Blue Whale Communications - Nikki Gillingham
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I always knew I loved to write. I remember being in the eight grade, and for Father’s Day we had to write one of those poems where you spell ‘Father’ down the side of the page and then for each letter write a word that describes your Father. I asked the teacher if I could write a “real poem” instead – the other kids probably thought I was so annoying! But something about the way words flow across a page always spoke to me. When I was graduating high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but was still writing a lot, so Journalism seemed like the natural course. Over the next couple years I transitioned from Journalism to Communications and Public Relations, and that’s when I really found my calling. The rest, as they say, is history!
What was the inspiration behind the name “Blue Whale”
I really struggled to find the ‘right’ name for my business. I wanted it to mean something; not be or sound like your typical boring, emotion-less Marketing Firm name. I’m a huge animal lover, and blue whales are the largest animals to have ever lived on our planet, even bigger than the biggest dinosaurs! Over the years, they’ve evolved to become extremely sophisticated communicators - literally talking to each other across the oceans! During the Cold War, US Navy officials scanning for submarine activity heard the sounds of the Blue Whale more than anything else in the seas – so, it seemed like the perfect fit. My company donates to ocean conservation and animal welfare organizations each year, and the blue whale, unfortunately, is frequently struck by the increasing numbers of shipping vessels we have crossing the ocean today. So it all seems to have gone full circle, and I’m really happy I settled on the name and have the company represented by such a great animal.
You grew up in Germany & then later moved to New Brunswick. In your opinion what was the biggest difference moving to Canada/ Ontario?
I left Germany when I was just a toddler, but returned often in my younger years to visit family. Now that I’m older, I’m finding myself spending more of my vacation time travelling to new places rather than returning to Germany each year, but there’s something about Europe in general that continues to draw me in. I think the biggest difference is the people and their approach to life. Of course there’s stress, and of course people work hard, and unfortunately some people struggle – but I feel like Germans are better at letting the little things slide. In general, life seems more relaxed and carefree, and I admire that. I love the overall sense of freedom I get when I’m in small-town Germany – or anywhere in Europe, for that matter.
My family is from a very small village south of the Black Forest. Horses pull trailers of tobacco leaves through the streets, and farmers have hens walking freely in their driveways. You can go to the bakery for fresh buns for breakfast on a Saturday morning. It’s a refreshing change of pace.
Describe a typical work day and what you love most about your job.
I don’t think there is a such thing as a typical day for me – and that’s probably exactly what I love most about my job! It’s one of the things that drew me to the communications industry in the first place. Whether you work as a consultant, are an employee at a company, or run your own business – each day is different.
One of the more specific things I do love though is meeting and talking to so many different people and organizations in Ottawa and across Canada. I love learning someone’s story. Business owners always focus on the product their selling, but there’s always a reason why they wanted to sell THAT specific product to begin with, or why they do things a certain way. That’s the story I want to know. I love hearing people talk about their ‘why’, or their purpose – even when they think it’s all about making sales and generating revenue, that’s never the real story. It’s just the result.
What was the most fun-to-date project you worked on since starting your business? What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I think my biggest achievement has really just been branching out on my own and seeing where I can take this business. I never thought of myself as the entrepreneurial type – I thought I was the ‘work your way up the corporate ladder’ type. I wanted to have responsibilities and lead a team, for sure – I just thought it would be under someone else’s direction! It’s been a real joy learning about myself over the past year and a half, and learning how to run a business has been the most fun hurdle I’ve ever faced.
I have a client in Nova Scotia that focuses on increasing import and export business in that province. They’ve really figured out the content marketing game – they feature client success stories on their website and newsletter as a way to market their services without saying “we offer these services: A, B, and C”. It’s so smart, and it’s the way marketing is going these days. For me, that means I get to interview and write about the most amazing people and the type of work that they do. I just love telling these types of stories.
What is the biggest challenge when creating content for clients?
Sometimes it’s hard to get a client to trust in the storytelling process. I call it the ‘new advertising’ – but it can be hard to see the value in writing what looks like a fluffy piece, when what you’re used to doing is putting out an ad that says “New in store: Product XX with these new features.” But consumers shop so differently these days, and so much more emotion is involved. Think about the last Subaru commercial you saw: it was probably about an epic adventure! Then only at the very end do they announce this year’s line-up – which just happens to have the features you need to go on that adventure.
So it can be hard to get marketing execs or business owners to talk more about themselves, the company, their brand – and less about the product. But together we can get there, and then once they start opening up and talking about their brand’s story – the rest falls into place!
Any favourite spots in the city?
I love getting outside and escaping in nature. Gatineau Park is probably one of my favourite spots, and I really need to make a point of getting out there more often. I also run with the Ottawa Lions, and love a good run along the canal or on Ottawa’s amazing trail network.
Who do you look up to, what inspires your writing?
One of my biggest idols is Arlene Dickinson. She’s the epitome of working hard to get where you want -and sometimes need – to be. Through pure hard work, effort, and drive, she worked her way up to becoming sole owner and CEO of one of Canada’s biggest marketing firms. If you haven’t read her book Persuasion, I highly recommend you check it out.
Dogs or cats?
Both! I grew up with a husky/lab mix named Muffin. We got her as a puppy while I was still in a stroller, and I haven’t stopped wanting more dogs in my life ever since. Once I moved out on my own and started living that student-in-an-apartment life, I got a cat (then another) and now I’m one of those weird people that love cats and dogs equally.
If you could write content/ do content creation for one (Canadian) celebrity/ company who would it be?
That’s a tough question! Obviously, doing work for Arlene Dickinson and her firm Venture Communications would be at the top of that list. But I think there is a lot of great work being done by Canadians and Canadian companies working to learn more about our oceans in order to protect them and the marine wildlife which relies on those ecosystems to grow. I would love to be a part of that story and help spread awareness of the state of our oceans and what we can do to preserve them.
Are there any businesses/ people in your life who helped you along the way?
SO MANY! My gosh, I wouldn’t be where I am without a number of people. The obvious cliché answer is obviously my family – they’ve been huge supporters. But I got incredible support, advice, and guidance from a few people in particular along the way: Janice Landry, a writing professor of mine at Mount Saint Vincent University; Denise Doucet, one of the most honest and real managers I’ve ever had; and Melanie Gruer, my last co-op manager before I was set loose in the ‘real world’. All of these incredibly smart women came into my life through a co-op program in one way or another and still play a role in my career today, whether they know it or not. If there are any students reading this – if you have the chance to participate in a co-op program, do it!
What does the future hold for Blue Whale/ Nikki?
I can’t wait to find out! I’m really looking forward to continuing to meet new people and helping their businesses grow. It’s such an honour that companies trust you to help them get to the next level, and I absolutely love getting to do it. So if you need me, you can find me at one of Ottawa’s many independent coffee shops, probably 2 coffees deep, and lost in my work.