The SheEO Spotlight Series showcases the talent and radical generosity of the SheEO Community, one entrepreneur at a time.
Meet Eileen Tobey!
Eileen Tobey is a motivated and creative expert in communications leadership and public relations. The Founder and CEO of beSPEAK Communications Inc., she and her team work with CEOs and senior people to handle areas of communication where the ‘voice’ of an organization needs to be heard. Here, Eileen shares about her family’s extensive travels around the globe, and the influence it has on her as an entrepreneur and communicator.
How would you describe the early years of your work in public relations?
At the age of twenty-eight, I left a very well known international public relations firm to start up my own public relations agency. It was awhile ago, and I had very little capital then because I was young. Almost everything that I did back then was self-funded, as it was quite challenging to start a business by yourself and obtain funding, especially as a woman. For instance, I wasn’t able to purchase a mobile phone or obtain a business credit card unless I asked my husband to co-sign the necessary contracts! These experiences were very instructive for me, and I distinctly remember thinking that I would never let any of this happen to a future daughter of mine, or anybody else for that matter.
It sounds like that realization was quite motivating. Where did it take you in your career?
During the thirteen years that followed, I built one of Canada’s most successful boutique agencies. We were in the business of communications and public relations, and provided strategy and counsel to many of the top corporations and brands in Canada. I developed a strong track record of leading, building, and managing successful communications assignments and special projects. Along the way, I became a trusted advisor of many CEOs and senior management across a variety of different industries, including consumer goods, telecommunications, and health care.
I ended up selling my business to the largest agency in Canada, and continued to work with them them as a part of my earn-out contract. When I had finished the contract period in early 2008, my husband, our two young kids, and I ‘pulled up the tent pegs’ and traveled around the world.
How would you describe the experience of traveling to such a variety of places with your family?
My husband and I took our kids out of school to homeschool them, and we all traveled for seven months. While we had planned the general direction of where we wanted to go, the journey of how we got there became more experiential. I had planned out a good deal of things for the first two months of our travels. But for instance when we got to India, I only knew when we were leaving; I didn’t have a clue as to what we would do for the four weeks in-between. By refraining from planning and instead using what was around me as a basis for what we did, I had a great deal of freedom and creativity to explore new places and cultures.
We made a point of doing something differently in each place that we visited, whether it was how we got there, how we moved around a city or country, or where we stayed. We traveled around New Zealand for six weeks in a mobile home, drove through Australia in an automobile, used trains and planes through India, and relied upon public transit in Asia and Europe. Every place we visited had a very different feeling to it, so I must say that I can’t choose a single favorite.
What kind of effect did the collection of experience have on you and your family?
Our travels had a unique impact on my family and on myself. Our children ended up learning far more while traveling than they would have in a classroom. What was very instructive for me was that our travels allowed me to think more about who I wanted to be when I came back. A big takeaway from the experience was the connectivity, and the fact that I could be very mobile. Traveling around without many logistical plans and coming into contact with a diverse array of people was very instructive, and ended up helping me later when I started another business, beSPEAK, and created a new work culture with a variety of people, remotely. That connectivity to my world and the world around me while I was away is still very important.
And after you returned home from traveling?
A couple of years after we returned I created beSPEAK Communications, where I currently serve as CEO and Principal. My creating another consulting business was very much a culmination of what I’d learned about myself and about the world I witnessed whilst traveling. Traveling allowed me to understand what I love and what I know I’m skilled at, and that I wanted to spend a large part of my life connecting people together and being able to help others communicate effectively. I also knew that I was very good at problem solving and that I wanted to work with like-minded people.
What does beSPEAK look like today?
beSPEAK is a virtual agency that handles areas of communication where the ‘voice’ of an organization needs to be heard. We work with CEOs and senior people, on a variety of business communications needs including issues and crisis preparedness, communications research and analysis, change management, stakeholder and community engagement, media strategy, and presentation and media training. My business model focuses mostly in leadership, communications, and utilizing creativity; all driven by my expertise as a business person. I am a strong relationship builder and communications expert, particularly with multiple stakeholders across a wide array of industry sectors.
The interesting thing with beSPEAK is that it’s a virtual network. A lot of senior people that I’ve worked with or who have been clients of mine in the past are part of my network. I have clients that will come to me with a very specific ASK, or area of business, and I can connect them with someone in my network and together we will help fulfill their communications needs whether it’s here in Canada, the US, or places more afar. I’ve had the great opportunity to work with amazing people in all different sectors of the economy over the years, ranging from technology, healthcare, consumer packaged goods, finance and banking, not for profits and associations, global NGOs, and more.
Are you able to travel with beSPEAK?
Yes! Being virtual and the founder of the company, all I need is a laptop, my phone, and wifi and I can go anywhere. This year my husband and I travelled to Berlin, a place that I’d never been before, and I just worked from there. The travel bug hasn’t gone away for me, and has instead just become even stronger as I continue to study and understand other new destinations that I’d like to experience.
Has this ability to travel with your work changed the way you view communications?
Many of the principles of communications, such as the importance of transparency and clarity of a message, have remained the same. But I think that the mediums and delivery mechanisms for which we communicate have changed quite dramatically. Living as we do today in a highly connected global 24/7 news and information cycle, we need to be on top of the changing nature and pace of business and the consumer / stakeholder and shareholder; to communicate not only clearly but also honestly at a pace that many find uncomfortable. That’s a significant change in just a decade but one that is invigorating for a strategic business person like myself!
How did you first get involved with SheEO and its community?
Last summer in early July 2015, I heard Vicki do a media interview with Matt Galloway, one of Toronto, Canada’s favorite morning radio hosts on CBC radio. I was in my kitchen getting ready to go to work on a beautiful sunny day, and as I listened I could tell that the radio host was so enthralled by what Vicki was talking about. I was drawn into their conversation, and wrote her name down as well as “SheEO and Radical Generosity.” Everything that she said I stood for, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is my sister!”
When I had a spare moment later that afternoon, I went to the SheEO website, read about it, and put down $1,000. The whole idea of women helping women and us challenging the way we distribute venture capital funding greatly appealed to me, and aligned with what I had learned from my early experiences starting a business. I simply thought, “okay this is an incredible opportunity, and I need to help and be engaged in the process of Radical Generosity.”
Anna Wolle is an intern with SheEO, and a rising junior studying philosophy and French at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota and l’Université Paris-Sorbonne in Paris, France. You can email her at [email protected]
Hello SheEO Activators!
My Activator Ask ? To help build successful businesses through the use of effective and strategic communications.