Discover more from The Accidental VP by Susan Smythe-Bishop
She Inspired the City
And way beyond...
It was mid February back in 2013 as we, the Touchwood PR team, sat huddled in our Toronto loft space on the third floor of a Yorkville brownstone that overlooked Rosedale Valley Road. We were brainstorming on our PR plans for Ginger and Rosa - a gorgeous British film set in 1962 London that starred Dakota Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks and Anette Bening.
From our POV, the stakes were high. Not only did we want to make our client (Union Pictures) happy - but Sally Potter, the acclaimed director of the film would be in town, and we had to come up with a special promotional screening event and ensure that the theatre was full. The challenge for us was that this was really an art film that leaned towards a younger demographic, one that typically has a ravenous appetite for Hollywood fare. So! We turned to the one person who could pretty much guarantee success for us - Jen McNeely of She Does The City.
Jen was a remarkable young woman (still is!!) with a very engaged following that embodied the perfect demo. Shortly after we hired her for the project, she brought on Artizia, David’s Teas and Evian as partners for a pre-screening shopping event (at Aritzia), and then filled the screening that followed with her loyal readers and absolutely knocked it out of the park.
And if that wasn’t enough - she showed up to the event impeccably styled from head-to-toe in Aritzia attire. I joked with her that I never could pull off the look and proved it by doing this illustration shortly after the event (and if not obvious - that’s Jen on the left and me on the right 😁).
This was just one of the many successful campaigns that we would work on together, but it actually wasn’t the first time I had worked with her.
Jen and I met over 10 years prior to that when she joined Alliance Films as a junior marketing assistant. Her cubical was positioned just across from my office and boy oh boy, I could write an entire post on the inappropriate executive shenanigans that we both witnessed during our time working together, but I digress…
This was just ahead of the whole influencer movement, so from my vantage point - she really was one of the first social media influencers of our generation
In 2007, a short while after leaving Alliance, she launched She Does The City (SDTC) - which at the time was a Toronto-focussed blog intended to give younger women, like her, a voice. This was just ahead of the whole influencer movement, so from my vantage point - she really was one of the first social media influencers of our generation.
As time went on – SDTC started to reflect her own personal growth (and the growth of her readers and contributors) and eventually, she became an advocate for all women. And, as her business morphed into a more sophisticated media model, we were able to work together on several projects along the lines of Ginger and Rosa.
She also played a vital role in the genesis of Pioneering Women, a women’s mentoring association that I co-founded with Sarah Brown back in 2011.
Through on-site giveaways, editorial and then hosting our events - she eventually moderated panels and did live interviews with our guests as well. I remember being blown away the first time that she stepped in to lead one of our Q+As with the authors of the amazing Darling You Can’t Do Both, Janet Kestin and Nancy Vonk. It was something she had never done before, but she nailed it - it just came so naturally to her.
On June 20, 2023, Jen announced that after 16 years – she is stepping away from her beloved platform.
Last week, she penned this heartfelt letter to her readers and it really made me stop to reflect on the impact she had on me personally over the years. I’m just sorry that it took her making a major life change to properly pay tribute her.
Working with Jen was like working with no other. Her creativity knows no bounds, and she always genuinely cared SO deeply about her readers and their lives and took the responsibility of her platform to heart.
She leads with love, and naturally generates soulful connections and used the bold power of words and her actions to inspire and give all of us hope. She spoiled us rotten and served us all so well and in return - her readers, contributors, clients and partners all trusted her completely and adored her (and still do, this is not an obit!).
After working with Jen, I found it so hard to stomach the clinical, automated and strictly transactional promotional “partnerships” that are so common in the media landscape today.
From colleague to client to mentor…
Over the years, my relationship with her evolved from colleague to client to mentor (meaning, I looked to her as a mentor despite her being so much younger than me) and now, I can proudly say, she is a treasured friend. I’ve learned so much from Jen over the years and have such deep respect for her and I know that no matter what she ends up doing, even if she just sleeps for a few well-deserved years (!) she will continue to inspire me.
SDTC has been left in very capable hands!
I have no doubt SDTC has been left in capable hands with Andrea Grau and the team at Touchwood PR. I know them very well, they’ve worked with Jen for a while now and they share her interests, values, passion and sensibilities. They also deeply care about their readers and I know they will never take that responsibility lightly - I’m excited to see where they take this.
So! All of that was to say this:
Jen! Thank you for the years of support, for always going above and beyond, for throwing yourself into all of your projects so completely and for leading us so well.
Thank you for literally pulling that magic out of a hat time and time again, for inspiring me/us and for the friendship that I value so much. I hope you are able to take a really deep dive in to this time off and that you enjoy this well-deserved break. I cannot wait to see where this road takes you next.
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