Catherine Bagnell Styles
Assistant Vice-President Communications and Marketing
In the early fall of 2010, Catherine Bagnell Styles was ascending the steps of the Henry Hicks Building for her second interview, hoping to become assistant vice-president of communications and marketing at Dal.
Standing on the steps was someone very familiar looking: Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, there no doubt to check in on his Dal-led initiative that seeks to end the use of child soldiers.
“I have such respect for him and empathy for what he’s been through,” Bagnell Styles says. “And I thought, ‘How wonderful it would be to work in a place that attracts that kind of person.’”
Coming full circle
Returning to Halifax was something of a full circle for Bagnell Styles, who grew up fifteen minutes away in Spryfield. In the interim, she’d left Nova Scotia in her early twenties, after completing a degree at Mount St. Vincent University focused on marketing, French and design and textiles. She lived briefly in Newfoundland before settling in Alberta and Toronto for more than two decades.
One of her earliest memories is an abstract one, realizing that whatever it was she wanted to be when she grew up, she hoped it would not involve repetition or predictability. She wanted each day to be different. “I liked things to change; I liked to be challenged, try new things. And I really wanted to beat my own path, not let anybody define my story for me. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons I moved away.”
She got a great taste of the variety she sought working for Canadian Airlines and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, where competition was fierce and things moved fast, where she did everything from working on international brand campaigns to launching the first frequent-flyer programs.
“I often reflect on my own early ambitions and dreams,” she says, “connecting the dots to the work I’ve been able to do, with the ambitions of today’s students. “They have the same hunger and desire to make their mark. Like me, they may not know exactly what they want to do but they are keen to make their mark, to make progress, and they are looking for the right place to help them succeed. This is the sort of notion I think about when we’re working on recruitment marketing.”
No set routine
Her curiosity for academia remained a constant, even when working in other industries. She eventually became associate vice-president of external relations at University of Calgary for eight years before coming to Dalhousie. She even taught marketing at the U of C. Learning has been a lifelong process for her, focusing at different times on advertising, marketing, communications, French and leadership training at Queen’s University, Royal Roads University and Harvard University.
At Dalhousie, she has achieved her childhood wish for a life without routine. “It’s predictably unpredictable,” she says. One moment she’ll be working on an integrated marketing strategy for Dal’s enrollment plan, the next on plans to increase profile for Dal’s research stories and experts. “Media relations is a very important priority for Dalhousie. We get close to 800 media requests a year, we pitch well over 200 stories annually and tell close to 600 stories in Dal News.”
Underlying it all are principles of having a measurable strategic plan, building respectful, effective relationships internally and externally and compelling storytelling.
There are two, somewhat contradictory, attitudes at play in her approach to her job.
First, she tells herself and her team, “Let’s do the very, very best we can. Let’s dream big and get things done” And second, “Take time to recharge.”
In other words: dream really big, make a great plan and execute well. But, know that you are human and need time to refresh. The key to managing a large and varied workload, she says, is to focus and work through the busy periods and use any downtime to think, reflect and restore so that the more challenging moments don’t break you, but rather make you stronger.
Bringing Dal 200 to life
Recently, her biggest focus has been her role as chair of Dal’s 200th anniversary. Results are still being tallied and plans made for transitioning into “year 201,” but Bagnell Styles says the 200th has “exceeded expectations and been one of the most rewarding projects - ever.”
A cross-campus planning team — which included members from all faculties and most units — oversaw a year’s worth of over 150 initiatives and events with over 32,000 community members, faculty and staff, students, alumni and retirees taking part.
The bicentennial served, in a sense, as a great culmination of her work at Dal so far, and as a terrific platform for Dal to reflect on the past, think about the future and say thank you to the many who have contributed to Dal’s first 200 years. Bagnell Styles has noticed “a renewed confidence in who we are and what we can achieve and an improved connectedness with key communities,” she says, “there’s a certain buoyancy to our step, an optimism.” And, the 200th has been an important part of that.
“It’s really a great time at Dal. We’ve had a great bicentennial, big wins in research and fundraising and record enrollment. I’m very keen to see what we do in the third century.”
On the relationship between Dalhousie and the City of Halifax...
“I’m grateful for the part I play in promoting Dal and Halifax. Our brands are very connected. We’re dependent on each other. The university feeds the community and the community feeds the university.”
On lifelong learning...
“We often don’t know what we don’t know. And almost every time I think I’ve figured ‘it’ out, I realize there’s so much more to learn. And, we can absolutely learn something from everyone we meet regardless of position.”
On what motivates her...
“I love really great, big ideas. I love the dreaming big and making something happen.”
On confidence and self-reflection...
“I think it’s pretty rare not to have self-doubt or anxiety sometimes. It makes for interesting people. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and staying confident in yourself while you work your way through something is key — an opportunity or a challenge, both are connected. Experience is a great teacher. Through it all, practicing self-awareness and self-care are key. Of course, I’m not always perfect at this.
When you were a student, what was your favourite course
Marketing, or History of Art
What’s your favourite hobby or pastime?
My garden. And about ten years ago I started painting. When you paint, your brain is completely absorbed. You have to be fully in the moment of what you’re doing.
If you could only bring one artist’s music with you to a desert island, who would it be?
Definitely a female singer with a big voice — maybe some Aretha Franklin. “Chain of Fools” and “Respect” are always in my repertoire and may sometime be heard in our office.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It comes from a teenage Catherine copying a friend who I really admired. I thought, “If only I could be Janice.” She was the epitome of sophistication. I copied her mannerisms. A friend said, “A first-rate Catherine is better than a second-rate Janice.” In other words: being authentic, knowing who you are, rather than trying to copy someone else, will help you be your best.
If you could have dinner with one person — living, deceased or fictional — who would it be and why?
I would have liked to have met Nelson Mandela because for him to have been treated as badly as he was and still behave with such grace was really remarkable.