Michel Dumas, B.A., M.Sc. (PR)
Consultant, author, teacher and leader, Michel Dumas is seen as a visionary leader in the development of public relations, both in this country and abroad. As one of the first in Canada to complete graduate studies in the field of PR, he has used his training from the beginning of his career to advance the profession of public relations. Not only has he willingly taken on leadership roles of provincial, national, and international communications associations, he has also shared his knowledge and experience through his numerous publications, his research, his teaching, and his worldwide speaking engagements.
Dumas' career has been diverse, successful and influential. A native of Quebec, he is a graduate of Laval University (BA'58), Université de Montréal (L. Ph'62), and Boston University, College of Communications (MSc in PR'72), where he studied under Edward Bernays, one of the pioneers in this field.
He began his PR career as the first Communications General Manager (1969) for the newly-established Université du Québec, a multi-campus institution. In addition to managing the head office, he also presided over the Public Relations Commission gathering all UQ components' communications directors. It was during this period he was elected national President of the Association of Canadian University Information Bureaus (1971). He joined the Fiducie du Québec, the Desjardins trust, in 1977 as its Assistant Communications Director where he oversaw not only PR activities, but all promotion, advertising and marketing activities. He was responsible for a $1 million ad budget, a substantial amount at that time.
Shortly thereafter, he moved to the government sector as Communications Manager for Quebec's Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, with a team of 50 employees and a multi-million dollars budget. He was responsible for all economic communications of the Quebec delegations abroad, and some 50 publications per year including an international magazine produced in seven languages. It was during this government tenure that he was active in helping to define the role of a communications department, insisting on basic principles such as the importance of communications as a true management function.
His background in both private and government sectors provided the perfect entrée into consulting. In 1980 he applied his talent, drive and passion to a consulting career as a founder of the new firm of Dumas, Dupré et associés, which became Group BDDS, the second largest PR firm in Québec, and then in 2000, an affiliate of Weber Shandwick Worldwide.
Dumas' contribution as a public relations practitioner is exemplary. Recognized for his strategic vision, he was invited to speak or conduct workshops at major conferences and meetings in Canada and the United States, as well as cities around the world including Moscow, Shanghai, Paris, Trieste (Italy), Saragossa (Spain) and Thessaloniki (Greece). Later he was asked to take on major consulting and research assignments for the Bureau of International Exhibitions (BIE) based in Paris. In 1998 and subsequent years, he chaired the jury of the Prince Awards in Budapest, the first international festival of PR film, video and multimedia which was supported by the principal European and international professional associations as well as The Global Alliance.
Dumas is a fervent promoter of PR professional recognition, ethics and education. In the mid-70s, at a time when hardly any training options were available, he contributed to the development of the first PR undergraduate certificate program in Quebec, and in the 80s, other certificate programs including one aimed specifically at practicing PR professionals. He coordinated and lectured in this new program. His love of the profession extends to his involvement in teaching, including courses at several universities including Laval University and the University of Montreal.
Today, Dumas is an associate professor with the Department of Social and Public Communication at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), and a researcher with the Chair in Public Relations and Marketing Communication. He has also served there as a member of the Chair Board of Directors (2003-05), Director of the Innovation Centre (2003-07), and Editor-in-Chief of the research magazine Recherches RP (2003-05). Generous with his time, he never misses an opportunity to point out the challenges and dangers facing the profession, and to promote the watch-dog role of the PR professional in today's organizations, with respect to their social responsibilities.
Michel Dumas is a widely-respected leader who has influenced generations of communicators. Today, he continues to share his passion and experience acquired through nearly a half century of practice. He recently shared his views in three successive books: Les relations publiques, une profession en devenir (2010), Les expositions internationales, un univers de communication (2010), and Les cabinets de relations publiques: évolution, meilleures pratiques et perspectives d'avenir (2014).
Following a major consulting assignment for the Paris-based BIE, an inter-governmental organization that oversees and regulates World Expos, Dumas undertook an ambitious and ground-breaking research project that resulted in the publication of a book focusing on the role of public relations in the organization of large international events such as world exhibitions. The book was officially launched during the 2010 World Exhibition in Shanghai. He has also authored book chapters and numerous articles.
As a long-time member and former President of the Worldcom Public Relations Group, the largest network of independently-owned public relations firms in the world, Dumas used this vast professional network to explore the differences in the ways that public relations cases are handled throughout the world. His research project, presented at an IABC conference in Washington (1990), showed that all firms have a similar approach although local factors and values must be taken into account during the execution of the plan.
- First recipient of the "Distinction en consultation ACRPQ "award (Alliance des cabinets en relations publiques du Québec, 2011)
- Recipient, Grand prix Équinoxe for exceptional contribution to the practice of public relations in Quebec (Société des relationnistes du Québec, 2003)
- Special recognition "for the quality of personal involvement and the contribution to the exceptional success for the Fourteenth Congress, World Energy Conference (1989)
- First recipient, Award for pre-eminent contribution to the development of public relations, teaching, research and practice in Quebec (Association des relationnistes du Québec, 1979)
- Recipient of the "All-Press America" award (Educational Press Association of America, 1968)
Professional and Community Service
Dumas has been a fervent promoter of professional recognition, ethics and education within the public relations profession, and actively involved in provincial, regional, national and global public relations boards and networks.
He was the unifying force behind his professional association in Quebec. In 1973, a group of professionals from Montreal and other regions of Quebec decided to found a new PR association, the Association des relationnistes du Québec (ARQ), and Dumas became its first President. Some years later, he represented ARQ in discussions with CPRS-Quebec, culminating in a single PR professional association in the province, operating under the name Société des relationnistes du Québec (SRQ), known today as Société québécoise des professionnels en relations publiques (SQPRP).
Throughout his career, Dumas continued to promote public relations as a profession with a proven body of knowledge and well-defined practices learned through education. He was concerned by the number of people who called themselves PR professionals without them possessing the appropriate training, and he criticized the actions of "spin doctors" by stressing the importance of ethics and professional recognition. From 2007- 2014, he was responsible for the A+ accreditation program created by the Association des cabinets de relations publiques du Québec (ACRPQ), founded some years earlier to foster the professional quality of the work conducted by Quebec's PR consulting firms.
He has also served as Chair of the ARQ Accreditation Council (1977), Chair of the CPRS Professional Development Committee (1986-87), and was responsible for a CPRS survey on the future of PR in Canada (1987-88).
Although Dumas believes that public relations must have strong local roots, he progressively played a major role in international public relations. In 1991 he became President of Worldcom Canada, the Canadian arm of the Worldcom Public Relations Group, and then President of Worldcom Americas (1994) which represented firms from both North and South America. In 1995-97, Dumas served as President of the Worldcom Group.
In his community he has served as a board member of the Better Business Bureau (1983- 84), La Magnétothèque (1980-81), the Foundation of Jean-de-Brébeuf College (1990-92), the United Way of Greater Montreal (1993-94), was President (2010-2014) of Expo 67 Foundation, and a jury member for awards of the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Letters (1993). He has also served on various committees for the Quebec government.
Worst Moment in PR Practice
"We all experience difficult moments in a career," says Dumas. "As president of a consulting firm and employer, I always found it hard to see close colleagues leave the firm for various reasons. I knew that I must respect each person's individual career path, regardless of our mutual friendship and professional ties."
"As a professional, I lived my worst moments as I shared my clients' pain. I remember, for instance, the case of a network of cooperative unions which, following a series of negative but not necessarily always accurate stories broadcast on a major television network, had to face a massive withdrawal of funds by its members. The very future of that organization as well as the financial security of its members depended in large part on our communication work."
Advice to New Practitioners
Dumas has several tips for new practitioners. First, gain solid training before entering the profession, for example, liberal arts and public relations studies combined with training in other fields such as the social sciences, management or law. Public relations studies should put the emphasis on PR theory as well as the variety of programs and techniques used in practice.
Notwithstanding the importance of virtual communications today, more than ever professionals must know how to write and how to speak in public. Writing remains a fundamental skill for PR practitioners. They should also maintain a genuine interest in public affairs since PR practice deals regularly with matters of public opinion. He suggests keeping an eye on public issues and the values that influence public opinion and the media – such as sustainable development and social responsibility. Their interest should lead them to act.
Dumas believes that practitioners should foster dialog as the key to any effective communication. He stresses that dialog not only generates understanding and mutual respect between the parties, but it contributes to mutual influence between an organization and its stakeholders. In that respect, Dumas strongly supports the concept of bidirectional communications put forward by James Grunig, which should inspire the actions of all future communicators.
PR professionals, he adds, are the professionals who best master the issues and challenges their organization must face, as well as the needs and expectations of its different stakeholders. They are therefore in a better position to bring about and channel change, which means that they must demonstrate diplomacy and pay heed to everyone's attitudes and opinions.
Last but not least, he believes that having a taste for entrepreneurship is an asset for future professionals, especially if they wish to work in a PR firm. Consultants must find the best ways to serve their clients and offer them the variety of services available in the firm. They must develop their own clientele – as true entrepreneurs do, he concludes.
The Future of Public Relations
Dumas is somewhat ambivalent regarding the future of public relations. Although he is convinced that there is a bright future for public communication, he fears that the traditional PR function may be assumed, more and more, by professionals other than trained public relations specialists.
The practice of public relations has encountered many changes since Dumas began his career. PR practitioners must be able to keep up with new developments if they want to succeed, he says. At the same time, they must work to enhance the PR profession and promote the need for more ethical, high-quality communications on the part of corporations and society in general.
No doubt their biggest challenge in recent years has been to cope with the explosion of social media. Today, these media influence public opinion more than any other source, which means that PR professionals must find ways to monitor and interpret what is said and written about an organization so that their employer or client can react rapidly and effectively. At the same time, practitioners must be proactive and find the appropriate means of aggressively telling their story through those social media.
Maintaining a central role in public communication also constitutes a major challenge for PR professionals. More and more, other professionals such as advertising, marketing, or management consultants, as well as lawyers, try to act as communication consultants because there is a growing need for this type of service and because it represents a potential source of additional revenue for them. This is a threat with which PR professionals must deal.
PR practitioners must also cope with the growing presence of "spin doctors", especially in the political milieu but also in other spheres of social activity. These persons often identify themselves as public relations professionals and, without any moral or ethical scruples or obligations, they, more often than not, communicate without transparency and sometimes distort the truth. Therefore, PR professionals must constantly distance themselves from these "spin doctors" and denounce their actions. The problem, he says, is that PR professional associations are too small or too weak to effectively tackle this issue. Lacking the financial and human resources, they simply cannot take on all the efforts that would be required.
This being said, Dumas wants to reassure young professionals. "For me, the future is neither rosy nor bleak. I see major challenges facing the profession, but, at the same time, I am convinced that PR professionals possess the means to tackle and overcome them. They can count on their expertise, their deep understanding of issues and new values such as sustainable development, as well as their professional ethics, to remain the leaders in public communication. Inaction is not an option. They must continue to play their essential role as interpreters to their organization of their stakeholders' needs, and vice-versa. Public relations remain a wonderful profession, and PR professionals have everything in their hands to be able to promote it properly."