How Catriona Smart Is Making the Marketing Industry More Inclusive

Her agency focuses on immersive brand storytelling and hosts workshops for students and other women entrepreneurs
Catriona Smart (Photograph: May Truong)

Last fall, Catriona Smart left Halo & Co., the PR and events firm she’d co-owned for seven years, to launch That Good, a creative agency that focuses on immersive brand storytelling—specifically, social media, talent management and blowout events that merge social enterprise with a seriously good time. Her client roster includes companies like BMW Canada and Lululemon, and she’s redefining what it means for an agency to give back: That Good hosts financial-literacy and PR workshops for students and other women entrepreneurs through The Remix Project, where Smart also sits on the board of directors.

Title: CEO, That Good

Degree: B.A. in gender studies and political science, University of Toronto

Age: 43

From: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Currently lives in: Toronto

When I was a kid, I thought I’d grow up to be: A lawyer. I really liked debating in school, so it seemed like a natural progression. But then I went to my first year of university and thought, “Eight more years of this? No, thank you.” I was eager to get out into the world.

My favourite childhood memory is: On Saturdays, my parents would drive downtown from the suburbs and take me to a bookstore called Mabel’s Fables, and I was allowed to pick out a book. It was usually from The Baby-Sitters Club series—I guess I was always drawn to the idea of entrepreneurship!

The biggest takeaway from my education is: Critical thinking. Specifically, understanding that there is never just one side to any story.

My first job ever was: Barista at the Corner Coffee House in Newmarket, Ont. I make a mean cappuccino.

A significant challenge I had to overcome was: Getting out of my shell. I’m shy and an introvert, so networking and selling myself can be challenging. But as a marketer, I have to force myself to get in front of people. Having a team of five strong women behind me at That Good has made me more confident.

Something that really needs to change in my industry is: Representation in the C-suite. PR is a very white industry. I think if there are more people of colour in positions of influence, it will highlight to others that there is opportunity in the field regardless of what you look like. You can’t be what you can’t see.

The moment I knew I’d made it was: When I saw my team at That Good close deals on their own. Regardless of whether they stay with me or move on to other opportunities down the line, it’s exciting to see that sharing what I’ve learned has allowed them to grow into who they need to be.

Related: How to Implement an Internal Coaching Program

One thing I was forced to learn the hard way was: It doesn’t ever get easier; it just gets different. There are always new challenges. For example, this year we created a financial-literacy conference, called Make Money Make Sense, and went out to every major financial institution for sponsorship. We got “no” across the board. I ended up self-funding it, and it was a major success, selling out in two days. When things get difficult, I remind myself that there’s always a way, even if you have to do it on your own.

The thing that keeps me motivated is: My 10-year-old daughter, Harlowe. I want her to make her own choices and forge her own path and not be held down by ridiculous things like beauty standards or gender norms. I’ve seen how quickly young girls can go from being so confident to totally crushed by something a boy says.

When I need inspiration: I go for a walk or a drive and put my phone away. I find it more and more difficult not to be chronically online, but as soon as I disconnect, my mind clears, the noise stops and the ideas come.

“You just have to get out there and fail faster, because that’s how you learn. If it goes right all the time, then you’re doing something wrong.”

The biggest misconception about being an entrepreneur is: That you can set your own hours. The reality is, I work from when I wake up until I fall asleep. And the hardest part is managing people. There’s this misconception that you’ll have everyone doing your work for you and you’ll be in Bora Bora.

The advice I always give others now is: Perfectionism is a trap. I’ve met people who have been trying to launch something for 15 years because they haven’t gotten it just right. Women specifically are raised to be perfect, but you just have to get out there and fail faster, because that’s how you learn. If it goes right all the time, then you’re doing something wrong.

Before I retire, I really want to: Inspire more women of colour to push boundaries and create more space for others to come up after us. I want to see more people who look like me in higher positions.