North of the border views

In the fifth year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek is returning to cities it has previously visited, as well as adding a handful of new regions to the rotation.

In the fifth year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek is returning to cities it has previously visited, as well as adding a handful of new regions to the rotation.

For each event, leading PR pros from a variety of agencies, corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations take part in a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting them and their peers. PRWeek¹s Julia Hood and Gideon Fidelzeid were in Toronto for this year¹s fourth Regional Forum.

Participants:

Gayla Brock-Woodland
MD, Manning Selvage & Lee

Trevor Campbell
President, Porter Novelli Toronto

Janet Eger
Director of communications, Holt Renfrew

Alison Gordon
Director of marcomms, Rethink Breast Cancer

Beverley Hammond
President, Veritas Communications

Frank Lee
Public affairs manager, LG Electronics

Jane McCoubrey
Vice president, PharmaCom, National Public Relations

Colin McKay
Communications director, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Pat McNamara
President, APEX Public Relations

Blair Peberdy
VP of marcomms, public affairs, Toronto Hydro Corporation

Beja Rodeck
Director of media and PR, Royal Bank of Canada

Jeff Smith
GM Toronto, Hill & Knowlton Canada

Regional challenges

Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What are the biggest business challenges in this region?

Gayla Brock-Woodland (MS&L): Opportunities in PR have exploded over the past couple of years, but the talent pool has not kept pace with the size of our market. We have huge growth opportunities and are looking for a mix of talent and divergent skills. The challenge is to find the right people, even for traditional areas.

Pat McNamara (APEX): For a lot of us, the challenge is the senior level – experienced people who can counsel clients and manage people.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): The rules have changed. Young people have this understanding of digital media and the youth market. They will get huge opportunities.

Jeff Smith (Hill & Knowlton): I have less difficulty finding senior people than I do finding good junior people, those who see the big picture and how they fit into it. Digital media is important now, but Facebook isn't everything. How does their digital knowledge along with the PR skills they should bring with them fit into our overall plan?

McNamara (APEX Communications): Junior people are knocking down our doors, but we look at them as apprentices. We get them in and we train them, but they're not doing that much hands-on work at the beginning.

Jane McCoubrey (National Public Relations): Convincing people that working at an agency is actually a professional choice is a big challenge. You don't have to go client- side, maybe you shouldn't. There are people like me who are born and bred in agencies and like it. My challenge is many folks will be at an agency for five years, then they'll go work for a client. That's great, but it's not necessarily for everybody.

Blair Peberdy (Toronto Hydro Corp.[THC]): From my standpoint, it's hanging onto the talent that we've got. We've been recruiting at the mid-level and expanding jobs so they include not just PR, but marketing and brand management. The people we bring in at the five- to six-year level are getting really good exposure working with senior people and making decisions. But these people are high achievers who are looking to move on. It's not as though the working conditions aren't good at my company. They are excellent. But the people we bring in, I'm seeing them want to move. It's the turnover that concerns me.
Another thing I wrestle with is trying to build a longer-term communications strategy that isn't just quarter to quarter. We've had some success in that area, but it takes a lot of effort to be able to think ahead and use strategic thinking on a day-to-day basis.

Beverly Hammond (Veritas Communications): Is your agency involved in long-term strategic planning?

Peberdy (THC): It's interesting. My staff is probably the smallest it's ever been, but my budgets are triple, even quadruple what they've ever been. As such, we're using agencies now on strategic programs that aren't turning out to be long-term. Of course, there are external issues that are holding up execution of programs, and that's frustrating for the agencies to some extent because when we get to the point of execution, we have to delay. Essentially, we are using firms for longer-term, strategic issues and staying in-house for media relations on a day-to-day basis.

Frank Lee (LG Electronics): Because LG plays in the global market and competes in various industries, we have the tendency to become too sophisticated in our approaches. We are trying to understand the consumer and from there allow that to be the catalyst for great ideas. But how can we get closer to the consumer?

So here we have a better understanding of the global consumer, but then the challenge is trying to localize our programs here in Canada, where we are one-tenth the size of the US population. Toronto is a dynamic environment, but we need to package our stories and find the strategies and approaches that have local relevance in the midst of being a global company.

My communications department has shrunk down to one, yet budgets have tripled. And at LG, we have really seen the rise of PR. It's the buzzword here. LG is so excited about PR's impact and they want to empower their local subsidiaries. But again, the challenge returns to finding local relevance as part of this huge global company.

Beja Rodeck (Royal Bank of Canada [RBC]): We are the best-known brand in Canada, but now we want to extend the brand. How do you do that when you only have regional presence? How do you attract the next generation into a bricks-and-mortar financial services organization?

Hammond (Veritas): The onset of digital has really helped in the PR world. We're being asked to do a lot more of that.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): Canadian companies are making significant investments in digital media. They understand that PR agencies really get how to leverage these new opportunities. We have pioneered word-of-mouth programs. Because we've had experience with those types of programs and know how to manage them, we're ideal.

What hinges us all together is a big creative idea. We can take digital and combine it with traditional media to create a larger footprint for clients. It's all about ideas. We've created the position of creative director in our agency because we want to ensure that we have that kind of creativity in all of our executions.

Lee (LG): Our last two largest campaigns were born out of the PR approach. PR totally drove the entire machine. The North American team asked how to launch these strategies, the PR agency presented it, and it was overwhelmingly well-received. For the fall, more and more campaigns are being driven out of PR.

Media and measurement

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Describe the media climate in this market, particularly the digital media's presence.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): Digital media has become a key source for the media in Canada. That's a strong, emerging trend. Companies need to understand how to cultivate relationships to influence the media.

Smith (H&K): The first step into digital has always been the political side. For our staff, it's our political people who are most comfortable about using blogs.

Hammond (Veritas): We're behind the US in that area, but in the past couple of years, Canada is really starting to adopt that. No question that in the political space, it's miles ahead.

McNamara (APEX): Getting into the consumer realm, the public doesn't know if a blogger is in Canada, the US, wherever. Are we targeting just Canadian bloggers? The consumer is going everywhere for their information.

Janet Eger (Holt Renfrew): Most of Canada's media is consolidated in Toronto. But we differ from many other Canadian entities in that we pitch and work with US media as much as Canadian media, even though we don't have stores in that market. Our customers at every level read US publications.

Smith (H&K): To be effective these days, you have to use more than traditional media. PR agencies can't be just media relations shops. You must offer an integrated approach.

Julia Hood (PRWeek): So what about traditional media? Is it on the wane?

Rodeck (RBC): Coming from a financial institution, I see social media running up behind us. It's a force to be reckoned with. In my world, however, it's still The Globe and Mail, The Financial Post, The Wall Street Journal, BNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg. Those are still the day-to-day outlets I need to target my messages for. But I surely see the benefits of online media. If you are issuing news releases, it will be on Yahoo, MSN, etc., without even attempting to do more.

McNamara (APEX): And an incredible amount of people just look at CNW [Canadian NewsWire]. We used to put things there just as a means to distribute. Now we're going there as a means to be viewed directly.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): It's not either/or. Our clients expect us to get both, though our clients are still dazzled by traditional media.

Peberdy (THC): We just launched a b-to-b program. The media buyers brought in a plan that was heavily weighted towards Web advertising, which we hadn't done before. I think it doesn't give you the high levels of general exposure. It's hard when you aren't used to that medium. You don't see the Web effect to the same extent as traditional outlets. You have to get used to seeing it.

Alison Gordon (Rethink Breast Cancer): It really depends on what you are doing and what the publication is – both online and in print. If it's about driving traffic to your site, obviously a call to action online can work a lot better than someone reading the paper, then maybe going to their computer, then maybe going to the Web site.

I agree you need a mix, but I do love the “targeted-ness” of some of the online stuff, though I don't think there's as much of it here in Canada. Take something like Sweet Spot [a local equivalent to Daily Candy]. It only has 15,000 viewers and there's no other game in town. We just don't have a lot of options like that here.

Eger (Holt Renfrew): The Globe and Mail has found a niche in style, and Sweet Spot has expanded to multiple spots. We know it's effective. If something appears on it, it drives store traffic.

Hammond (Veritas): Another example is Urban Moms.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): What traditional media offers is measurement advantages. Really sophisticated PR clients understand the benefits of digital media in building key relationships and are much more comfortable with quantifying the value of that kind of coverage. But for a lot of people, there's great comfort with the numbers that come from traditional media.

Smith (H&K): It becomes incumbent upon PR pros to explain that difference in measurement. Traditional media does give you those big numbers. But there are a million different ways to do measurement. If it works for the client, then that's what is important.

Hammond (Veritas): Thanks to people like Pat [McNamara], Canadian PR has come a long way in standardizing measurement of media.

McNamara (APEX): Most people in this room know about Media Relations Points [MRP – a media measurement system McNamara helped devise about four years ago and launch about a year and a half ago that is used by most agencies in Canada].

The way it works is pretty simple. Whether you've got a big or small budget, the focus is on the quality of what we are doing. We wanted to move people away from advertising values. It was really comfortable for a while to point at something and say, “Here's something that's looked at so-and-so many times, and it's worth $20,000 in ad equivalency.” That was great, but it wasn't really accurate.

Now we're measuring tone and quality, and we've added a little piece to acknowledge ROI, so that we're looking at the cost per contact. That's a powerful number when you can go to a client and say, “This cost two cents per person for us.” This means that an independent PR firm or a person with a small department can take this measurement tool and look at apples to apples year after year.

When we ask industry people if they are familiar with the MRP system, a good 70% have at least heard of it.
And what's really gratifying is how this all started from a collaborative effort in which a group of competitors got together about four years ago and decided that we all needed to be talking the same talk.

McCoubrey (National): It puts everyone on the same page, even when you look at the impression numbers. We are all using the same number. And when clients look at more than one agency, the qualitative portion of that is very valuable in being able to compare.

McNamara (APEX): It allows us to stop throwing the binder on the table and say, “We got 500 articles on this,” when in reality 450 of those are not really delivering what you need it to.

McCoubrey (National): All agencies saw the need to be able to define measurement in some way – absent of any standard measurement.

McNamara (APEX): And it's cost-effective. If you want an industry standard, it has to work for everyone, small to multinational.

Hood (PRWeek): What are the media issues coming up for others of you?

Colin McKay (Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada [OPCC]): I occupy a number of spaces and there's an interesting contrast with privacy issues. There's a whole range of privacy issues in social media.

If we're talking about online media and the influence for privacy, we're very much buffeted by international opinion. We have to pay attention to what's going on in Europe, in the US, and then compare that to societal norms. I'm asked increasingly complex questions that ask me to compare different provinces, different countries, different legislative set-ups. From a social media point of view, I'm just starting to think through how you would engage in a debate on such a complex topic.

Trevor Campbell (Porter Novelli): If they really get social media in the political sphere, how many on the client side appreciate social media? From where I sit, there's a hesitancy there. We've had cases where we put everything into place and were ready to put the social-media program into the field, and they've gotten cold feet, which might be a bit of the norm here in Canada.

McKay (OPCC): We have a lot of political bloggers, but not the range of political influence that they have in the US. But I think in the US, as well as here, the C-suite is reluctant to take that step. In the political world, you're used to instant feedback. It's really hard to move a CEO, CMO, or CTO to say, “I'll react within three, six, or even 24 hours to criticism.”

Campbell (PN): There is still the cachet with the CBC hit or The Globe and Mail hit that does not exist with some of our key clients when it comes to new forms of media. With one of our clients, we had some challenges in justifying the value of some significant – we thought - online coverage we received. Even with the MRP numbers we had, the client was skeptical that a hit on Sympatico/MSN was not nearly as relevant to them as The Globe and Mail.

Eger (Holt Renfrew): We need a mix. For some constituents, I need to show them the front page of The Globe and Mail. For others, I need the cyberspace hit. I also must note that the opportunity for that conversation at a certain level of our stakeholders just isn't there. As such, we know that to perform, there are traditional media outlets we have to get.

Smith (H&K): Where [a corporate PR head] can't tell them, we [as an agency] can.

McCoubrey (National): The reality is that traditional media is not going away. [And traditional media relations is] assumed to be something we're going to do well. Based on that solid foundation, we can then bring clients along to thinking about newer modes of communication.

Smith (H&K): Interestingly, the C-suite actually feels more comfortable with online advertising. It's easy for them to slide from traditional ads to online ads. But when starting to talk about digital-media engagement, that's when they start to pull back a bit.

As PR pros, we need to be careful not to cede the digital ground to the ad agencies. We need to reinforce with clients that it's OK to talk to your consumers about products. I read this week about someone who called a phone company and asked them if their phone would work in Asia. And the person on the other end replies by saying that they didn't have that country listed. Having this online discussion is dangerous, and this is where we can help. We understand these kinds of pitfalls and how to navigate them.

Hammond (Veritas): I don't see this as a reason to worry about ad agencies. I see this as a chance to cut their grass all over the place. Because of our online work, we're getting into areas we've never been before.

Lee (LG): Last year was our Chocolate phone launch. That phone caused such a headache for us because Canada was the last nation in the world that was going to receive this phone. The PR was overwhelming. Journalists were asking, “When can I get one?” Then it finally arrives, hugely driven by these guerilla online tactics which targeted not only style leaders, but also the general public. Then all the issues that were not shared by headquarters about the product itself came out.

Now the door was open and you as a consumer could actually talk to LG about your issues with the phone. It was dangerous and there was anxiety at first, but as a result of the conversations we were having since the phone's launch, the new version of this phone which will come out this fall is being driven by consumer feedback. Our approach is that we didn't get it right the first time around, but Canadians told us this, this, and that, now here's the phone.

The head of LG's call center actually asked us, “This is the launch strategy? It's not just the PR strategy? You can't be talking to consumers.” Sure there's a risk factor, but this is an opportunity for LG.

A unique market

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What makes the Toronto market unique within Canada?

Eger (Holt Renfrew): It's the largest market with the highest concentration of media and the most head offices.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): The diversity of the population.

Smith (H&K): Diversity in stakeholder groups, too. You have to really be on your toes to make sure you deliver the messages to the people you need to reach.

Peberdy (THC): If you hit the news in Toronto, a lot of people are going to see and read about it. In a lot of other markets, it's more localized. Because there's 24-hour news outlets here in radio and TV, they are always looking for stories. So most of our media relations is reactive.

Our company takes about 2,000 interviews a year, almost all of them are from traditional media. The digital media isn't organized as a media entity, so it's hard to talk to it. We can't escape the traditional media. It spins off into blogs, which we almost have to look at as letters to the editor. In our marketing and advertising, it is part of our strategy – but in the day-to-day operations, the traditional media are what we have to pay attention to.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): There seems to be a tangible close-knit feeling in this PR community.

McNamara (APEX): We've formed the Canadian Council of PR Firms, which really started as an informal group. We got the presidents of a good majority of international PR firms sitting around the table. We're not talking about setting rates and things of that nature. We're discussing how to make the industry better. How do we get kids coming out of school to be what we want them to be? We tried to do this a couple of times over the past 10 years, but we finally got together a couple of years ago. When I tell people in the US about this, they are shocked we actually got into a room together.

Hammond (Veritas): Our council really digs into the issues that make the industry better.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): Toronto is such a hub for media relations, all of us have worked together at some point. There's tremendous respect for each other.

Social responsibility

Hood (PRWeek): What about community efforts?

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): I think companies and clients are very quiet about the kind of good pro bono work they do. I'm not sure that people are extremely public about it at all times, though they are very committed to it.

Smith (H&K): Our employees look to us because they expect that of an employer these days. We've been doing this for a long time, both globally as well as in Canada. We set aside days a year for employees to do pro bono work. And we have an employee committee to determine where the money goes.

Gordon (Rethink): Especially as it relates to breast cancer, PR firms call us wanting to do some kind of campaign, though I've found it's never very innovative and the budgets are very, very small. And unlike what other people have said about people being quite, I've found companies to be quite vocal in saying they want to donate $500 to the cause, but the firm is doing big media relations and an ad campaign.

It's nice to have them say they want to contribute, but you can't just go out with your PR firm and blanket the city and get into all the shopping pages as if you are a big supporter of the cause. They don't stop calling us like this, especially because they get a lot of media attention without really having to donate much.

To an earlier point, I'm somewhat confused by the industry in that I only see myself having two options – big agencies that work in a very specific way and know how to deal with big projects or individual boutique shops that seem to be just this one person who just e-mails things out about parties. Where's the middle ground? Where are the people who can help us get the word out about events, do some creative stuff around those events, and do all that within my budget?

Peberdy (THC): Returning to the CSR angle, it's become a very significant part of my job. We've carried on with our community involvement programs, but we spent the past year and a half exploring what CSR is in the context of an electric utilities business and its responsibility to the community. It's been driven by the top of the company, and with that comes an awareness on their part that whatever it is we say to the public needs to be backed up.

So we've really gone to the drawing board about it. We spent a year and a half working with PriceWaterHouseCoopers on a set of indicators that we would be reporting on so that what we come out and say about Toronto Hydro will be assured by a credible third party. To us this is critical to protecting the reputation of the company and the brand.

Equally important, it enables us to drive corporate responsibility into the actual strategy and management of the company – how we manage human resources, how we handle our own health and safety issues, choosing what we report on publicly. We're coming out with a set of indicators that we are now preparing to have assured before we start reporting on them. Then the management team will assess if they get it. So it's been a long and fairly costly process – without actually reporting out a corporate responsibility plan. But when we do report that, the C-suite can be confident in it.

Smith (H&K): Good for you, Blair, because if corporate responsibility is driven by PR or trying to get PR value out of CSR, it's a disaster waiting to happen. CSR has to be bought into at the very highest levels, at the board and senior-management level. As PR pros, that can be our way into the C-suite. And once we get there, we will need something relevant to say. We have to stress how CSR must permeate the entire organization if it's really going to work. Only then you can a company talk about it and get the reputation boost.

Rodeck (RBC): We're fortunate in that sense because as a bank we're mandated to do a corporate accountability report for the government. Giving back to the community has become part of who we are. I forget the exact number – it's something like $40 million a year that the bank gives to various communities. Where we now have to ratchet it up is in the corporate sustainability area. We're now doing things like measuring our carbon footprint. These are things we've never dealt with before. We're starting to execute programs to show that we are a good corporation from a sustainability perspective.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): Let's be clear, most of our leading Canadian companies do a tremendous amount of giving back that they never get credit for, particularly at the community level.

Hammond (Veritas): The CSR work we're doing now is actually helping clients build their CSR strategies. We don't even talk about how to get profiled for this down the road. That's not even part of the conversation.

McCoubrey (National): That could be part of being Canadian, too. Being Canadian has the perception of being understated. It's not completely out of the realm of imagination to think our companies would behave the same way.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What are some of the key social issues?

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): Environment. The green theme is massive here.

Peberdy (THC): It makes sense for Toronto Hydro to be involved with environmental issues – we've been able to build a lot of tangents on that. It's not just a business strategy for us, it's also a natural corporate responsibility foundation for us. Of course we'll always support health and social issues around us, but I'm expected to get recognition for the good work we do on things like electrical conservation – not so much our support of the United Way - because that reflects our core business.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): I think you're being modest, Blair. Toronto Hydro has really taken leadership in the sector as far as bringing other companies in the sector together to do something significant together. That's happening in a lot of different industries right now.

Hammond (Veritas): Toronto Hydro is doing a great job of showing people what they can do to make a difference.

McNamara (APEX): What's amazing though is that it didn't take Al Gore to make this point. Toronto Hydro was way ahead of the curve. Gore's popular and that's why people talk about environmental issues now, but we should have been doing this stuff all along. The important thing is that the corporations are really taking this as a serious issue.

Smith (H&K): Overwhelmingly, the number-one social issue in Canada is always health. But now that concern is manifested through the environment. It's about air quality, water quality, climatic change. Health is still on everybody's mind, but now it's about the environment and everyone is taking that very personally. It's about my health, my kids' health, my spouse's health.
As such, we're going to see the next trend in PR and social marketing is going to be labeling – country-of-origin labeling of ingredients and things like that. You have to understand health and the Canadian psyche about health in particular.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): Canadian cities have taken leadership in recycling. We separate out everything in our houses. Put it together with energy sector, everyone is changing the way they behave.

Lee (LG): Look at recycling for electronic goods, it's an incredible thing. Because Canada is not leading in terms of national federal programs on how you dispose of electronic products, LG goes by European standards. We recognized this as a potential comms message a few years ago, but it's never been a key message for us.

However, consumers in the past few months have really focused on this, so it's tempted us to jump on this and talk about how do we get a green message.

LG has a history of innovation in products, whether it's energy savings or reducing carbon footprints. But in the past two quarters, what has come up in focus-group studies and through customer-service phone calls is, “How can I properly manage your air-conditioning unit so it's not having an impact on the environment? Can you give me exact data on how much energy this refrigerator will save in a year?” There is definitely an opportunity there for consumer electronics companies and any brand involved in appliances. But we need to have a prudent approach to know that any claim we make can be backed up without any doubt.

Gordon (Rethink): I feel like the big companies we're working with are reevaluating their CSR strategy and are not wanting to give out a little money here and there. They are looking at something like Gap's Red campaign and trying to figure out how to help the community and get the recognition for it.

McCoubrey (National): CSR strategies are totally aligned with the vision of the company.

Gordon (Rethink): I think they want it, they're streamlining it, and not doing it in little bits here and there. Like the Red campaign, companies want to own a piece of that.

Peberdy (THC): But there has to be a logical relationship between that and the mission of the company.

McCoubrey (National): Corporate donations are usually a portion of the CSR strategy. It's multifaceted and it really does need to be that.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): What's the political scene like here?

McKay (OPCC): Nationally, we've got a minority government that controls its message very carefully. In Ottawa, however, there are those thinking of stepping out of that mold and reaching regional outlets, local outlets.

From a government comms point of view, there are about 1,000 government communicators doing that targeting on the local level and looking to break out of that “Inside Ottawa” mentality – which is the equivalent of “Inside the Beltway” thinking.

Going back to the media discussion earlier, in Ottawa, people want to see the paper. In the government, we deliver paper clippings. The political and executive suite want to see that because that's what they hear in their circles. With our media collection and media circuits, even if you have a big hit in Vancouver, it doesn't make it to the 7pm clippings package in Ottawa.

Peberdy (THC): Talking earlier about how blogs have advanced on the political side, yet from a government relations standpoint, it still comes down to networking with bureaucrats and the political class around specific issues. While the bloggers move ahead and are out there, they haven't replaced the traditional-media reporting and traditional media relations tactics.

Smith (H&K): On a municipal level, what is really lacking is an effective lobbyist system where government relations pros can really step into the municipal area and do their work.

Another key issue is that we're heading into an election this fall in Ontario, and for the first time ever, it's a fixed election date. Everyone knows that on October 11, there's an election. Clients now take election-readiness planning into consideration with their corporate communications and government relations work. Usually election time can be slow for a public affairs shop, but now you can plan for it and plan through it.

And as far as the political parties go, they actually started campaigning two months ago. And in Ontario, we're seeing a big outreach push online. Parties are trying to figure out how to use that and reach out to voters. The communications surrounding this campaign will be very interesting because there's not a lot to separate the parties.

The economy

Hood (PRWeek): What is the economic outlook?

McNamara (APEX): Our Canadian dollar is very strong. We have a more rosy outlook in Canada as compared to the US. Business is thriving here, and for us that means a lot of our clients are doing well and are actively seeking more innovative ways to reach out to the consumer, so they are spending more money on PR.

Hammond (Veritas): The tourism industry, which was very prominent, has suffered dramatically in the past few years – because of the dollar. Canada is not a cheap trip anymore. The key economic indicators have changed, too. You used to look at areas like real estate and business as key sectors that would tell you what would happen. Now it's harder to really look at one sector and say, “This has happened here, so this will happen there.” It really doesn't work like that any more.

Sure, when you see what's happening in the US market that concerns us because we typically tend to follow that, but right now we're in a good place.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): One sector that's really having challenges is healthcare. Healthcare companies have been downsizing.

Smith (H&K): There's a lot of money in the economy, but it's almost a false prosperity because it's on the back of high energy prices and high commodity prices.

The economy looks good, but there are areas that are really quite devastated – manufacturing, auto parts, and other of traditional Canadian industries are really hurting. Take a look at the forestry sector, it's devastated. Our Canadian business sector really needs to look at how it does business and how they fit into the global economy. The markets that we had are going away and we're feeling the impact now, but it's being masked because of the high energy and commodity process.

Hammond (Veritas): I live in Waterloo and the manufacturing sector has been annihilated. It's a community in transition, which is a microcosm of what's happening in Canada. The economy is in transition, and it's causing some devastation regionally.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): On a positive trend, I think Canada has untapped opportunities in the diversity area, but companies aren't being nearly as aggressive as they should be on this front. When folks come here from other countries, they're told about what a diverse population we have. Then they come here and it's like - wow.

By 2010, all labor force growth will be through immigration in Canada. It surprises me that more companies don't take advantage of the diverse communities. Some companies are acting on this, but there's so much more we can do in that area.

Rodeck (RBC): Canada's population rate is flat, which certainly impacts our talent pool.

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): We have a lower birth rate than the US.

Peberdy (THC): Another issue is that a third of our work force will be retiring in 10 years. This is probably a North American problem, not just in Canada. To be able to recruit new people into the company without a hiccup - every company is going to need strategies to address that. You have to recruit them in before the first generation retires, so it will increase your operating budgets. So I think what we'll see is another focus on efficiencies and reorganizations.

Rodeck (RBC): The face of Canadian companies is changing as a lot of homegrown entities are being taken over by multinational companies. You now have a lot less of the major names on the Canadian Stock Exchange because they don't exist anymore.

Smith (H&K): Of course, there's great business in doing acquisition for our sector.

Looking ahead
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): If you could ask for one thing to happen in the next 12 months, either for your specific entity or for the local industry, what would it be?

McKay (OPCC): Speaking from the viewpoint of government communications, which is this giant chunk of PR that's usually ignored, my thoughts are on managing that generation that's going to retire. Can we create an environment across the spectrum of government communicators while encouraging those senior people to stay?

Brock-Woodland (MS&L): I hope we can continue on the same exciting path that we're on now. We've always wanted PR to be at the table in a major way and our clients are giving us the opportunity to do just that.

Lee (LG): Diversity and growth in the Canadian media space.

McCoubrey (National): We talked earlier about measurement and credibility of traditional media. My hope is to start moving the needle on non-traditional aspects of PR.

Peberdy (THC): My hope is that we can continue the momentum and success we are enjoying now as a sector and to even further increase PR's role in companies.

Hammond (Veritas): It's the best time to be in PR right now. Clients see we have a lot more to offer. Digital is a huge opportunity for us. I'd like to see that continue and for clients to see the diverse benefits of what we do. “PR” does not stand for press release.

Rodeck (RBC): A lot of the challenges involve getting a better understanding of the social and digital media. From our own perspective, the diversity of media is another one.

Gordon (Rehtink): Having long-term strategies and programs that can exist beyond our ‘ADD society.' I hope we are able to come up with more ideas that have longevity.

Campbell (PN): Last year, when P&G and The Economist came out and said that PR works, that kind of third-party credibility was a huge catalyst for our industry. I'd like to see some of the more well-respected corporations who get PR to say as much.

McNamara (APEX): As far as the senior-talent pool, my wish is that we can expand and find more people to fill those roles.

Smith (H&K): I'd look forward to finding more clients who understand PR, treat us as senior advisors, and bring us to the table sooner. I also hope they keep procurement departments away.

Eger (Holt Renfrew): I'm looking forward to the increased commitment of our C-suite to PR. Ours is a robust industry and it's continuing to grow. I know the good work we're doing here will continue and even increase – with most favorable results.

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