Luc Beauregard, CM, ARP, Fellow CPRS
Luc Beauregard founded NATIONAL Public Relations Inc. in 1976 after a 10-year career in daily newspapers and developed the firm into what is now Canada's largest public relations organization. As founding chairman of RES PUBLICA Consulting Group, parent company of NATIONAL and Cohn & Wolfe | Canada, Luc was involved in client service until his death; some of his clients have been with the firm for more than 25 uninterrupted years.
Luc was active as a volunteer director in several professional, health and cultural organizations, and was awarded the Order of Canada for his contribution to public relations and to society through his non-profit volunteer service. He was also honoured by his peers with the Award of Attainment, the highest recognition of the Canadian Public Relations Society.
Luc Beauregard was born and educated in Montreal, graduating from College Stanislas, an institution created in Montreal by France. He began his career as a journalist, Ottawa parliamentary correspondent and city editor at La Presse (1961-68). He got his first taste of public relations in Ottawa where he served on a task force on government information for the federal government during the early years of the Trudeau era and later, as press secretary to the Quebec government's Education Minister. He then returned to Montreal to join a public relations firm of 15 staff and soon opened his own public relations firm with two partners in 1970. Three years later, La Presse lured him back to journalism, appointing him president and publisher of Montréal-Matin, a tabloid daily newspaper that had just been bought by Power Corporation. But public relations had him hooked; as Luc says: "To me, journalists are watching from outside the rink; I wanted to be on the ice." So, in 1976, he started another small public relations firm that evolved into NATIONAL Public Relations Inc., now a part of an even larger group called RES PUBLICA.
Today, National has more than 300 employees in its own offices in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax, Saint John and St. John's, as well as New York, London, England and Copenhagen. The firm is active in medical communications under the name AXON.
National is known for strategic communications, crisis communications and investor relations, and has served multiple major corporations as its clients, including the National Bank of Canada, McDonald's, Provigo, Molson Inc., Merck, Glaxo, Novo Nordisk, Roche, Ford, Enbridge, etc. Specialized services to the oil and gas and natural resource industry and to the medical and pharmaceutical industry represent nearly half of the Firm's revenue.
NATIONAL Public Relations was named Canadian Firm of the Year by The Holmes Report (2008) and Firm of the Year by Marketing magazine (2006). The firm is a member of Burson-Marsteller's international network. Its sister company, Cohn & Wolfe | Canada, also owned by RES PUBLICA, has around 50 employees in its own separate offices in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. Both Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe Worldwide, are subsidiaries of WPP Group, the global leader in communications. WPP Group has a minority interest in RES PUBLICA. RES PUBLICA also owns Sonic Boom, a firm specializing in digital communication with offices in Toronto and Montreal.
Major Achievements & Awards
Professional and Community Service
- President's Award, Quebec Public Relations Society (1986)
- PR Executive of the Year (industry publication in Toronto) (1986)
- Order of Canada, achievements in communications and community (1996)
- Recipient, CPRS Philip A. Novikoff Award (1996)
- Admitted to Entrepreneurs Club, Conseil du patronat du Québec (1999)
- Recipient, Equinoxe Award, Société des professionnels en relations publiques du Québec (2006)
- Award, Lauréat de la réussite Entreprendre, Cercle Entreprendre (2006)
- CPRS Award of Attainment (2007)
- Hommage au bénévole exceptionnel Award, Association des professionnels en gestion philanthropique, Quebec Chapter (2011)
- Distinction Award, Alliance des cabinets de relations publiques du Québec (2013)
- Chevalier (Knight), Ordre national du Québec (2013)
- Order of Canada, Officer (2013)
- President, Canadian Public Relations Consultants Institute (1979)
- Chair, AMARC, para-municipal corporation managing the former Man and His World site and La Ronde amusement park (1982-86)
- Board member, St-Hubert Group (1982-2004)
- CPRS National President (1984)
- Chair, Better Business Bureau, Montreal (1984)
- Chair, North American Public Relations Council (1985)
- Board of Governors (1990-2013), previously board of directors (1992-1996) and executive committee, Conseil du patronat du Québec (Quebec Employers' Council)
- Board of Directors, Council for Canadian Unity (early 90s)
- Board member, Molson Inc. (1997-2005)
- Chair, CPRS College of Fellows (2000-2007)
- Board member, technology company 3-Soft (2001-2005)
- Board of Directors and Executive Committee, Canadian Chamber of Commerce (2002-2005)
- Board member, technology company Lipso (2006-2010)
- Board of Directors, Communications + Public Relations Foundation (2007-2013)
- Executive Committee, The Federal Idea, a Quebec think tank for the support of federalism as a mode of government (2008-2013)
- Chair, Métix and Métix Capital (2013)
- Co-founder and Board of Directors, Centre patronal de l'environnement du Québec
- Co-founder and Chair, Public Relations Without Borders (2007-2013)
- Chairman of the Board, arts magazine Vie des arts (1996-1998)
- Advisory Council, Premières en affaires magazine (2008-2012)
- Advisory Council and campaign cabinet, Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (1990-2013)
- Board member (2004-2012) Governor (2012-2013), PROCURE, non-profit fighting prostate disease
- Chair, corporate campaign (2009), volunteer, Public Affairs Committee (2012-2013) Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
- Board member, L’Appui (2011-2013), corporation created by the Chagnon Foundation and the government of Québec to support natural caregivers
- Co-chair, Nature Conservancy's fundraising campaign for the perpetual preservation of Sutton Mountains (2006)
- President, Fondation du Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (1987-1990)
- Board member, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (1987-1997)
- Board member, Nouvelle compagnie théâtrale Théâtre Denise-Pelletier (12 years)
- Founding chair, Montreal Island School Council Foundation (1990-1996)
- Chair, (1994) and member, Communications committee, Campaign cabinet (2001-2002), Centraide of Greater Montreal
- Board member, and executive committee, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Quebec (1983-1984)
- Board member, Intégration-jeunesse (1978)
- Participated in fundraisers for Cystic Fibrosis Association, Montreal Heart Institute Foundation, Perkins Brome-Missisquoi Hospital Foundation, Saint-Justine Hospital Foundation and Quebec Special Olympics.
- Honorary Chair/President, Year X of the Ordre des jeux du Québec
- Governor, Fondation de la tolérance (2009-2013)
- Chair and member, Campaign cabinet, Montreal University Health Centre Foundation (2010-2013)
- Member, Amis de la Montagne (2001-2006)
Luc Beauregard'S Reflections
How You Got Started
After college, I sent letters and my CV to 12 publishers asking for a job as a reporter. I had one response, from a weekly tabloid newspaper, and soon found myself on the street doing on-the-spot interviews about issues of the day. A few months later, Montreal daily La Presse called: half of their reporters had walked out to start another paper and La Presse still had my information on file. I was hired as a summer student but ended up staying seven years, working my way up to parliamentary correspondent in Ottawa and city editor in Montreal. I worked 80-hour weeks on a regular basis and at the time, was the highest paid newspaper journalist. However, one day I looked around the newsroom at my grey-haired colleagues and asked myself, "Do you want to be them 30 years from now?" I decided I didn't. To me, journalists were outside the rink; I wanted to be on the ice.
La Presse gave me a one-year leave of absence. I left Montreal in 1968 to become searcher and writer for a government task force established by Prime Minister Trudeau to review and improve how the federal government was communicating with Canadians. This task force gave birth to Information Canada. When this job was over, I went to Quebec City to become press secretary and special advisor to the Minister of Education. So, in a sense, I was slowly moving toward public relations.
When I returned to Montreal, I worked at a small public relations practice (15 employees) operated by two partners. When one of them left, three of us offered to buy his shares. The other partner said "no," so the three of us left and started our own firm in 1970. I left three years later when La Presse offered me a position as publisher and editor of Montréal-Matin, a bankrupt daily tabloid La Presse's owner, Power Corporation, had just bought. It was not easy – I was manager as well as editor and had to deal with 14 unions. (Our lawyer for the paper was Brian Mulroney.) We merged all the non-editorial operations with La Presse's. I found myself out of a job and came back to consulting.
My idea was to have my own small firm, just me and a secretary, but it didn't turn out that way. A client called me after he was fired, and I said, "Come here. It's easier to find a new position if you're already working." He stayed twelve years! So I added his name to mine. Another five people came on board and our company name got longer and longer. We were soon dominating the Quebec market and then opened an office in Toronto from scratch. The old name no longer worked, so we became NATIONAL Public Relations.
The Firm's most rapid growth came in 1995 when Burson-Marsteller, once the largest PR agency in Canada, offered me to acquire their Canadian operations. We kept about 40 people of their people in our various NATIONAL offices and their office in in Vancouver. We also acquired Cohn & Wolfe's which had only a small office in Toronto. Today NATIONAL has offices in Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Ottawa, Calgary, Victoria, Vancouver, Halifax, Saint John and St. John's in Canada as well as offices in New York and London, England. A good part of NATIONAL's health care business is run under the name AXON. Also wholy-owned by RES PUBLICA, Cohn & Wolfe in Canada is a competitor to NATIONAL and has its own offices in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.
My greatest personal achievement was receiving the Order of Canada award in 1996. It was given in recognition of my work in public relations and my involvement with not-for-profit organizations.
I consider my greatest achievement to be, not my client work, but how I assembled the tremendous group of public relations professionals who work together under the NATIONAL brand. They are an excellent group of quality people, many of them with us for a long time – that's what I'm most proud of. We built our firm by constantly seeking out the best people.
One of our greatest client success stories was our work with BioChem Pharma. They had poured $500 million into developing compound 3TC that worked on AIDS, but their work was often regarded with scepticism by bankers, pharmaceutical companies, the media. We stuck by them through these difficult years and helped them establish their reputation. When the medication received FDA approval, we were all very happy. This compound is also part of a three-drug cocktail for AIDS. Though this tritherapy doesn't offer a cure, it controls the disease: AIDS is no longer a big killer. And as for the Laval-based CEO who led the development of the drug, he sold the firm for $5 billion.
The toughest times are when someone in our company I like and respect leaves. It's hard to see good people leave but most of the time I understand why they do. However, you can't help but mourn their loss.
In terms of client work, industrial relations issues are often the most challenging. I've been involved in 30 plant closings over the years. It's a tough job, and definitely not glorious. My focus is always on mitigating the pain as much as possible on employees who are affected.
However, the most difficult part of my job over the years was to combine the practice of PR with managing a growing firm. I might meet with a client and am mulling over their issues when I get back to the office where I might have to face a number of internal issues. You have to switch gears quickly. How do I do it? Every night I clear my desk so I can deal with the new day's issues and, yes, every evening for the past 40 years, I have taken work home. I eat dinner and then work until midnight. When I was younger, it was until 2:00 a.m. So essentially, I work two full shifts a day. The recipe for success is hard work. You can't reach this level if you don't work hard. Luck is the residue of hard work. You don't win the jackpot if you haven't bought a lottery ticket.
Being a public relations consultant is difficult – each challenge and business you deal with is unique – you have to tackle each issue individually and bring a fresh perspective.
If you're working for yourself or in a small business, it's simple. But if your firm grows beyond 10 or 20 people, you have to have systems and controls to operate effectively. We have hundreds of permanent employees. Our success is totally dependent on the quality and training of our people and having appropriate structures for their work. We have one handbook for employees, one for management, a code of ethics and statement of values, an account management and client relations handbook, etc. We like to say we wrote the book in Canada. Our employees understand where they are in the structure and what they need to do to progress to the next level. Everything is well defined and linked to a performance evaluation. We are in a people business and our employees have to come first, even before our clients, because they are the ones serving clients.
When you're a large firm, you also have to protect your brand. There are expectations of larger firms – you don't do anything under the radar and you need to avoid conflicts of interest. An example, one of our clients asked us to send an undercover representative to a union meeting to hear what they were saying. We refused. We want to be in the business for a long time, so we can't condone that type of activity. Our main tool at NATIONAL Public Relations is our brand and the integrity of our brand is not for sale.
Changes in How Public Relations is Practiced
If I had to apply for a job at NATIONAL today, I'm not sure if I'd qualify. The profession has changed so much in the past 35 years since the firm began. We ask a lot of our new people: they have to have solid academic backgrounds, the job is demanding and keeping up with the technology takes extraordinary effort.
When I began, we were still typing speeches on an Underwood or an IBM electric typewriter and mailing them to the client. It might take 10 days to receive their response back. If there were major changes, we had to type everything all over again. In the 1970s, I had a meeting at a client's office in New York and saw someone using a computer. I said, "We're buying these things!" Also came the fax machine and everything else. Technology puts a lot of pressure on us, forces us to work in real time; we do way more work now and even major projects can be turned around in a day. The pressure is awful but it also makes the work more interesting and more challenging.
Advice to People Entering the Profession
When a student or young practitioner asks me how to get into public relations consulting, I tell them it starts with education – becoming knowledgeable in a specific area such as law, science, health care – and then taking training in public relations. But even that's not enough. To be a consultant, you have to have an entrepreneurial spirit, be a self-starter, know what's going on in your community, follow the issues, be aware of who the key players are, and get involved in your community.
To give back as a volunteer is really, in our business, an investment. You get to know people from all walks of life and areas when you work on boards and committees. You share your relationships and networks. That's how it works. I'm gotten involved with some of these organizations from personal interest and sometimes because a client suggests it. Volunteer work is now an even bigger part of my life – at least half of my time is donated to not-for-profit activities.
Views on CPRS
I am a huge supporter of CPRS and have served the organization in several capacities. I particularly value the work of the College of Fellows and other groups that work together to achieve professional recognition and contribute to the growth of the profession.
However, there were two things that happened over the years that I hope can be re-examined. When I was president in 1984 we voted for mandatory accreditation within five years; my successors did not sustain it. Another thing was moving the Canadian Consultants Institute out of Canada and into the US Counsellors Academy. The Academy is very good. But I think as Canadians, we should have our own national institute. I hope both these things can be reversed.
Future of Public Relations
I am also a director of the Communications + Public Relations Foundation. Together with Bruce MacLellan and the board members, we just raised $75,000 to fund a study on who the practitioners are today and what they need to be in the future.
Social media is of course a big game changer but it is also a great opportunity for public relations practitioners. What we sell to the corporations we work in or to our clients is first and foremost good judgement. That will still be in great demand in future.