Nesh Pillay, a South African-born, Canadian entrepreneur has worked in advertising and marketing for years. But a while back she began to notice the disparity between budgets spent on spent on big corporate advertising and the amount spent advertising and marketing smaller socially responsible businesses. Pillay wanted to change this dynamic so she started her own digital communications agency dedicated to giving back. Press Pillay helps grown startups, non-profits and lifestyle-tech brands that have integrated social responsibility into their core values – because Pillay believes that empathy can change the world.
Pillay’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
In 2013, I was working as an advertising and marketing reporter in New York when I stumbled upon the previous year’s global advertising and marketing spending. For context, I looked at what it would cost to end extreme poverty around the world and was floored to find that it was a mere six percent of money spent on promotion. After reflecting upon my extravagant evening life – filled with advertising award galas and parties, I realized that a huge chunk of what was spent wasn’t even necessary. That’s when I knew I needed to make a change.
I choose to avoid defining success because if there is such a thing as success, there has to be the opposite – failure. As my career has developed, I’ve removed failure from my life as a concept. I strongly believe that if you’re able to go to bed at night feeling confident in the life you live, then you’ve achieved success. I don’t measure success by tangible concepts like dollars, mentions, or impressions – I measure it as a moving target, which is constantly fluctuating as one achieves happiness.
The point in my career that I’m most proud of would be an event my agency held in Toronto last year called Communications Week (now rebranded as Noted North). I was the first individual to bring a major communications conference to Canada. We first did the event on a whim in association with the American Communications Week. As our first event, we had no expectations. What we ended up with was a sold-out event with our audience asking for more. We discovered an area in the market that had been ignored – Canadian communications and the Canadian voice. The great feedback we received has inspired and fuelled me to continue putting on events in this arena.
I was born in South Africa and have always felt hyper-aware of income disparity spurned by racial, gender, and other differences. While lessening these inequalities has always felt like a mountainous task, I have spent my entire life hacking away at it. This is reflected in the Press Pillay team, which is made up entirely of female and or/individuals with a visible minority background. For me, community awareness and improvement isn’t a trend – it’s a lifestyle.
I am constantly looking at people who have had success in their fields (philanthropists, entrepreneurs, marketing professionals) as inspirations to lead me to my goals. In terms of an actual role model, I look to a much younger age cohort – my two year old daughter. As a young child, she hasn’t been bogged down by expectations and ideas of who she’s supposed to become. She just is, and that’s kind of incredible. I think that adults can learn a lot from kids.