In 2002, Natasha Koifman founded a PR company from her basement and it quickly evolved into the successful firm that NKPR is today, now boasting a large staff, an impressive client roster, and offices in both Toronto and New York City. Natasha is known for sporting an effortless all-black uniform of edgy, classic, and chic pieces, making her a style icon to many, and has been named in Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 list not once, but twice. She strives to incorporate her passion for supporting important causes into all the work that she does, inspiring others by turning clients away if their values don’t align, makes time to support various charities and boards, and has been heavily involved in the Toronto International Film Festival for the past two decades.
Here, we talk about PR in the social media age, her style icons, what she has planned for TIFF, and why she chooses work-life integration over work-life balance.
To start, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Your career path and where it has brought you today?
I was born in the Ukraine and moved to Canada when I was five. I had my son at 18, and raised him while juggling school and a retail job. I then transitioned to PR where I was working for an agency, promoting anything that came across my desk. It didn’t feel right for me, and I wanted to do something that I knew my son could be proud of, so I took a leap of faith and launched NKPR from my basement when I was 30, with a mandate to work with brands, people and causes that I am passionate about. I’m now the president of NKPR, president of Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ) Canada board, on the board of directors of APJ USA, and Co-Founder of AN8, an investment fund that supports entrepreneurs.
What was your vision when you founded NKPR in 2002 and how has the company evolved since then?
The vision hasn’t changed, and I’m proud to say that we turn away as much business as we take on, because we’ll only work with brands and people that we truly connect with. What started out as me in my basement with my dog has evolved into an agency that represents over 40 national and international brands, a staff of 35, and a footprint in Toronto, NYC and LA.
How has the digital revolution (in terms of social media and the internet at large) transformed the work of public relations?
We were one of the first PR agencies to really embrace social media and understand that this wasn’t another fad, but a new channel of communication. We’re in an age where the Diet Pradas in the world are getting more eyeballs than some of the largest magazines. The new generation is social savvy and have turned to this medium as a source of news.
It was important for us to understand social media early on so that we could help our clients find another tool that they can communicate their message with. Social media also allows for a shorter path to purchase where the consumer can directly purchase products off social media.
Tell us a bit about the angel investment company AN8 that you founded last year with your husband. Why did you decide to launch it?
I have the opportunity to meet so many people who have brilliant concepts, but need some support in bringing their ideas to market. As entrepreneurs ourselves, we wanted to create a platform that could empower fellow entrepreneurs by providing them with the tools and resources to transform their strong ideas into business results.
You’ve been involved with the Toronto International Film Festival for two decades now! What do you love about film in general, and TIFF in particular?
One of the things I love about TIFF is how the city really transforms into Hollywood North. I’m often in New York and LA for work and there’s always that buzz in those cities, but something electric happens to Toronto during the festival where you can feel the energy of the city. TIFF is the only film festival that is open to the public and not just closed off to the industry. This encourages the growth of the trade, learning about films and culture, and educating the young future creators. There is something magical about films, they take you on a journey that teaches you something every time. This year specifically I’m excited to see what the season will bring, especially with 50% of the Gala films announced are directed or co-directed by women – it’s record-breaking.
What are some of your favourite memories of behind-the-scenes moments with celebrities at TIFF?
I have a few, that’s for sure. One year I had a celebrity spit their gum in my hand before they walked down the red carpet – it sounds harsh… but it wasn’t. I told her to because she was about to do an interview. There also was a year where I had a blast spending time with John Cusack in our annual IT House X Producers Ball that we hold in collaboration with Drew and Jonathan Scott. Our IT House brings people together through thought leadership, unique programming and experiential activations with this year’s partners including brands such as Swarovski, Hounds Vodka, OGX Beauty, Sleep Envie and Rolling Stone Magazine.
You’re known for being committed to an all-black wardrobe both professionally and in everyday life and even have a hashtag, #NKAllBlackEverything. Why all black?
When I first started in the business, I found that I gravitated to dressing in an all-black uniform as to blend into the environment so that my ideas were not overshadowed by what I was wearing, especially in a male dominated field. This is what led to my #NKAllBlackEverything brand. Now, it simplifies my life, and it’s what people know me for.
Who are your style icons?
Victoria Beckham is one I look to as a force within the industry. She was super successful as a Spice Girl then became this highly respected designer, and she is incredibly dedicated to her family. I am also obsessed with one of my best friends style: Suzanne Boyd (Editor-in-Chief of Zoomer Magazine). Every time I see her it costs me money. Most recently, she was wearing these amazing Ann Demeulemeester pants, and of course we called Linda from 119 Corbo to put them aside for me! One of my favourite brands is The Row and I think Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are so effortlessly chic always.
Do you have any go-to designers, both local and international?
I’m a fan of Gucci – especially last season where the fashion house showed a lot of gold on black. I also have a slight addiction to Anthony Thomas Melillo T-shirts – I own 20 of them in different sizes. Frame and R13 denim jeans – I’m obsessed. One of my favourite pieces I have in my closet is an Anthony Vaccarello star blazer covered in grommets and stars from 2016 that weighs about 10 pounds. I am also a huge fan of Christopher Kane, Zuhair Murad and Valentino. My suiting go-tos are The Row, Chloe, and this season, I’m loving Bottega Veneta. One of my favourite Canadian brands is LINE Knitwear – I adore the luxurious fabrication of their knits. Also, my go-to swimwear brand is CIAO SEA.
What are your beauty essentials? If we were to peek into your beauty bag, what would we always find?
I can’t go without a good eyeliner – Lise Watier’s Twist & Sharp Eye Stylo is my ultimate favourite. OGX’s Active beauty line is really great at sweat proofing your locks, which is a necessity when you are running around from meetings to events in 15 hours days.
Tell us a bit about your mantra of “work-life integration.” How did you come to find this?
I was attending a lunch with Shelley Broader, the former CEO of Walmart Canada, and she brought up the concept of work-life integration and it clicked. I love what I do and I can’t, nor do I want to, just walk away from my job when I leave the office. I’m the same person at work and at home. This concept that it didn’t need to be separate really resonated with me and helped me be at peace with the integration of my work life and my home life.
Everyone’s talking about morning routines these days. Do you have a morning ritual?
Yes, it’s all about starting your day off on a positive note. Every day I like to write down things that I’m grateful for in my gratitude journal.
And what’s a typical day-in-the-life for you?
I know it seems cliché, but no two days are the same. Generally I wake up early, have a cup of coffee and review emails and my schedule so that I’m prepped for the day ahead. From there, I try to squeeze in a ride at SPINCO. From there, I’ll head into the office, where my day is spent in back-to-back meetings: meetings with prospective clients, strategy meetings with existing clients, and check-ins with the internal team to get progress updates and ensure we’re on target for meeting our objectives. In the evening, I usually attend one-two events, often related to media, fashion, or a client, before coming home to my husband and dog to watch some of my favourite shows: Succession, The Affair, The Handmaid’s Tale – I LOVE TV!
What are some ways that you try to give back to the community through philanthropy? Are there causes you are particularly passionate about?
I’m very proud of the work we do with Artists for Peace and Justice. Ben Stiller and Susan Sarandon are our chairs for the US, Yannick and Shantelle Bisson are on our board in Canada and here we are 11 years later having raised over $32 million, of which a large portion comes from our annual TIFF Gala.
I’m also launching a new e-commerce platform called ShopNK where I’ll be collaborating with a number of recognized and up-and-coming Canadian brands to offer unique, limited-edition products that align with my #NKAllBlackEverything brand. Falling under three categories I’m passionate about – fashion, beauty and lifestyle – you will see items such as entertaining accessory must-haves from Thirty Six Knots, a LINE Knitwear capsule collection consisting of an oversized travel scarf, lightweight hoodie and the must-have crewneck, and silk CIAO SEA kimono. We will be launching ShopNK online during the first week of TIFF, as well as with a physical 4-day, pop-up at our annual IT Lounge x Producers Ball. What I’m most excited about with this initiative is that all proceeds from each item sold will go directly to benefit local and international charities. In order to encourage this generation to feel more accountable with giving back, they will have the opportunity to decide from the following organizations that their money will support – APJ, G(irls)20, Dog Tales, St. Felix Centre and Best Buddies.