Liv Gagnon On Building Her PR Business From the Ground Up

Liv Gagnon and I met serendipitously at a barre studio in Brooklyn nearly two years ago. We were both studio regulars, so one day after class we started talking about our careers. I learned that she worked in public relations in the financial services sector. Given that I was a business journalist, we made a networking connection immediately. 

Since our initial meeting, Gagnon has made some major career moves. She left the corporate world to start her own public relations company, Portaga Creative, and now serves several clients of her own. Gagnon and I caught up over the phone recently. What follows is our conversation. 

Editor’s note: this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

How did you get your start in public relations? What did you like about the field? 
I started at a startup PR firm geared toward the financial services industry. I had the honor of being one of the people that built that company up, which was cool to see. The nature of PR is crazy. The thing that I hands down enjoyed the most was being able to articulate what executives and companies couldn’t articulate themselves. 

Tell me about your new company, Portaga.
Portaga is a brand strategy and content firm. I work with companies to figure out who they are and then use that to build a branding platform. On the other side, I do content, whether that’s web copy, white papers, press releases or marketing brochures. I primarily work with financial services clients.

What made you decide to start out on your own?
I’ll kind of give you the real story because that’s what I tell my clients to do. It’s never just a professional decision to make a huge career switch like this. Almost two years ago, my mom, unfortunately, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was a crazy and kind of surreal eight months. She unfortunately passed away. 

Everyone always talks about how life is short. Everyone recognizes that but we don’t think about it that often. It took being faced with this reality to kind of propel me to ask really hard questions and figure out if I’m happy, what I want to do, et cetera. I didn’t really know the answer. I realized that there was such a need to help people who were really passionate about what they do. I came to the decision that I want to add a little bit of humanity to the corporate world. 

How did you prepare to make the move? 
I made countless arrangements. I sublet my apartment in Brooklyn and I figured out whether I could do work remotely upstate. The turning point was this one single thought in my head: i am going to be as terrified to do this in ten years as I am today. The only difference will be that ten years have passed.

What do you like about working for yourself? What are some of the challenges? 
I think one of the best things is to feel like you’re waking up every day on your own terms. Even if it’s a shitty day, it's your shitty day that you created. I don’t go to bed on Sunday night with a pit in my stomach anymore. The cons are that it is hard to keep yourself accountable and motivated with nobody looking over your shoulder except your clients. I think that will always be a challenge. It’s an ongoing lesson in balance for me. 

What tools help you to get your job done? 
When it comes to tools, the mentors around me have been a huge tool. I was lucky to have left my company with some continued mentors. Just having people to kick all the ideas to has been a huge help. I use Toggle to track my time and I use Quickbooks to track my finances. 

What advice can you share with your readers? 
If it’s something you really want to do and something you just can’t seem to get out of your head, chances are you’re meant to try it. People have this misconception that if you try it and fail, life is going to be over. If you try it and fail, you just have to get another job. It’s not a life and death situation. I know that financially, everyone is in a different place. I’ll be honest and say that I did not have a comfortable amount of money in my savings account. I’ve really taken a big chance here. I think that you don’t need to start with all of this money all of the time. It depends on your overhead. I would pull a Nike and say just do it. 

Since your company is geared toward women, I also think it’s important that women know we need to lift each other up. I’ve been really lucky to have women around me. I have met some really empowering women around me. I’ve been given some really great advice. To know that the community is out there, it helps me to sleep at night.