On January 3, 1990, I joined NATIONAL Public Relations as Director of Research—and I had no idea of the adventure that awaited me. More than 30 years later, NATIONAL has restructured to become AVENIR GLOBAL, the largest fully owned Canadian communications firm, among the top 15 firms in the world, with almost 1,000 employees and more than 20 offices across several continents. The Firm’s consistent growth—and the challenges that growth brings—means that my role has always been in flux. As a public relations consultant for over 30 years, and a member of the Firm’s board of directors for 25 years, I have been able to observe and contribute in my own way not only to NATIONAL and AVENIR GLOBAL’s growth, but also to that of the profession of public relations.
When I started out, media relations were at the heart of public relations. We organized multiple press conferences every week, with press kits full of photocopied documents, sent by messenger to reporters at the many media outlets. Often, organizations did not have a communications function and, in some ways, our clients were among the pioneers of the profession. As Director of Research, I had to come up with methodologies to measure public relations’ contribution. Content analyses, custom surveys, audits, desk research…I used any and all available tools. In 2006, I was part of a small group of public relations leaders who developed Media Relations Rating Points (MRP)™ to provide Canadian public relations professionals with access to audited data for media reach, as well as a standardized approach to evaluating media coverage. A secondary goal was to discourage the doubtful practice of providing “advertising value equivalencies” for editorial content. MRP is another case of my having no idea at the time what the future held. Over the years, MRP has truly become the industry standard in Canada—even if the tools in our toolkit are much improved and much more diverse compared to when MRP was created.
Most of all, I am very proud of the evolution of our Firm, our progressive culture and our desire to anticipate our clients’ needs, be they large, publicly traded corporations, small, privately held start-ups, professional orders and associations, or Crown corporations and non-profits. At NATIONAL, we have over the years contributed to the success of so many organizations and to public debate, all while striving to move our profession forward. In 1995 and 1996, the “Airbus” case, in which former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sued the federal government for defamation, monopolized media attention and our work was recognized by federal court, setting jurisprudence. My role as an expert was to evaluate the impact of global media coverage on the reputation of Prime Minister Mulroney. In his decision, Judge Alan B. Gold stated that “the gathering, collating and analysis of statements made to the media (…) was of great importance to the conduct of the Claimant’s case, as part of the overall strategy and tactics pursued by counsel” and ordered that our fees be recognized.
The practice of public relations has become infinitely more sophisticated since the beginning of my career. Our expertise has grown much deeper and more sophisticated as the number of communications channels has multiplied and client expectations have grown. We no longer need to convince executives of the importance of strong communications. Reputation management and social acceptability are daily concerns: we help our clients identify issues and seize opportunities, to shield themselves from risk and to communicate clearly with the audiences that matter to them. Sound advice and fair strategies are still at the core of what we do.
It is for all these reasons that I have spent the better part of my career in public relations at NATIONAL, with the same enthusiasm as that first day so many years ago, because I have always been surrounded by brilliant colleagues who want to make a difference, who push to move our services and our profession forward. Words cannot capture my sincere thanks to the many colleagues, clients and partners with whom I have had the pleasure and the privilege of sharing my professional life and from whom I have learned so much. And special thanks to the executive leaders at AVENIR GLOBAL: you have been by my side for all these years and have offered me a career full of wonderful challenges, in an organization with a family spirit and that is always looking to the future. Merci de tout cœur.