Professionals in the fields of public relations or communications (or similar areas), generally have one thing in common. They’re storytellers. They have the ability to tell an amazing story and connect it to their engaging audiences.
Sandra Gabriel is one of those amazing storytellers. She’s a communicator at heart and soul. More importantly, she’s relatable, personable and a social butterfly – all vital attributes for someone in her line of work.
And she definitely had to do her share of hard work to climb the ladder of success.
But who is Sandra Gabriel?
Gabriel, like so many of us, was once a new graduate, fresh out of completing her public relations diploma at Ryerson University. Gabriel, like so many others, began to apply for a plethora of jobs. Qualified and ready to take the PR world by storm, she ambitiously applied to her dream jobs and even some slightly less than dream jobs.
She applied and applied and applied. To her dismay, like so many recent graduates, she began to tirelessly hear the same responses from each and every company.
It always went a little something like this: “You’ve got a great resume and seem like a great candidate, but you just don’t have the required experience that we’re looking for with this position.”
Well, how do fresh graduates get a job that requires experience if no one will hire them to get some experience?
Networking – that’s what most industry professionals would tell you. Sure, that’s one answer, but easier said than done, especially in our current unprecedented times.
Here’s another option: take matters into your own hands and get the experience needed – with or without the help of a major corporation. And that is exactly what Sandra Gabriel did.
“I remember as a child, when playing pretend games – other kids were playing pretend doctor or pretend mommy – I was playing pretend business,” Gabriel recalled. “So, I’ve always had this passion for business; I just didn’t know what it was at the time until I started getting into PR and realizing this is what I want to do.”
From then on, she said, “It was all about having that agency.”
Fast-forward to the present:
Sandra Gabriel is a successful and strong black woman with the world of experience. In 2005, she proudly founded Gabriel PR, a boutique agency that specializes in digital PR and branding. But wait, there’s more. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of FBI STYLE, a beauty and lifestyle magazine that provides the opportunity to concurrently help promote her clients and their achievements. But wait, there’s more. Gabriel’s most recent mission involves her giving back to the PR community by initiating a training and mentorship program to current students and recent graduates within the public relations and communications sector.
“Having the world of experience, after 15 years in the business, and having the opportunity to share and give to students who are wanting to get into the field – it just felt like the perfect recipe to create an environment where students get the experience they need,” Gabriel explained.
Students have the opportunity to gain hands-on learning with real clients and brands. The public relations field is competitive and the program allows the students to adapt their skills to a constantly evolving industry.
“You didn’t hear PR and advertising in the same sentence a lot. Digital advertising, incorporating things like SEO, e-commerce, building online relationships with bloggers and YouTube influencers, who are now part of the media as well – those are all new to PR,” Gabriel explained. “We need to adapt our profession to include them and do the most for our clients with whatever the new playing field is.”
Amidst all the digital and technological advances within this new playing field, Gabriel was thrown another curveball. The PR professional is also fighting her own personal battle. In 2017, she was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
“For most people, getting a diagnosis with a terminal illness is not a blessing, but nothing has given me more permission to live and so much good has come out of it. My life has completely turned around, in terms of my mindset and the direction I want to go,” she said proudly.
At the time of her diagnosis, she fought tirelessly to pursue her career aspirations, including executing the very first photoshoot for FBI STYLE and drumming up new business for Gabriel PR; all while her family pressured her to return home to Montreal so she can be cared for if she had to have chemotherapy. Gabriel underwent several scans and biopsies, which finally revealed her final diagnosis. Her oncologist believed it wasn’t worth the chemotherapy or surgery, considering that the disease is known to find its way back no matter what treatment or surgery is done.
Gabriel refers to her diagnosis as a blessing that has given her the permission to recommit herself in a new way to the work that once consumed her life and finally embark on a life she always wanted. Now, as she embraces her new normal, she isn’t wasting any time.
“Getting a diagnosis like that does make you see a bit of a time limit and so you’re that much more cautious of your time and where you invest it,” said Gabriel.