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January 2019 - Melissa Durrel

Getting the message out

Former TV journalist, city councillor, building her company

by Jon Rohr

Melissa Durrell left CTV in 2010, to take her seat as City Councillor for Uptown Waterloo Ward 7. Before the election, as she talked to other local candidates, she found some were interested in media training and were wondering how to get their message out. “So I did a little bit of consulting.” Soon after, small businesses started to approach her and she thought, “this would be a great business opportunity… so I incorporated. Now, I‘ve got a really awesome team. We’re all women, interestingly, coming from a news room where it was mostly men.”

Durrell says that being a female journalist was really difficult, “in the sense that it was really hard to find mentors.” She was looking for women who had been in the business for 10-20 years, who could offer mentorship, and “I really wanted to create a space that was really healthy, so part of what I do here is mentor these amazing women to be great leaders.”

“As a journalist, you get really good at meeting people and getting to their story really quickly; understanding who they are, and what they stand for. I love working with these young women and teaching them about that.”

Durrell started out with some pretty small tech companies. A big part her business involved working with companies connected to Communitech, Accelerator Centre, Innovation Guelph, and the RIC Centre. When Durrell started off, “most of them were getting investment ready, and that was my niche, and then two three years later, you’ve got this great company, and they need this public relations firm, so then they come back to me - and so that was really my sales trajectory for ever. And it’s continued to work. I’ve been really lucky”. Her company, Durrell Communications, has clients locally as well as in New York, Switzerland, Vancouver, and “we’re doing a launch in Montreal.” She focuses on staying connected with the tech world.

Durrell is also Media and Public relations director of Women’s March Global. “We amplify change makers. I work with the Global Brand.” One of major campaigns Durrell is working on is getting the 13 activists that helped push the law for women to be able to drive cars in Saudi Arabia, out of prison. “They were all jailed, so now we have a 400,000 person petition that we put out to hopefully get them out of jail.”

The cause works with many organizations from around the world, asking some tough questions like, “How much money are their countries benefiting from in relation with Saudi Arabia? “ and “Why are so many countries scared of Saudi Arabia?”

“You look at it and it’s $5.3 trillion in the United States that they get from Saudi Arabia, and in Canada, it’s multi, multi billions of dollars that we get from Saudi Arabia, and there-in lies the problem... So we wanted to make those numbers public.”

“Citizens need to know,” she states, so Durrell is running campaigns on social, digital, and via print media.

“I love Uptown, I’m going to miss it 100%, but as a huge believer in term limits, I really believe strongly that you need to move up or move on.”

Durrell grew up in politics. “My dad was the Mayor of Ottawa when I was a kid. I remember saying to him when I was younger, ‘What degree do I get?’ and saying that I really want to go into politics, I want to make a difference in my community. He said, ‘Don’t be a politician, be a reporter… that’s where the power is’.”

She attained a Journalism degree at Ryerson, worked across the country for CTV, and landed in Waterloo. “I’ve only ever lived in uptown Waterloo.” Her husband had an uncle and an aunt who lived here, but “we didn’t know anybody here.” It was their uncle who said, “You need to be as close to Vincenzo’s as possible!”

Says Durrell, “We kinda fell in love with Uptown Waterloo. I think we lived in like six or seven houses... and now we’re over at Allen, and still two blocks away from Vincenzo’s.”

“What was beautiful for us is that we fell into this incredible community in Waterloo. It was the right time, things were changing in the city, and Uptown was just having this rebirth, we made a lot of friends really quickly and we just fell in love with it”.

Durrell says that what drove her to enter politics was what was missing from politics: “Passion. You really have to be passionate about making a difference.” Durrell served two terms, and quickly learned that it was all about getting her projects into the budget. “As you can see,” she says, gesturing toward King Street, just outside her office in Uptown Waterloo, “we’ve literally had the most money ever spent in Uptown, because I figured it out.”

Durrell loved her political career. “I love Uptown, I’m going to miss it 100%, but as a huge believer in term limits, I really believe strongly that you need to move up or move on.” She adds that, at this point, “I’m not interested in [running for] Mayor.”

Durrell Communications is doing some incredible things. “I’m really looking forward to seeing this company grow. For us, it’s looking at new opportunities for the business, working a lot with tech companies. I haven’t put a lot of effort into not-profit, we do a tonne of pro-bono, but actually looking at what are their needs and how can we help them with communications.”
Durrell’ s favourite thing to do is “white board and think about big ideas”. She is changing the way people think about product and how countries think about people. “I’m trying to make it something that everybody can understand.”


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