Written by: Sharon Cheung
Edited by: Nani Moleko
This past summer, I had the chance to work with the company of my dreams: Cirque du Soleil. It was not a glitzy position as I was working part-time in their kitchen as service and food-prep for the hungry performers and staff. Serving gourmet food including lobster dinners and other international cuisines kept me close to the kitchen, but the chefs I worked with drew me in further. Even through working the dog days of summer in a ‘65 Trailer Village I grew quite fond of my co-workers soon to be friends. Their stories were just as I imagined, of creative and hard-working people who took the opportunity to follow their dreams and run away with the circus. As an outsider looking in to this tight-knit group, I saw how everyone fed off of the same energy and attitudes as others. This demonstrates how important positive work environments and stable relationships are to an organization and especially to this travelling act as change is the premise of every day. The dynamic was insightful and through deeper analysis you can understand how this unique organization is so successful. Their success is garnered through the ability to maintain a vibrant culture of passionate and creative staff that varies from national and ethnic backgrounds as well as age groups.
The PR girl in me turned on and I knew I had to meet the Totem publicist, so I emailed, called, and sent a Facebook message on the main Totem page to anyone who would read and respond. Little did I know that a Facebook message was all it took to meet 24-year-old Francis Jalbert for an interview as he replied directly to me via Facebook. Francis and I discussed the Cirque lifestyle and how he became the Totem publicist. His story excited me as he was enrolled in a 3 year PR program in Quebec similar to the uOttawa-Algonquin joint PR program. He was introduced to Cirque through the mandatory co-op portion of his program and during this internship, he helped launch Totem itself. To date, Jalbert has worked with Totem for 3 years since its launch and has toured over ten cities with his new unconventional family.
So, how does he do it? How do publicists for Cirque du Soleil maintain such a successful reputation for the organization? Francis explains that it’s in knowing your audience, a key insight we hear often in the profession. Each city they tour, they hire a local communications agency to learn more about their demographics and use this as a platform to create interaction with these same publics. For example, Ottawa’s reputation is well connected with the Ottawa Senators and therefore sports would be used a selling point. Using this knowledge, he brought in sports journalists and other media to showcase the athleticism that goes into shows. To tailor to other markets, Cirque reels in the food lovers by showcasing their international dishes and on morning shows. They also attract a fashion demographic by shifting the focus on the intricate details in the stunning costumes and make-up production.
As mentioned earlier, culture is an essential component within a thriving organization. Jalbert maintains a good reputation for Cirque by not only understanding his audience but in recognizing the needs of the people within the organization itself. Through great listening skills, perception and consideration of his team he is able to motivate his 52 artists in promoting the brand. The means may be through a web series of new performers training, documentaries of life behind-the-scenes, online Q&A’s, or interviews with media between shows. This is an astute approach, as the practitioner must be well-versed with how the organization is to be run successfully and ensuring that employees are satisfied with their environment to be productive. Not only does Jalbert facilitate the conversation with media and the Cirque corporation, he maintains an ongoing dialogue with his crew to know when they are ready for more publicity and when they need a break. An infectious attitude in the leaders of an organization inspires all facets of the company. Workers are able to realize their full potential because their needs are fulfilled when they are listened to and are surrounded by positive energy.
Aside from the great PR work, Cirque du Soleil sells itself. When the show begins, we are immersed into a mysterious journey where creativity is coupled with human collaboration. The artists share with the crowd their evident passion to push beyond the limits of conventional thinking. They appeal to the emotions of fascination and desire. As the spectators are bewitched by the artists’ spell, they experience feelings of accomplishment and inspiration by the end of the performance.
By the end of the interview, Francis gave me some solid advice I would like to share. He told me to never forget to sell yourself as a brand. Everything we do in school will catch up to us later so ensure that your work ethic, your personality, and how you deal with conflict is something you would want your peers to remember in years to come. That enlightening moment is when I confirmed my sense of belonging in this profession.
I cannot begin to share the wealth of information I was privileged to learn from this interview. Jalbert’s insights were later affirmed by lessons in my PR course with Laurent Benoit in the need for both traditional and non-traditional methods to promote a brand. Cirque is great at PR because they are interactive, they know their audience, and they constantly think outside the box. These techniques can be easily translated into any organization looking to keep their people happy and in maintaining their reputation. In essence, Cirque is a great source for learning about how an organization does it right. Any PR student should learn about its history as Cirque was founded on the profession. My love runs deep for Cirque du Soleil but even deeper for PR.
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