Sandy Pell

Corporate Communications Manager (Communication Studies, BA)

Sandy Pell, Hootsuite

With a passion for media and communications that originated from participating in Laurier clubs and events, Sandy Pell landed her dream job at Hootsuite in 2011, leading the company's public relations. At this time, the garage had just over 30 employees. Little did Sandy know the company was destined for hyper-growth and that she’d be part of that ride.

After graduating from Laurier in 2007, majoring in communication studies and minoring in sociology, Sandy’s path into communications was untraditional, but that didn’t stop her. Since joining Hootsuite, Sandy has been selected as one of Canada’s 2015 Top 20 for the TechWomen Canada in partnership with the Canadian Consulate San Francisco and Silicon Valley. In 2014, she was also selected as one of the Top 30 Under 30 in Public Relations by PR in Canada.

Sandy was initially drawn to the broadcasting program at Laurier in 2003, but sadly that program was cut during her first year. Despite that initial hiccup, she found her way into the media and public relations industry by teaming up with five other Laurier communications students to co-found the Communications Student Association (CSA) in 2005. By 2007, the association had grown to over 150+ members who all had keen interests in public relations, broadcast, and media landscapes. The team organized internal and external events, tours of top broadcast studios, and industry professional guest speakers. It was during this time that Sandy realized that if she wanted something in life, the answer was to build it herself – and others would follow. 

Following her graduation from Laurier in 2007, Sandy was hired by Open Text Corporation in Waterloo where she worked for three years in a lead generation role. She quickly trained inside a traditional corporate structure. In 2010, she moved to Toronto where she handled this role remotely until she and her partner relocated to Vancouver, BC that summer.

Sandy experienced many different types of jobs leading up to her current position at Hootsuite. When transitioning out of sales in 2010, she started her own maternity and newborn portrait photography studio in Vancouver to make ends meet, where she met hundreds of women through client work, industry events, and volunteer opportunities. In doing so, she gained the necessary entrepreneurship experience required to survive startup life.

Sandy later shifted her career to focus on product photography. In 2011, she teamed up with a local entrepreneur who founded a fabric design business. In this role, Sandy used the social media dashboard, Hootsuite, to organize the company's social media accounts so that she could build the foundation of a customer-centric, communications strategy. For the first time, the designer could connect in real-time with her buyers and create tailored designs to meet their desires. Sandy watched how social media helped this founder's business flourish, in part due to these new social marketing campaign efforts.

Later in the year (Oct 2011), Sandy saw a job posting for Hootsuite. Since she was already comfortable using the dashboard, she applied for the posted public relations role. With her background in enterprise technology sales, photography and entrepreneurship – a public relations role married her entire skill set, while also connecting her back to the media landscape where she had been formally trained at Laurier.

In public relations, a manager’s job is to create human connections, build and strengthen relationships, and share stories. In a thriving startup like Hootsuite, there were thousands of opportunities that Sandy could explore. Since day one, she’s repurposed her varied skillset. To arm her with the tricks of the trade, she turned to the world’s leading public relations communities, associations, university textbooks and industry professionals to position her on the cutting edge of the PR landscape.

When she read “how” to do effective public relations, she took only small portions of this framework to her practice. Many of the techniques that Sandy integrated into her early public relations strategy were fresh. For example, in her early days, she integrated social media accounts and hashtags into the traditional press releases. She used social media to connect with top-tier global reporters, editors, broadcast outlets and more and sent “embargo” invites via direct message (DMs). She caught the attention of those who reported on Hootsuite in ways they had never seen before.

Sandy looks back on the moment she took the risk and joined Hootsuite – that garage startup of 35 people to help revolutionize social media communications. Today, there are near 1,000 staff and they continue to disrupt daily. In Sandy’s current role, she leads the in-house corporate communications and public relations. Loved by over 13-million people around the globe and trusted by over 800 of the Fortune 1000, she’s scaled with the company through hyper-growth as they’ve expanded globally (2016).

Outside of Hootsuite, Sandy has also co-founded YVRPR (Vancouver Public Relations), a groundswell networking community built to inspire and contribute to the greater Vancouver communications community.  There are over 150+ opt-in attendees that share topics, questions, and challenges they're facing in their workplace environments and help to build valuable monthly agendas, similar to the format of the CSA (Communication Students Association) she built while at Laurier.

Sandy notes that working in the public relations industry is not your typical 9-to-5. Her role includes working alongside executive leaders during press or event opportunities, leading media relations, engaging with customers, and reacting to the ever-changing market. "In public relations, you can try to respond and please everyone... but you’ll fail to meet the goals of your communications strategy. You need to be both proactive, and reactive in all the work you do.”  Sandy notes that startup environments can be tough, and you must be able to go with the flow and not let constant change overwhelm you. There are endless opportunities and little barriers to stop you in startups.

If you are interested in a public relations position such as this one, Sandy notes that both written and verbal communications are important in being successful. "In this department, you're constantly communicating with different audiences, across various regions, languages, and more. You need to be creative. Find the mundane ideas, and find the angle of interest.” Being a social person is important as you need to create a human connection with the company to others and be able to respond quickly on your feet.

In this field, there are many opportunities for advancement as you can work your way up from a coordinator to a specialist, a manager, a director, a vice-president and finally a chief communications officer. Sandy believes that the best route into this field is not necessarily about focusing on traditional PR knowledge. Instead, “it’s about building life skills and human connections to all walks of life. People have the potential to do whatever they want, they just need to commit to training and educating themselves on best practices.” However, with that said, she agrees that it’s beneficial to have pre-existing experience in public relations, even if you’ve come from outside a traditional PR path. 

The future trends for this position are progressively moving online as much more information is available on the internet. Building trust in and out of the company is becoming increasingly important as companies need to be transparent in everything they do. News moves instantaneously. She also reminds students not to put too much pressure on pursuing a particular job title you want and instead invest your time in getting involved in tasks you like to do. Sandy also suggests not waiting for an opportunity to present itself, but instead to make your own opportunities. For instance, write a job description for your dream company if you can’t find one already posted and then go pitch it to the hiring manager. Being assertive and determined can go a long way in helping you build experience.