Lauren McPhillips is all about a life well lived. Her career has taken her from Toronto magazines (the bygone upper echelons of media), to across the pond leading the global PR and brand partnership strategy at travel agency Contiki, and back again to start her own passion project, the inspirational blog This Renegade Love. We caught up with this bona fide renegade to discover her story, why she’s so into authentic branding and her thoughts on the swiftly changing communications industry today.
In a sentence, how would you describe what you do now?
I create content that inspires people to live their most extraordinary lives, through writing and photography.
So how did you get into, and then subsequently out of PR?
A lot of people do leave editorial for PR or vice versa. I worked at Style at Home for about four years before I started doing PR at Contiki. Then after working in Toronto for about two years, they asked me to head up a new department in the U.K. as the global PR and partnerships manager, and I did that for a year and a half. Working in PR was great, but I found that I really missed the creative side of things.
What would you consider your biggest professional achievement?
Quitting my job and doing my own thing. Taking the steps to quit your job, especially when you’re over 30 and in a country where you don’t know anyone, really—and I didn’t have any plans except for to do this blog and see where it went.
How has your dual experience in PR and communications affected your career?
It’s given me more of a professional outlook on blogging. I know how to pitch brands, and that’s been super beneficial for taking my blog and making it into a business. A lot of bloggers, they have no idea where to start with brands—but because I’ve been there, I know what the brand side is looking for.
How did your personal branding process come about?
I had an idea of what I wanted to do—I wanted to inspire through stories of real people doing real things—which became the brand identity. I knew that over time it would evolve, but I put a lot of time into creating core values and a brand message statement, so that I knew exactly who and what I was, so that if someone asked me, I wouldn’t just say, “I’m a lifestyle blog,” because there’s a million of those.
What are your biggest career challenges?
In this industry, as much as I am a champion for authenticity, you see other people that are growing and you know they’re not doing it organically, but regular people don’t see that. That is really something I struggle with—I’ll wonder, “Do I really want to be in this industry if it’s so shady all the time?” But I know it’s going to happen in any industry; you just have to do what you do and know that your community will be there no matter what.
How has the landscape of the industry changed, given the rise of technology and social media?
There’s a lot of educating the PR industry and brands on why it’s important to pay for influencer marketing. They’re comparing apples to oranges really—comparing traditional media to what bloggers are doing—and it’s completely different.
How I explain it is that my blog and my Instagram are editorial and organic. To secure your brand in that space, it’s essentially paying for an advertorial, which I create and share with a super-engaged audience. That’s how I pitch and now they understand it a bit more, but it’s definitely a hard landscape to manage at this point.
From a PR perspective, how do you engage with and grow your audience?
One of the things that I’ve learned to be comfortable with is understanding that you’re not going to be for everybody. And that’s okay—you want to attract people who are interested in what you do and who you are.
That’s why it’s so important to be authentic online because you always want people to be more interested in you than in your work. Your work is always going to evolve, and you’re going to have different income streams and platforms and be trying all these things. But why I’m always big on branding is that if you create a brand from yourself, then you create an authentic community, and then those people will connect to you. As long as that’s what they’re there for, then they’ll follow you wherever you go.
What advice do you have for someone who’s starting off in the industry?
I would say make sure you’re doing your research. For example, when you’re looking for influencers for a campaign—even though it takes more time to research who is actually authentic and has an organic following, it’s worth it because then you can say to your client that this is genuine engagement and good ROI. Otherwise, you’re not doing any favours to your client or to the industry at large.
The future of communications is …
“Online” — but I don’t necessarily think it should be.
I believe traditional media has a place, but online is where the next generation is. I think it’s online in terms of where you need to find the people and where the content is going to be, but I also think that there is value in person-to-person relationships. The best PR is done when you have a relationship with someone in person rather than just over email. I think that’s where communications is really going to struggle.