We meet Natasha Koifman, founder and president of NKPR, at her office on Adelaide Street in Toronto. The space feels like a laid-back living room, complete with a couch and a coffee table. With a taste of New York and Toronto, there’s a large piece of art by N.Y. artist Peter Tunney on the wall and an oar designed by Yannick Bisson, from Canadian TV classic Murdoch Mysteries, displayed in the far corner. Koifman smiles and jokes as we get comfortable on the sofa to chat about her career, work–life integration and fashion.
VIOLET MACLEOD: This year is NKPR’s 15-year anniversary—that’s huge. What does it mean for you?
NATASHA KOIFMAN: It’s exciting. I never thought that NKPR would become this—it certainly wasn’t the intent. I wanted to pick and choose projects that I was excited about and to do the best work possible. I started in my basement in Toronto in 2002 with my dog and thought, “OK, I have one client, and I’m really happy.” It grew because I would continue to pick and choose the brands and the clients we worked with. I love the people I work with every single day.
Why did you decide to start your own agency?
I decided to leave the agency I was working at mostly because my boss had said to me that I needed to make myself irreplaceable. I had brought in over a million dollars of business, and he basically said [that wasn’t enough].
I remember coming home and thinking that I want to be somewhere where I’m appreciated. If I’m bringing in that kind of business here, then I could do it for myself. I had one client—Visa Canada—and I was happy with it. That year, I received a call on Dec.23 from a woman from CIBC. She said, “I need you to throw me a press conference on Jan.3, in Montréal. Will you do it?” I remember asking to think about it. I was terrified.
That’s a huge opportunity.
It was huge, and I was scared. Could I really do this? It’s Quebec, it’s not even in our backyard, everything is closed for the next seven days—how am I going to pull this off? I called her back and said, “Yes, of course I’ll do it.” And I figured it out.
It taught me that you have to work through the fear. When you’re afraid of something, you grow the most. That was life-changing because it led to doing all of their sponsorship work, and I was able to go from my basement to an office on University Street.
Let’s go further back in time. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Edmonton and was 13 years old when we moved to Toronto. I went to York University and got an English degree. I wanted to be a journalist, so I moved to New York and did a bit of writing.
When we had the opportunity to open our office in New York, I jumped at it. I miss New York, it’s a huge part of who I am. I remember coming back to Toronto because I was burnt out and felt like I needed to be home. And I had my son when I was really young.
You brought your son with you to New York? That was brave.
I did. It’s interesting because one of my tattoos says: “brave!” It’s a constant reminder to make those brave decisions. They aren’t easy decisions, and they don’t necessarily feel comfortable, but sometimes you just have to make them because they help you grow.
You give a lot of advice to women. What motivates you to do that?
Sharing is really important. I’ve been fortunate to get to a place where I love my life. I love what I do. I’m grateful that I get to work with people who I respect so much, and I’ve been able to watch them become who they’re supposed to become. I’ve seen it with the girls who started here in their early 20s, and now they’re in their early 30s. So, if I can share a little bit of “wisdom” with others, maybe that will help them become who they’re supposed to be.
On that point, what’s your advice for people who want to be successful in the PR industry?
People need to understand: we work really hard. You’re working 12-to-14-hour days, so you have to love it. Yes, you get to be at events, but you’re working those events.
Probably one of the most important things is having a good attitude. We will hire people who might not have the skill set yet—I can teach that—but you can’t teach people to be positive, to be kind and to care about their colleagues.
12-to-14-hour days, plus you’re travelling between the Toronto and New York offices. When do you find the time to relax?
Well, I’m really lucky. I remember hearing the president of Walmart speak years ago. She talked about work–life integration, and a light bulb went on because I was always trying to find this work–life balance that everyone kept talking about, and I was failing at it. I realized that if you love what you do, it’s more about integrating your entire life.
That being said, I am a bit of an introvert. So, for me, if I have to be out for too many nights in a row, I definitely need a couple of nights just by myself. Like during [Toronto International] Film Festival when there are events back-to-back-to-back, I’ll go to the washroom for 15 to 20 minutes to have that alone time. I need to recharge; I think that’s why I wake up at 6 a.m. to have those 30 minutes where I’m alone. I use those small moments to be able to do that, and it really works.
Let’s talk about fashion. Starting with your wardrobe, everything you wear is black. When did that start, and why?
I think it started when I started NKPR, but maybe even before then. I would buy colour, certainly in my 20s, but I would have clothes with the tags on in my closet because it just never felt like me. So, slowly my wardrobe just started becoming black. But I really knew this was me when I was doing a lot of work with CIBC. I was wearing black trousers and black turtlenecks, and it became, sort of, my uniform. I felt good and confident in it.
How do you stand out when you want to mix it up?
Oh, I can mix it up. (both laugh) I love fashion, I always have. What’s great about wearing black is that the edit is easy. When I see a runway show, I can pretty much say, “OK, do I like that black piece?” I don’t have to go through all the colours—my eye goes directly to the black. It also makes it easy when you’re shopping online—I’m a huge online shopper—because I can filter to the black.
For me, some of it is hardware, some of it is textures, some of it is the cut. One of the things I learned very quickly is that it’s not just about seeing something, liking it and wearing it. Most things have to be altered, so you always need to have an amazing seamstress.
Who are some of your favourite designers?
I love Anthony Vaccarello, so I’m excited that he’s designing for Yves Saint Laurent. I really like Christopher Kane—certainly the last two or three collections of his were amazing. I like Off-White because I think they have a cool edge. I’m obsessed with Valentino jeans right now—there’s something about the cut that’s very, very cool.
To wrap up, what’s next for you personally and for NKPR?
You know, I don’t know. I think I will continue to use what feels good and happiness as my compass. I’m big on gut instinct, and it might not be what everyone wants me to do, but I will still do it because it feels right to me. I go based on feeling as opposed to logic most of the time, and it hasn’t let me down.