with them, Matte PR helps raise awareness for authentic Italian regional food products. Items with heritage, that are regulated by special consortiums who ensure that each product is being produced in a traditional way. Region by region, we introduce DOC wines and DOP and IGP food products to Canadians. Last year, we featured Val D’Aosta, and this year we’re featuring food products Emiglia Romagna and Calabria.
In September, I’ll be visiting Tuscany to explore the process behind Pecorino Toscano DOP, a regional cheese that has similar qualities to other faves like Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano. Beyond excited! Pecorino Toscano is a hard cheese made of ewe’s milk cheese. It has 2500 years of history behind it and has enjoyed DOP status since 1996. I encourage you all to seek it out and give it a taste. Perfect with honey and fruit, salumi misti, or grated on pasta.
My third job was at Blacks Photography at Promenade. It was the early days of digital, but most people still used film. So, I got to spend my days developing film. I always had a disposable camera on me. It was the best. The team who worked at Blacks was super eclectic and artistic. It was that crew that inspired me to go on and study communications, focussing on film and journalism. Frank, Solomon, Josie, I’ll never forget you.
What does your day-to-day look like?
My day starts with flipping through the major daily newspapers. I’m looking for potential media opportunities for clients, keeping up with news and stories by the journalists we pitch, and any potential new business opportunities.
Then, my day is usually made up of back-to-back meetings with my staff and clients. I work in tandem with them on all execution, acting as a guide and mentor. I feel such pride and joy in watching my team grow as professionals and kill it for our clients. My team is such a source of pride. Watching each of them come in at intern level and mature into productive, creative, and happy professionals is super rewarding. I’m grateful to them every day.
Sometimes my days include coffee or cocktail dates, catching up with friends, colleagues, and journalists working in the industry. These are super important for keeping tabs on what’s happening at ground level.
You’ve had the privilege to work with a lot of cool brands and companies. What has the proudest moment in your career been so far?
The proudest moment? Being asked to be on Ryerson’s advisory for the School of Fashion is a big one. My parents were so proud.
I am also incredibly proud of our #HillcrestGlowUp campaign, which earned it a Global ICSC Maxi Award in Las Vegas this year. To be awarded alongside campaigns from across the U.S. and Canada was truly humbling. I point to my incredible team who brought that campaign to life.
Generally speaking, I think most PR people will agree that the best feeling in the world is opening the paper and seeing that headline you envisioned with your client. That’s what makes me tick.
If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self advice, what would it be?
Go with it! Your gut, I mean. The biggest piece of advice I would have is to follow the things you’re passionate about, without worrying about career prospects. I never thought of PR as a career option. It was only through listening to my gut and paying attention to the things I care about that I eventually found myself here. As a kid, fashion was the dream, but I put that on the back-burner as I never saw it as a viable option.
Today, I’m working in the industry, but there’s a lot of work to be done. Fashion is art. It’s design. But, unfortunately, it gets written off as frivolity. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Fashion has the power to fundamentally and positively change minds. It’s a conduit for ideas and is a key part of how human beings see themselves and express themselves.
It is also a significant contributor to the Canadian economy. But we need to nurture it. It must be funded and supported alongside other arts and culture verticals. I truly believe Toronto will never actualize as a “global city” until it develops a mature, productive and supported fashion economy. Yes, until it’s seen and respected as a global fashion capital, we’re not a global city. And that will take government intervention, just like the government supports music, film and other arts and culture economies. So, my advice to my 18-year-old self would be not to worry about what will make the most viable career, but to follow my passions and trust that things will work themselves out.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your job?
That PR is simply about partying and schmoozing. Bleh.
PR is about writing, storytelling, and strategy. It’s about details, a strong eye for sharp visuals and the tech-savvy know-how to create for various platforms. It’s about creating catchy copy and communicating in short staccato sentences that stick.
It’s also about the chase. About finding the right people and places for a story you’re pitching. The most successful PR people truly enjoy the process of pitching and developing relationships with media.
So, if you’re a strong and talented writer, who enjoys reading the news and the process of creating tailored ideas for individual journalists and clients, you’ll love PR. If you’re imagining a Samantha Jones existence made up of drinking cocktails and going to parties all day everyday, you’re off base.
What are three things every entrepreneur should focus on when growing their own business?
- Building the right team. My staff is eclectic, diverse, and each person brings their own perspective. We challenge each other around the creative table, and that makes for excellent strategy development. Diversity is also extremely important, especially since PR is often the last checkpoint before a story or project hits the media. We will ask ourselves, is anything within this campaign problematic? If yes, how and why? This is majorly important, especially in the current environment. Diversity within my team helps to further ensure that things aren’t slipping through the cracks. Each person brings their own lived experience to the table, meaning they may see things that others don’t see. It makes us stronger.
- Choosing which clients you work with. This is paramount to building the kind of business and client roster I want to see. I recently turned down a client opportunity because of outdated policies rooted in patriarchy and sexism. It was a big one, a globally known brand. But, if the brand doesn’t align with my values as a human, then it’s not for me. It’s not for Matte PR.
- Brand and visuals. Often, we see entrepreneurs get their business model, product, location, and other items in check but leave out investing in brand. Big mistake. Big. Design of creative assets, business development tools, decks, and other brand visuals are currency in this hyper-digital world. Good design can’t be underestimated. It’s an asset.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to get into the PR industry?
Go for it! Find a good internship where the company you’re working for is truly teaching you and mentoring you. At Matte PR, we give our interns an intensive experience in a collaborative environment that fosters learning and friendships. Yep, you’ll leave with a new set of homies too. Be prepared to put in the hours and to do whatever it takes to make things happen for your clients. If you’re looking for a 9-5 type thing, this isn’t for you. If you’re looking for glitz and glam, rethink your choice. But, if you’re going into it for the right reasons, PR can be the most fulfilling line of work.
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