Our History

As we celebrated over 35 years of excellence in 2011, our Founding Chairman reflected on the business of creating Canada’s largest public relations firm offering world-class communications services.

'70s

My principal motivation in beginning this enterprise was a quest for a positive working environment. While I enjoyed the role of newspaperman, I saw public relations—quite a new profession at the time—as a way of solving problems and being involved, not just reporting about them from the stands.

My plan at the time was to work alone as a consultant, with a secretary. I had been running a newspaper with 14 unions and wanted a quiet environment. Then, a client of mine at Canada Steamship Lines was let go. I offered him a desk at my office where he could look for a job and perhaps help me out at times. That friend, John Hutchinson, became my first partner.

Work kept coming in and, as we know, public relations is a team business. The more minds that tackle a problem, the better the solution. By the end of the 1970s, four years after I started what I had originally called Beauregard and Partners, we had become Beauregard, Hutchinson, McCoy, Capistran and Partners, with 16 employees. Already, we were aiming to become the largest firm in Quebec.

'80s

We did become No 1 in Quebec in 1984. At one point, a young consultant running Burson-Marsteller’s Montreal office seemed a good catch if I could get him. I failed the first time but succeeded a year later. Already, Daniel Lamarre loved celebrities, sports and entertainment. He was a great marketing talent to add to our resources.

We chose NATIONAL as an operating name when we opened an office in Toronto, reflecting our aim to become a national firm. Ed Gould, a young B-M consultant in Toronto, accepted our offer to run our new office. We chose office space and called in the telephone company. We were really starting from scratch.

Our expansion into Toronto also set the tone for how we would expand through the decades. We never drop people into a market. We hire local people with strong local knowledge and relationships. Public relations is an on-the-ground business.

'90s

Many events built the foundation of what NATIONAL is today. After Toronto, we opened offices in Quebec City and Ottawa and expanded our national reach. We also started operating along practice lines – corporate, financial communications, public affairs, marketing, healthcare and technology. Our quantum leap came in 1995 when Burson-Marsteller offered us the opportunity to acquire all their assets in Canada.

It was a major transaction because it reinforced all of our offices at once. We cherry-picked their employees and, on one Monday morning, new consultants were coming in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, fully billable with their existing clients. Also included in the transaction was a small Vancouver operation and the fledgling Cohn & Wolfe brand with an office in Toronto. We are proud to have seen Cohn & Wolfe develop in Toronto and to have expanded that network too in Montreal and Western Canada. Since then, NATIONAL and Cohn & Wolfe have become subsidiaries of parent company RES PUBLICA Consulting Group.

There remained a big hole in our network—Calgary—where we could not find anyone to establish the NATIONAL brand. We decided to team up with an existing operation led by Beth Diamond, and that combination soon became the leader in the Calgary market and is now the core of our national energy and natural resources practice.

'00s

In Vancouver, we combined our office with another firm, Labrador Communications, and that pairing also proved very successful, that office also becoming the leader in it's market.

There still remained a big gap in Atlantic Canada that we were fortunate to fill by teaming up with Halifax-based MT&L, which eventually opened an office in Saint John, NB, and St. John's, NL. In 2012, NATIONAL became majority shareholder of MT&L, which now operates under the NATIONAL name.

With our healthcare practice flourishing in Canada, we eventually opened our own office in London, England, under the AXON brand, to serve as a base for clients we serve in Europe. Now, with an AXON office in New York, we are proud to have a truly global healthcare practice.

Other significant changes in the new century were based on two opportunities. One of these was moving to a single corporate entity model.

Rather than partners in a local office, our partners became owners in one single corporation. And as Canada’s largest firm, we literally had to write the book on how to operate a firm of this size and reputation. While we always had strong ethical standards, we needed to set these down for everyone to understand and follow. We also needed to standardize a number of operating processes.

The other opportunity was seizing the impact of technology on our business and on our lives. The explosive impact of television in the sixties was seen again with the emergence of all-news channels and with the Internet and digital media. Unlike television, which is managed by others, digital media allows communications professionals to develop content. Through our Digital Leadership Team, we are as much involved in social media as with traditional media. And that’s why we acquired digital media agency Sonic Boom, to craft messages right into people’s hands. [NATIONAL integrated Sonic Boom's oprations into its core business in 2015.]

 

The Future

When I started NATIONAL, public relations was still a fairly new discipline in Canada. We had to tell people what it was and how it was beneficial. Now, many public relations people are part of the executive team and even sit around the board table.

While digital media has opened many new channels of communications and empowered the voices of many more people, good judgment will remain key to our success. With instant media around the world, what people say, how they say it and who they say it to has become even more important than just a few years ago. For this, we need to bring our clients into contact with quality advisors who have superior judgment.

With our focus on working with the best people, investing in their continuous development and bringing together the best teams to focus on the needs of prestigious and demanding clients, the future for NATIONAL has never been brighter.

 

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