PR firms play nice in the sandbox

As a PR professional and entrepreneur I have lots of competitors. The multi-nationals, mid-sized independents, small boutiques and the one (wo) man bands.

There is no shortage of PR talent. But what separates the “I love people” and “I can organize a great party” people from those with knowledge, experience, resources, and stability?

In Toronto we’re fortunate to be home to the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms, twenty-five and climbing leading PR consultancies who represent thought leadership, ethical business practices, and solid credentials. CCPRF firms meet eligibility criteria in terms of minimum number of employees and billings, but the greatest scrutiny comes with being vetted by your peers (and competitors). You can bet these agency heads and decision makers have a great memory when it comes to playing fair.  Ironically, while one would think that we’d be a secretive, paranoid bunch there is plenty of chatting going on about issues of common interest and some sharing too. In short, being in the room and not a fly on the wall has made me appreciative of my colleagues and their values in generating and conducting business in an ever challenging environment.

———————————————————————————

Carol Levine (@Carol_levine) is co-founder and Managing founder of energi PR, digital, communications, an award-winning independently owned Canadian PR consultancy established in 1990 with offices in Toronto and Montreal. energi PR is the Canadian affiliate of the Public Relations Global Network, providing expertise in consumer and healthcare public relations to national and multinational brands. Carol is the immediate past Chair of the Canadian Council of Public Relations firms and is a 2013 Inductee in the Canadian Healthcare Marketing Hall of Fame as well as a Fellow of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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 mjgagnon@casacom.ca.

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!

Edward Burkhardt: Here’s Some Free PR Advice

If the tragedy of the train derailment in Lac Megantic wasn’t so horrific, it could be a laughable PR case study about what not to emulate. To the Chairman of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, let me give you some advice, on the house.

Preparation: There is hardly a business that is immune from the risk of exposure whether it is an accident, fire or scandal. If you had a crisis communications plan, it didn’t work, but most likely you didn’t have one. You were grossly unprepared and it shows. Like death and taxes, the only certainty is that the unexpected will happen. Be prepared for it.

Get out ahead of the news:  Almost everyone knows that ordinary citizens and the media get to the story immediately – MM&A needed to get out in front of it. Instead, you waited to be chased.  All that you needed to say immediately upon learning of the tragedy was “Our thoughts and prayers are for the victims, their families and the residents of the town. We are by their side.” Follow that by saying you would set up a schedule for regular briefings.

Take a cue from NASA Public Affairs with regard to the Space Shuttle Columbia –

“When things are going well, tell the media everything they want to know.  When things are going wrong, tell them even more.”                                                                 

Presence: It took five days for you to show up at Lac Megantic. From what I’ve read you said you could accomplish more being in Chicago where you could deal with insurance, the media etc. Are you kidding?! Do you not have other senior members of your team competent to deal with such things? You are the public face of the company and needed to rush to the scene and share in the communal pain; call the mayor and show yourself as human. Your actions and statements made you seem distant and uncaring and now you have positioned yourself as the enemy. Good luck rebuilding in that community.

Don’t speculate: You don’t know what you don’t know – so say so. Don’t make it up as you go along.  Engaging in a blame game, whether it’s your employee or the fire department, before all the facts are in is unwise. When asked about accountability you could have said simply, “We are cooperating with all of the regulatory bodies and municipal, provincial and federal authorities. Like everyone involved, we are waiting for the information to unfold as the investigation continues. Right now our primary concern is for the families and the residents of Lac Megantic.” Instead you use words like “obligation”, “probably”, and “the information gets better every day”. Your statements are confusing and show lack of coordination.

Speaking to the media – According to a news report you told TVA that you hope “(you) won’t get shot” when you finally visit Lac Megantic. That’s like Nixon saying “I am not a Crook” or Bill Clinton saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…” Why didn’t you issue a statement at the news conference where you could have at least articulated what you wanted to say, before being hammered by questions? The answers you gave satisfied no one.

Doing business in Quebec – Given that the Caisse de Depot de placement reportedly owns 13% of MM&A, and, that you operated in Quebec I have to wonder why the French language communications were described as clumsily translated and why there is nothing in French on your website, including the message on the French version that it’s in the works?

Being online – When I visited the MM&A website I saw that the last news release was dated July 7th, and that there was no message of sympathy – in fact nothing to suggest that it was anything other than business as usual for your company. It would have been so simple to have you prepare a video statement on the site or better still, uploaded to YouTube.

At the end of the day the spectre of a communications and public relations critique is of little consolation to the victims, families, townspeople and emergency service personnel in the quiet hamlet of Lac Megantic, Quebec. However make no mistake, that it will likely never be business as usual in this locality for MM&A. If not for the safety factors alone, but for the sheer heartless and defensive way this was corporately managed.

Don’t take my word for it – just look at Michael McCain and Maple Leaf Foods to find out how to do it right.

————————————————————————————————–

Carol Levine (@Carol_levine) is co-founder and Managing founder of energi PR, digital, communications, an award-winning independently owned Canadian PR consultancy established in 1990 with offices in Toronto and Montreal. energi PR is the Canadian affiliate of the Public Relations Global Network, providing expertise in consumer and healthcare public relations to national and multinational brands. Carol is the immediate past Chair of the Canadian Council of Public Relations firms and is a 2013 Inductee in the Canadian Healthcare Marketing Hall of Fame as well as a Fellow of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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.

About CASACOM
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 www.casacom.ca.

Are You My Mentor?

So starts a chapter in Sheryl Sandberg’s best seller Lean In, a brilliant book about “women, work and the will to lead”. If it isn’t already obvious, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, is my new hero. But she is not my mentor. She covers the subject of mentorship and describes the differences between women and men when it comes to finding or, better still, feeling the need to have a mentor. In her view when someone finds the right mentor it is obvious, but that running after or forcing the connection hardly ever works.

My own opinions of mentorship are formed from personal experiences as a PR professional. When I started out many years ago I had a mentor and once I was established in my career, I also had the opportunity to be one.  In both cases I was never asked to assume the role, nor did I need the affirmation that I needed one. Yet today in the field of public relations, largely a female-dominated industry, there are formalized programs to link mentors and mentees. But, does this make sense and add value to either party?

After reading Sheryl’s book I would argue she makes a strong point against “mentor matchmaking” and goes on to say that we may be conditioning young women to become too dependent on others.  She paints the picture of Sleeping Beauty where little girls are told that if they just wait for Prince Charming’s kiss they will live happily ever after.  According to this viewpoint, once the right mentor comes along, he (or she) will make everything happen.

The relationship between a mentor and mentee is not like Sleeping Beauty and her prince

My first boss was a crusty TV network newsman who started out as a CP cub reporter and was lured to head communications for a large community service organization. I was a PR newbie who was ready to work hard, stay late and listen. I credit him with teaching me how to write, work with the media and most of all, how to deal with people firmly, fairly and with integrity. He challenged me every day and to this day I consider him my one and only mentor. But it is worth noting that it was something that was never asked OR answered. It is, and always will be, about something that happens naturally.

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 www.prsa.org 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.

About CASACOM
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 www.casacom.ca.

— 30 —

For information: Kara Latta, klatta@casacom.ca (416) 944-2145

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

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

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.”