Canadian PR Firm CASACOM extends services with CASACADEMY professional development centre for C-Suite and Managers

To help organizations and leaders adapt to change and transformation, CASACOM announced today: the creation of CASACADEMY, a professional development centre; STRUCTURAL PR™, an exclusive systematic approach to public relations; and a manifesto that elevates the value of Public Relations (PR) as an essential component of business.

“CEOs and leaders are facing unprecedented challenges as they seek to innovate and transform their organizations,” said Marie-Josée Gagnon, APR, CEO and Founder of national PR firm CASACOM. “With our business-focused approach to public relations built around these three new initiatives, we help leaders build solid organizations focused on sustainable growth and common good.” To learn more, please watch her video.

CASACADEMY, a new professional development process

After months of consultation with industry experts, CASACOM opened CASACADEMY, a new professional development center in Montreal and in Toronto. The center will welcome CEOs, senior executives, communications practitioners and spokespeople. CASACADEMY offers a rigorous and unique action-based learning process overseen by a team of experienced coaches and trainers who customize offerings to organizational needs. This highly effective program delivers immediate, tangible results to time-strapped business professionals.

“CASACADEMY has been in place internally for several years to support the professional development of our employees, and now we are making it available to clients,” said Stéphane Ethier, Director, CASACADEMY. “We offer a different approach to learning and development. Much more than a training centre, CASACADEMY is designed to result in the highest possible level of professional development to achieve business impact.”

STRUCTURAL PR™: a new approach to public relations

CASACOM also launched STRUCTURAL PR™, a systematic approach that uses public relations as a powerful means for stronger, more sustainable organizations.  STRUCTURAL PR™ builds on the synergies between an organization’s vision, brand and its relationships. Using a set of innovative methodologies and tools, it integrates public relations firmly with business objectives and metrics to accelerate success.

“With STRUCTURAL PR™, we’ve combined our vision of public relations that we’ve used successfully over the last 13 years. It’s a proven approach for more authentic and effective leadership,” explained Gagnon.

 A manifesto to elevate the value of PR

CASACOM is also sharing its manifesto, which outlines its vision for public relations as an essential component to build and strengthen businesses.  The manifesto clearly enunciates the value that PR offers when integrated throughout an organization.


Marie-Josée Gagnon, President and Founder of Public Relations firm CASACOM Receives Three Prestigious Business Awards

Marie-Josée Gagnon, President and Founder of Canadian public relations firm CASACOM has just received three prestigious awards recognizing entrepreneurship and business leadership. The awards include the Châtelaine/Profit W100 Canada’s Top Entrepreneurs, the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge and the 2013 RBC Canadian Entrepreneur Awards.

1.     Châtelaine Profit W100 Ranking

On an annual basis, for the last 15 years, PROFIT and Châtelaine magazines have published the W100 ranking of the Top Female Entrepreneurs in Canada. The ranking is based on a score that takes in account, among other factors, the size, growth and profitability of the business.  Marie-Josée and her two partners, Annick Bélanger and Carolyn Ray, ranked 63rd in the standings released this week.  Read more about CASACOM’s success with iögo in this article in Profit Magazine.

2.       IWEC – International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge

Marie-Josée is one of the winners of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge, a competition that recognizes the success of female entrepreneurs and supporting them in their international development. The awards ceremony takes place in Lima, Peru, from November 11 to 14, 2013.

3.      2013 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards

Marie-Josée Gagnon is a finalist for the RBC Momentum Award of the 2013 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards of Women of Influence. This prestigious award recognizes outstanding women entrepreneurs from across Canada. The awards will be presented on November 27, 2013, at a gala event in Toronto.

“Receiving these recognitions at such a pivotal moment is a powerful incentive to continue our pursuit of excellence for our clients and for ourselves,” says Marie-Josée Gagnon. “In recent years, CASACOM has shown growth that goes far beyond the average of our industry, and we fully intend to continue on our ambitious growth path.”

To learn more about Marie-Josée Gagnon’s vision for CASACOM, read this article published by Marketing magazine.


If lawyers are reviewing the PR pros, shouldn’t it work the other way too?

Anyone would expect lawyers to review press releases written by public relations professionals, but it isn’t as common to have PR advisors review legal contracts and financial structures prepared by lawyers. It should be, so it was refreshing to get that perspective from PR industry expert Paul Holmes at a spring conference in Montreal.

Holmes’ view is that public relations professionals should be involved in any business decisions potentially affecting the reputation of organizations. The PR veteran, author of the Holmes Report and chief executive of The Holmes Group, cited the example of Starbucks in the U.K., which experienced a huge crisis in 2012 provoked by a “brilliant” fiscal structure planned by its accountants that reduced considerably the taxes the company had to pay.

Not only were its senior executives called to testify before the British Parliament to explain their failure to pay their “fair share of taxes,” but Starbucks was subject to a visible consumer boycott as a result.

I couldn’t agree more with Holmes when he says that PR should be a C-suite function. If not, who is responsible for managing stakeholder relationships (and reputation)?

Here are other takeaways from his remarks, which are worth sharing with a broader marketing audience:

1. While PR is growing in importance and considered a more essential function within businesses today, PR professionals must get more business-savvy.
2. It is imperative for CEOs to be in-tune, knowledgeable and have an understanding of public relations and of the impact of decisions on stakeholders and reputation.
3. Social media didn’t change anything for “good” public relations professionals, since we were already working under principles such as authenticity, transparency and openness. The difference now is that bad decisions are known quicker and can have a greater impact on the business. For organizations, social media has changed the price of not doing the things right.
4. Public relations is the management of the relationship of an organization with all its publics. For Holmes, public relations acts, whereas communications tells.
5. PR functions should be integrated to eliminate fragmentation of stakeholder relationships (ex. internal communications, which sometimes reports to HR, should fall under the communications function)
6. As public relations professionals, we must be courageous: we must be able to say what we think (say “don’t do that to a CEO”); empathy: listen carefully to the public. We also need to be convincing to show our impact.
7. When public relations is done properly, it improves the world in which we live in because it aligns society’s interests with the interest of the businesses.

Unfortunately, Holmes may have been preaching to the converted, as the room for the session, organized by the Luc Beauregard Center of Excellence in Montreal, was full of PR professionals. It would have been great if more CEOs, lawyers and accountants were getting this message.

Marie-Josée Gagnon is the founder and president of CASACOM, an independent Canadian public relations consulting firm with offices in Montreal and Toronto. She can be reached at

Heartfelt Appreciation for CASACOM’s Successful 12th Year!

Last week, we felt the need to pause, which, admittedly, happens very little in the dynamic world of public relations. This gave us the opportunity to reflect on the journey of our communications firm and its very successful and positive 12th year of existence.

This is a moment to express our gratitude to the CASACOM clients in Quebec, Canada and the United States who have entrusted us with their fascinating projects, from corporate communications, marketing communications, branding, public affairs or media relations. We are extremely grateful for the trust and confidence shown to our firm year after year, which has contributed to our growth over the past 12 years.

Among the top Canadian Firms

CASACOM continues to grow and establish itself as a leader in the public relations industry in Quebec and Canada. This year, we placed second on the annual ranking of Quebec public relations firms of Infopresse. In addition, two years ago, CASACOM established an office in Toronto, and will expand to larger quarters in the near future. Our firm has also been selected by the Ontario government to be part of a very small pool of firms allowed to bid on public mandates.

Recognition by Our Peers

We are very humbled by the North American-wide recognition from our industry colleagues. First, in June, in New York, CASACOM won the Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) for our work on the iögo yogurt brand.  CASACOM was the only Canadian firm among the 800 finalists to win this prestigious award.  We also received an Award of Excellence from the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) in June.

CPRS also recognized our work in the area of marketing communications to introduce Michaels Arts & Crafts stores in Quebec.  We also received a Platinum Award from the Quebec Society of Professional Public Relations (SQPRP).

And last but not least, our Montreal-Toronto Citybook, our employee-recommended end-of-year gift that we offered to all CASACOM clients, received two Greniers d’Or last December.

The 12th anniversary of CASACOM is also the anniversary of a vision: our President’s vision, Marie-Josée Gagnon, who began to build a “house of communications” on September 11, 2001. Since then, she has constantly shared her passion for public relations and her pursuit of elevating our profession, as evidenced by the article published last week in Marketing Magazine. And as she often reminds us, with 12 years of age, we are just learning how to fly.  The best is yet to come!

CASACOM wins two major public relations awards for the successful introduction of Michaels Stores in Quebec

CASACOM recently distinguished itself by sweeping up two of the most prestigious awards in the Quebec and Canadian public relations industry. CASACOM indeed earned these honours for the comprehensive public relations and marketing program its team developed for the simultaneous opening of the first seven Michaels stores in Quebec. Specifically, CASACOM won Platinum in the category of External Public Relations Program of the Prix d’excellence contest given by the Société québécoise des professionnels en relations publiques (SQPRP), as well as Gold in the category of Canadian Marketing Communications Campaign of the Year from the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) in its Awards of Excellence program.

“Our team is thrilled by these honours. They are a testament to the excellence of our strategic counsel, the calibre of our execution, and the passion of each person who played a part in this monumental project. What’s more, these awards celebrate the daring and determination of our client, as well as the trust it places in us, for which we are deeply grateful,” shared Annick Bélanger, Managing Partner of the Montreal Office of CASACOM.

Michaels: a remarkable, respectful entry into Quebec
It goes without saying that entering a new market requires a solid business plan, but just as importantly, it takes an adapted relations approach. CASACOM was at Michaels’ side through every step of the 18-month process leading up to the inauguration of the seven stores. “In addition to developing a strategic communications plan, we counselled Michaels on a number of key decisions. The Michaels team was thus able to understand the subtleties of the Quebec market and adapt its approach accordingly,” said Ms. Bélanger.

The total media reach surpassed 55 Million in neutral or positive media hits, not to mention 25,000 unique visitors to a microsite developed specifically to name a Quebec spokesperson, and some 6,000 Francophone Facebook friends who subscribed to the official Michaels page. To learn more about the five key decisions taken by Michaels, read about it on the CASACOM blog.

Founded in Montréal in 2001, CASACOM is an independent public relations consulting firm that helps clients accelerate business success through communications. With offices in Toronto and in Montreal, we bring a deep understanding of cultural differences resulting in unique and highly effective communications strategies. Our firm was founded with a deep sense of integrity and humanity, and our unique approach to collaboration and excellence gives us the opportunity to truly make a difference in our clients’ businesses. Our highly strategic, creative, and passionate people specialize in corporate communications, public affairs, and marketing communications. CASACOM has 100 partner offices all over the world through its membership in the Worldcom Group, the largest network of independent public relations firms in the world. CASACOM also belongs to the Canadian Council of PR Firms and is certified WeConnect Canada. For more information please visit

Ultima Foods and CASACOM receive a 2013 Silver Anvil from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), for Reputation /Brand Management Sole Canadian Companies Honoured across North America

Montreal, QC, June 17, 2013 – On Thursday, June 13, in New York, Ultima Foods and CASACOM received a prestigious 2013 Silver Anvil for Reputation /Brand Management from the Public Relations Society America (PRSA) for the campaign launch of iögo yogurt that led to one of the most impactful brand launches in Canada.  Ultima Foods and CASACOM are the only Canadian companies that received an award at this gala that brings together the biggest names in the public relations industry across North America. The iögo campaign was honoured in the category Reputation/Brand Management — Business – Companies with Sales up to $500M.

“This prestigious award highlights our team’s creativity, adaptability and teamwork across Canada,” said Diane Jubinville, director of public relations and consumer relations  at Ultima Foods and Carolyn Ray, Managing Partner of CASACOM Toronto. “The strategies and execution created great impact, resulting in iögo rapidly becoming a preferred yogurt brand for Canadians.”

This is the second award for iögo this week. On June 11, CASACOM also received the Bronze award at the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) National Awards Ceremony in Ottawa. CASACOM exceeded all communication objectives for the launch of iögo.  The positive media coverage reached 97 million impressions; something unheard of for the launch of a new brand in the food and beverage category. The results on social media were also impressive, including 1.5 million views on Twitter during the first month.  The iögomania clearly manifested itself, among other things, through consumer engagement on digital platforms and the brand continues to resonate positively everywhere. In fact, iögo marketshare reached over 10 per cent just three months after the launch while its brand awareness across Canada reached 80 per cent.

About PRSA
PRSA is the world’s largest association of public relations professionals. Each year, the organization recognizes the world’s best public relations campaigns, tactics and programs. The PRSA 2013 Silver Anvil Awards Ceremony honors organizations that have successfully addressed a contemporary public relations issue with exemplary professional skill, creativity and resourcefulness. Entries are evaluated for their strategic nature using four key components — research, planning, execution and evaluation. For more information, visit and use the hashtag #PRSANVIL to follow the news on Twitter.

About the Launch of iögo
How long does it take a company to completely turn around?  The Ultima Foods yogurt company had the Yoplait licence in Canada since 1971. In 2011, the situation changed when General Foods acquired Yoplait. Ultima Foods then decided to create, develop and launch its own yogurt brand, iögo.  Beyond this great launch of products in August 2012, Ultima Foods, a 100% home-grown business with community values, has been discovered by Canadians.

Founded in Montréal in 2001, CASACOM is an independent public relations consulting firm that helps clients accelerate business success through communications. With offices in Toronto and in Montreal, we bring a deep understanding of cultural differences resulting in unique and highly effective communications strategies. Our firm was founded with a deep sense of integrity and humanity, and our unique approach to collaboration and excellence gives us the opportunity to truly make a difference in our clients’ businesses. Our highly strategic, creative, and passionate people specialize in corporate communications, public affairs, and marketing communications. CASACOM has 100 partner offices all over the world through its membership in the Worldcom Group, the largest network of independent public relations firms in the world. CASACOM also belongs to the Canadian Council of PR Firms and is certified WeConnect Canada. For more information please visit

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For information: Kara Latta, (416) 944-2145

Adapting your brand to enter a foreign market 5 tips from the Michaels Stores’ introduction in Québec

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You like Michaels’ approach? Vote here for Michaels and CASACOM, finalists for the public award at the SQPRP (Quebec Society of Public Relations Professionals).

In September 2012, American arts and crafts retailer Michaels simultaneously opened seven stores in Québec, Canada’s French-speaking province, in one of the most anticipated retail openings in Canada. At all stores, hundreds of enthusiastic crafters lined up hours before the grand openings. VIP nights attracted celebrities, media, and influencing crafters. Media coverage was overwhelmingly positive and local politicians praised the Michaels’ way. Paula Puleo, the CMO of Michaels, declared the introduction a model for entries into other countries.

Yet this successful launch did not happen overnight; in fact, the process began three years prior, when Michaels decided to invest in an impressive cross-cultural communication program. It is common to see foreign businesses come to Québec and make only the minimum effort to adapt to Québec’s culture. Michaels truly invested in Québec.

This is not the first time CASACOM has helped organizations both Canadian, US and from other countries, adapt to Québec. Each time, it is always a learning experience. Below are our five top tips for any company that wants to enter a culturally different market like Quebec:

1) Adapt your brand from the top down: Michaels operates 1100 stores throughout the US and English Canada. For the company’s executive team, Québec was seen right away as part of the international market, just as Sweden would be. Therefore, they were crystal clear that in order to succeed here, they had to adapt everything they do in terms of language, culture, business practices, and human resources management, to name a few. With this mindset well communicated from top to bottom, the focused, cross-functional team within Michaels’ headquarters worked together in an integrated effort and took the required decisions to do everything that was needed to assure success.

2) Partner with local experts that will tell you the truth: One of their first actions was to select, along with their main PR firm SPM, CASACOM as a strategic facilitator. We got to work two years before the big day, which gave us the time we needed to do the job well. Our first task: explain the Québec difference, identify potential issues and suggest solutions. Every manager involved in the project was guided by the best intentions and was committed to do what it took to succeed. For communicators like us, this is gold.

3) Understand the local consumer through local eyes: The Michaels team wanted to grasp all the subtleties of the retail market. A Québec research company conducted focus groups, shop-alongs, and a survey. The results brought out several unique features of the market, along with a rich local perspective. The products offered, store design, promotional strategies and messaging were adjusted as a result.

4) In French, of course: The compliance to the Charter of the French Language was Michaels’s main concern. They needed to translate 35,000 sales units and all communication materials (training, suppliers, customers, etc.). This colossal project lasted three years. But for Michaels that was no enough. They wanted to show their sincere interest in connecting with the people of Québec. They adopted a slogan in French: “Tout pour vos projects créatifs” (Everything for your creative projects). Displayed on all storefronts and on promotional materials, this slogan not only conveys Michaels’s corporate brand, but also sensitivity to Québec’s Francophone nature. Few foreign retailers today have French taglines.

5) Michaels represented well here: We knew that the company had to have a Québec face, with a Québec name. It quickly named a Managing Director for Québec, who became the company’s spokesperson. A HR director was also hired early on. In addition, we conducted a highly successful digital campaign with a jury of local crafting influencers to find a Québec “Michaels Ambassador”. The authentic Québécoise Micheline Petit is now the creative face of the company.

With this solid business strategy, based on a very clear vision, the promotional activities that we implemented to connect with the Québec consumers were a great success. Carrying through with a clear vision pays off in business.

CASACOM and Ultima Foods’ Iögo Selected as Finalists for US PRSA Silver Anvil Awards

Canadian communications firm CASACOM and its client, Ultima Foods, have been selected as finalists for the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Silver Anvil public relations award in the Reputation/Brand Management — Business – Companies with Sales up to $500M category, for the iögo campaign that led to one of the most notable Canadian product launches in recent years. Out of 144 businesses selected from 847 submissions, CASACOM is the only Canadian communications firm that made the shortlist.  PRSA is the largest global association for public relations professionals, rewarding the world’s best campaigns, strategies and programs.

The award ceremony will take place on June 13 in New York City. “For us, it is already a victory.  We are extremely proud of this exceptional international recognition which highlights the efforts of our entire CASACOM team across Canada, and especially the confidence of a courageous and visionary client,” said Marie-Josée Gagnon, President and Founder of CASACOM.

About the iögo launch
How fast a company can turn around? Ultima Foods (UF) had the Yoplait license for Canada for 40 years. In 2011, the situation changed when General Mills acquired Yoplait. UF then decided to launch a complete new brand of yogurt called the iögo brand – “the new way of saying yogurt”. CASACOM helped UF transition from its 40-year heritage of being a ‘Yoplait’ company to one with a new vision and culture and creating what is now as known as “iögomania.”

CASACOM strengthens its Senior Management Team: Carolyn Ray and Annick Bélanger become Partners

Marie-Josée Gagnon, President and Founder of independent communications consulting firm CASACOM, is pleased to announce that Carolyn Ray and Annick Bélanger have become partners of the firm. Respectively acting as Managing Partners of the Toronto and Montreal offices, they become the first shareholders at CASACOM after the Founder.

“As we celebrate 12 years in business, it is gratifying and highly stimulating to have these two great leaders at my side and to acknowledge their expertise and commitment to communications,” says Marie-Josée Gagnon. “Carolyn and Annick truly embody the CASACOM brand through their total involvement in everything they do, for our clients, our fellow team members or for our company. In addition, we truly enjoy working together because we share the values of excellence, impact, and humanity and a vision of the future marked by the desire to thrive.”

With an increasingly pronounced presence in English-speaking Canada as well as highly successful large-scale projects including the recent Canadian iögo yogurt brand launch and Michaels Arts & Crafts in Quebec, CASACOM is at a turning point. The arrival of the new shareholders aligns with a desire to strengthen the management team for future growth across Canada.

Carolyn Ray has led the Toronto office since its inception in September 2011. With over 20 years of experience in strategic communications consulting – in PR, B2B and B2C branding – she advises clients in industries such as retail, healthcare, manufacturing and consumer goods and specializes in brand marketing, internal communications and training and corporate communications. Recognized for her innovative perspective, Carolyn applies her expertise, enthusiasm and energy to help clients add value to their business through insights, influence and measurable impact.

With over 16 years’ experience in the public sector and a degree in political science from UQAM, Annick Bélanger has been part of the CASACOM team since 2006 and has led the Montreal office since 2011. Expert in issues and crisis management, she is recognized as a solid strategist. Her keen analytical skills and critical eye help Annick to quickly identify client challenges and to develop strategic plans to help them achieve their goals efficiently and effectively.  Through her work with political and union decision makers, Annick appreciates the importance of transparency, integrity, rapid action and dialogue.


Getting inspired at the CCPRF PR Boot Camp

Recently CASACOM’s Coordinator Kara Latta attended the Canadian Council of PR Firms (CCPRF) Third Annual PR Agency Boot Camp in Toronto. The day-long event featured interesting sessions on a variety of topics geared towards up-and-coming public relations professionals.

From employee communications to developing your personal brand, the day was inspirational and full of exciting content and speakers, including our own members and some well-known thought leaders such as Trend Hunter’s founder Jeremy Gutsche and Gen Y expert Dr. Karyn Gordon. Below Kara shares her key takeaways from the day.

Getting inspired at the CCPRF Third Annual PR Boot Camp
by Kara Latta, CASACOM

  • Strategic value of PR: The key point was to invest in internal communications. Employees have to know what they’re selling and believe in it – whether they are accountants, drivers, or if they work in PR. Selling internally depends on simplicity; therefore your mom should be able to understand your message.
  • The importance of building positive client relationships: Be upfront. Always talk about money beforehand and clear any confusion at the time of the brief. If you make a mistake, don’t make excuses. Be honest and be open to learning from past mistakes. Focus on how you can resolve the issues in the future and act immediately.
  • Building your personal brand through social media:  Here, the panel members discussed just how much personal information they like to reveal on their social accounts. This made me reflect on how I use my Twitter account, wondering if I too should share more personal tweets as I tend to focus on corporate topics.
  • Jeremy Gutsche’s (@JeremyGutsche) luncheon keynote stressed the importance of selling an experience (not just a product) and connecting with your audience. The example that stuck with me is the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign to stop people from littering. At first, the campaign used Iron Eyes Cody, an Italian actor who was crying as he pleaded with the audience to stop littering. This wasn’t a success as those who litter most are young teen boys.  When the much more aggressive “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign came out, it was so successful that it reduced litter by 72%. This just goes to show how important it is to target a campaign that is relevant to your audience.
  • The social media blogger panel included four of Canada’s top bloggers and was extremely valuable. Blogger relations are essential in PR and this panel gave tips on how we can improve and sustain our relationships. As Lena Almeida (@Listen2Lena) put it, bloggers aren’t looking for a one-night stand. They want you to actually try to develop a relationship with them and ideally work on long-term projects with them. It is also essential to read their blogs and understand what interests them and their readers so you can tailor your pitches.
  • Relationship expert Dr. Karyn’s (@DrKarynGordon) afternoon keynote focused on how to thrive in today’s multi-generational workplace. It was really interesting since I’ve never thought about how different generations might assume different norms in the workplace. My takeaway from this was to make sure I seek to understand differences in the workplace before getting frustrated. Remember that the “right” way to get things done will depend on our upbringing and generational values. (For more on this, see Carolyn Ray’s post: Being at your best in a multi-generational workforce: how do recognition, work-life balance and flexibility co-exist?).

Overall it was a great day and I’m really proud that CASACOM was part of the organizing committee for the event.  Looking forward to next year’s event already!