Novice To Now Part 1: A Look At Over A Decade of ‘Citizen-ship’

April 26, 2023
Woman on Bench

In 2022 Citizen was named a Best Place to Work (PRWeek) and just a few weeks ago, the Best Agency to Work For (PRovoke Media) – these recognitions are especially meaningful to us as it reflects the special culture we work hard to create and maintain every day. We have multiple Citizens who have been with us for nearly 20 years and many who have “Boomeranged” back to us after realizing just how green the grass truly is at Citizen!

In part 1 of ‘From Novice to Now’, meet long-standing Citizens, Shannon Suggett, Josie Haynes and Aly Sturm who are sharing everything from their best moments to what keeps them going when times get tough.

Shannon Suggett – Executive Vice President, Orange County

Shannon Suggett  is a seasoned marketing and communications professional with 23 years of experience at Citizen. She has led successful campaigns for clients in diverse industries, including consumer packaged goods, healthcare, and spirits. Her expertise includes strategic planning, media, social engagement, partnerships, and crisis management. Shannon’s impressive client roster includes P&G brands, Toshiba, Verizon, and more. She is known for her strategic approach, creativity, and exceptional results-driven mindset, making her a trusted leader in the industry.

Citizen Relations: “Calm”, “Curious”, and “Confident” are words that have been used to describe you by your colleagues. When starting out 20 years ago, would you say you were the same way? What has changed or stayed the same in your approach to the work? 

Shannon Suggett: When I started my career, I was definitely curious. I sat in a cubicle surrounded by offices where a lot of action was always happening. I started to jot down phrases or acronyms I’d hear throughout the day and then do my own research to connect the dots. That curiosity has stayed with me throughout my career as I have pushed myself and my teams to think smarter and dream bigger.  When it comes to being calm, I often played it “cool under pressure” when I started out, but definitely have more tools now to keep things together when times get tense.  And I am confident in the ability of my teams, in the agency’s capabilities and my leadership to deliver the very best work and counsel, every day.

CR: It seems like you have seen and done a lot over the last 20 years, and all in one spot. Impressive! What keeps things interesting for you day to day and how has your relationship with Citizen grown over the decades? 

SS: I said this recently in the Global Town Hall and it’s true – I’m just as motivated and challenged today as I was when I showed up on day one. From tacos to burgers, pet food to X-ray machines, toothpaste to supplements, or whiskey, noodles and shopping malls, the variety of clients has kept me engaged and invigorated. My relationship with Citizen continues to grow every day, and my relationship with the people and the culture we have built is truly what has kept me here for so long. Citizen is a special place that I am proud to be a part of.

CR: Even though you have been at Citizen consistently for 20 years, you have certainly seen changes in the industry overall. What have some of those been like? 

SS: It’s been exciting to see PR become a must-have in the marketing mix, not just a nice to have. We still have to sell it, but showing brands the power of PR and how it can drive business results has definitely evolved. 

CR: And after taking a look back, let’s chat about the future. What are you most excited about for your upcoming years at Citizen? 

SS: Our continued growth, the expansion of new practice areas and being a small part of the journey of the Citizens around me has me energized and excited for all that’s ahead. Choosing to stay with one agency for your PR career isn’t for everyone – I get it – but for me, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Josie Haynes- Senior Vice President, Toronto  

Josie Haynes has more than 15 years of experience developing integrated communications campaigns for some of the world’s most iconic brands. She has a reputation for delivering insight-driven breakthrough campaigns that drive conversation and that lead to real business impact for her clients. Her work is not only recognized internally through new business wins and growing client mandates, but externally through countless industry awards.

CR: Tell us when you started at Citizen and what roles you have held while here. 

Josie Haynes: I started at Citizen (previously Optimum PR) as an intern in 2007. I was promoted to senior vice president in 2022 and I’ve held every role in between!

CR: Wow! It has been quite some time. Growing a career from an intern to an SVP at the same company isn’t too common in today’s workforce. What has made you stick around? 

JH: In my opinion, people change jobs when they stop being challenged, inspired or supported. And while I won’t pretend that things haven’t ebbed and flowed in these three areas over the past 15 years, I will say that whenever I started to get the itch to move, something happened that made me want to stick around longer to see how it played out.

Whether that was winning a new client that I wanted to work on, launching a new Citizen offering that I wanted to learn more about, or working with a new colleague or leader that made me feel valued, there always seems to be something happening at Citizen that keeps me excited to be part of what’s next.  

CR: Last year was definitely filled with lots of those exciting moments for you. You won over a dozen industry awards, 15 to be exact. Congrats! Which are you most proud of and why? 

JH: Last year, one of the campaigns we were successful in winning many different awards for our Ugly Truths Holiday Sweaters campaign in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). 

The Ugly Truths Holiday Sweaters campaign was developed on the heels of an employee survey that found the majority of Citizens named mental health as a cause they cared deeply about. Knowing how important mental health is to our team, we put our strengths to work and developed a creative, earned-first campaign that would create a positive impact for those facing mental health challenges. 

The campaign was born out of the insight that while the holidays are widely considered a time of merriment and joy, for the one in two Canadians who suffer from anxiety, depression, or loneliness, it’s not the most wonderful time of the year. With media narratives focusing on more festive topics, the half of Canadians who experience the challenging realities of the season are left feeling alone. We needed to create space for a different conversation and used Canadian media and social influencers to give more time to the “ugly” side of the holiday season, so those suffering knew there’s support available.

Using our “ugly” sweaters as a trojan horse, we were able to see a 9% increase in Canadian conversation around mental health during the holidays when compared to the previous year. And while we partnered with CMHA on the campaign, the entire program was created, funded and produced by Citizen. We were so proud of the real, tangible impact we were able to make which is probably why winning the gold award for Business Impact in Healthcare at the Canadian Marketing Awards was the one I was most proud of.

CR: You’ve accomplished so much, but it seems like there is still so much fire left in you. What gets you the most excited when thinking about the future of the public relations industry at large? 

JH: The opportunity PR has to continue to grow its share of the marketing mix and take the lead seat at the IAT table. There’s a reason why people use PVRs, pay more for streaming services and press “skip ad” on YouTube. We don’t want to be talked at. If brands want to get our attention, they need to engage us in the conversation. As PR professionals, this isn’t “new news” – we’ve been doing this forever. But with brands seeing a decline in how effective traditional one-way advertising can be, they are looking to shift their dollars to two-way communications approaches. Advertising agencies are quickly trying to adapt their creative thinking to match, but the truth is PR agencies will always do it better and this is our time to shine.

We’re already seeing a shift in the agency model with PR agencies being asked to do more of the strategy and creative thinking work. I think this will just continue to happen more and more, opening up budgets and opportunities for PR to show what it’s really capable of – making true business impact.

Aly Sturm- Senior Vice President, New York City  

Aly Sturm has nearly 20 years of experience in corporate communications, consumer PR, and issues and crisis management, with a focus on food and beverage, health, CSR, and CPG industries. She currently leads the Duracell, Carrier and P&G Ventures Corporate Communications accounts. Prior to her current role, Aly was the Senior Manager of External Communications at Nestlé Waters North America for three years, where she oversaw issues and crisis communications, external corporate communications, and digital channels. 

CR: You are what we call here at Citizen a ‘boomerang’ meaning you were here, moved on, and then came back. How has your perspective of Citizen changed from your first stint to now?  

Aly Sturm: I’ve brought a new perspective with me as I’ve come back to Citizen – that of being a client. During my 3 year Citizen hiatus, I went in house, where I WAS the client. I have a whole new appreciation for the everyday internal pressures a client faces, making me a far more empathetic agency partner – trying to think ahead of what will make their life easier, how to answer questions before they have to ask, and sometimes most importantly – how to be a trusted shoulder to lean on.

CR: We couldn’t keep you away for long! Surely there was something so great that you really missed, right? 

AS: My coworkers! Citizen is my second family – I’m so incredibly lucky to have a group of colleagues that care so deeply for and about each other.

CR: Great Citizens are a constant in the organization, but how have you seen the agency grow since the first day you walked through the doors? 

AS: Citizen has only flourished year over year – we’re even more cohesive, strategic, creative and fun than we were when I left. Our client base is stronger and more diverse than ever. And, we’re leaning into expanding our offerings to make earned work even harder for our clients – through stronger creative, digital and integrated marketing.

CR: That’s great! So many expansions in the works. What are you most excited about for the future of Citizen? 

The plans we have in place for our clients this year are the strongest yet, and the teams are excited to dig in and get the work done. We’re also growing our client base at an impressive rate in all sectors. And, personally, I’m thrilled to be able to add more corporate communications clients and projects to our roster. I strongly believe that corporate comms and brand comms work better together – and more and more clients are seeing the potential that can bring. The future for Citizen is bright!