Mia Pearson to retire from MSL and North Strategic

After 30 years in the industry, she is passing leadership to longtime business partner Justin Creally and a team of agency vets.

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Mia Pearson (right) with Justin Creally, who will be taking over as CEO at MSLGroup.

MSLGroup CEO and North Strategic co-founder Mia Pearson is handing the leadership to a new team as she plans to retire.

Announced during an all-staff meeting yesterday afternoon, Pearson’s retirement comes after 30 years in Canada’s PR and communications industry.

“This timeframe, the end of 2020, has been part of my vision for some time,” she tells strategy. “I started my first agency when I was 29, so all that time starting entrepreneurial companies, growing them and selling them, starting a new one. That’s intense, and it’s exciting and you love it, but you do it so you can still enjoy life while you’re healthy and young enough.”

Pearson co-founded North Strategic with Justin Creally in 2011; the pair were both coming out of leadership roles at High Road, a PR agency Pearson had previously co-founded in 1996 and which had been acquired by Fleishman-Hillard three years earlier. After more than a year running North, the pair launched video and content production arm Notch Video the following summer.

In 2016, Pearson became CEO of MSLGroup when it acquired North and Notch, which remained distinct entities under the Publicis Groupe agency’s P&L. Over the years, the group has grown to roughly 100 staff between the three companies.

“What is fascinating about Mia’s 30-year career is she has spent most of her energy building up the people around her on her teams,” Creally says of his long-time business partner. “She is a mentor like no other, so giving of her time to help the career growth of hundreds of colleagues and clients. I’ve worked with Mia for more than 20 years and nothing gets her more excited than seeing her colleagues reach new milestones and career growth of their own.”

Creally will be taking over Pearson’s CEO role, with three longtime staff being elevated to managing director roles to lead day-to-day operations for each line of business. SVPs Jessica Savage and Sarah Stewart-Browne will be leading North Strategic – taking a similar two-headed approach as Pearson and Creally took – with SVP Nadia Beale taking on duties for MSL. Creally will also be leading the other agencies’ collaboration with Notch Video. Ian Buck, who has been with Notch Video since the year it launched, remains in his managing director position, leading the offering alongside VP of creative and content Yotam Dor.

“The timing is right because of where we are as an agency and the team that is in place,” Pearson says. “It’s so seamless with Justin taking over as CEO. I’ve known Jessica and Sarah for almost 15 years, and Nadia has been with MSL for over a decade. It feels like we’ve been working towards this almost since the inception of these companies.”

Looking forward, Pearson says the agency is going to be continuing to try and drive growth, especially in areas where it has seen momentum this year. Business in the influencer space has picked up, especially within MSLGroup, while social and digital work is continuing to be a major growth driver for North, both areas that have grown since the spring along with crisis and corporate communications.

“But it’s a fully integrated offering, so when we combine that with Notch, that’s when we see the full potential realized,” she says. “Where the agency was when we started and where it is today is so different, with the social and digital side so embedded in everything we do. But it is true to the vision we had when we started the agency, to be social by design.”

Pearson is going to be spending her time doing the things she loves but has not always felt like she has had the time for as an agency leader and serial entrepreneur: spending time with her kids, snowboarding and – once it is safe to do so again – travel. One thing she won’t be doing, though, is hanging around the MSL and North offices in the kind of advisory role agency leaders often take on when they plan their retirement.

“I’ll have lunch with them if they want to call me and need advice, but I’m really looking forward to having a hard break,” she says. “You can get to thinking, well, what about just giving a little bit of time. But I don’t want to do that because I’m an all-in kind of person and if I start doing that, I’m going to start getting back into the business. I’m so proud of what this team has accomplished and they’re ready to take this further and into the future on their own, that’s the whole reason you mentor and work with your teams.”