Pierre Tremblay O.C., ARP, FCPRS
Pierre Tremblay is one of the true pioneers of public relations in Quebec. He opened the first public relations consulting firm in Quebec City. He has been influential in a large number of social, political, business and environmental organizations in the province. In 2005, he sits on a dozen boards of directors, sharing his more than 40 years of experience and knowledge in public relations.
While Pierre Tremblay’s career in public relations began officially in 1952, his aptitude showed itself asearly as high school. In 1946, as a modern arts student at l’Académie de Québec, Pierre took every opportunity to mobilize his fellow students around countless activities, from the theatre group to the debating society. He was particularly interested in the politicization of student associations.
During his university years, Pierre rose rapidly to lead the student association (l’Association générale des étudiants de l’Université Laval, or A.G.E.L.). In 1947-1948, he was in charge of communications and external relations and his lobbying was instrumental in the election of Maurice Sauvé to the head of the National Federation of Canadian University Students in 1947 – the first francophone to hold the position. Pierre also participated that year in a major financial campaign to buy land for expansion of the campus, known as the Cité universitaire. In 1949, he became president of the A.G.E.L.
It was the beginning of a long and successful public relations career for the young Mr. Tremblay, and he has never lost his enthusiasm for it. He joined the Hudson’s Bay Company and quickly learned the ropes in sales, marketing and advertising when he was posted to Winnipeg and Nelson, B.C.
Pierre’s career accelerated when he helped to revive the Quebec Carnival in 1955. He had known success as a member of Laval University’s centennial celebrations committee in 1951 and on the Conseil central des oeuvres (central council of charities) with the Red Feather Appeal (now Centraide) (1952-1957). He then decided to polish his communications expertise and became, in 1957, the first permanent employee of the Quebec Carnival.
He went on to manage sales and external relations for Eastern Quebec with Rothmans Pall Mall (1958-1963) and he was named consultant to the President of Rothmans and of Rock City Tobacco Ltd (1961-1962). He became President of the Quebec Carnival in 1962-63 before opening his own public relations firm.
In July 1963, capitalizing on his earlier successes and the vast network he had built up, Pierre founded Pierre Tremblay et Associés, which later became Pierre Tremblay Publicité inc. It was the first public relations consulting office in the provincial capital.
The agency concentrated on public relations campaigns but over the years it added advertising, graphic production and commercial photography to its services. With Pierre’s masterful hand at the wheel, the firm won awards in Quebec, the rest of Canada and the United States.
The company flourished and Pierre sought strategic alliances in the largely untapped markets of Quebec City and Montreal. In 1982, Pierre Tremblay et Associés acquired the oldest francophone public relations firm in Montreal, Publicité-Services, founded in 1946 by Placide Labelle, Marcel Paré, Nolin Trudeau and Jacques Girouard, true pioneers in the field.
In 1986, he sold the agency to the Marketel Publim McCann group while continuing to operate under the banner of Pierre Tremblay et Associés, where he devoted his energy to strategic consulting and promotion.
Pierre Tremblay et Associés inc. is still in existence after forty-two years.
PROFESSIONAL AND COMMUNITY SERVICE
- Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), National Vice Chair, Consultants’ Section, 1985 and National Chair, 1986
- National Advertising Agency Network (NAAN), member executive committee 1975-1978. NAAN is headquartered in New York, with members in 47 American cities and 12 cities in Europe and Asia
Arts and Culture
- Canadian Red Cross Society, Vice President, Quebec City regional subscription campaign, 1973
- The Arthritis Society, Quebec division, Vice President, 1975
- Maison Michel Sarrazin, communications and finance committees, 1985-1990
- Résidence Cardinal Vachon, Intensive Care Unit, head of communications for the 5 million dollar campaign, 1985-1990
- Alzheimer Society of Canada, communications committee, 1997-1998
- Société Alzheimer du Canada, comité des communications (1997-1998)
- Alzheimer Society of Canada, Quebec City, member of the Board of Directors, 1996-2000, First Vice President, 2000-2002, and President since 2002.
- Quebec Music Competition, organisation, 1974-1976
- Bibliothèque municipale de Québec, inauguration,1983-1984
- Quebec Symphony Orchestra, chair, capital campaign, 1984
- Danse-Partout, board member, 1984
- Fédération interdisciplinaire de l’horticulture ornementale du Québec and the Association des services en horticulture ornementale du Québec, consulting manager, 1992
- Cirque du Soleil, benefit evening for a premiere, 1992
Tourism and Recreation
- Université Laval, promoted Centennial, 1952
- Université Laval, participated in 25 million dollar financial campaign, 1985
- Université Laval, managed the Fonds Georges-Henri Lévesque, which awards research grants to master’s-level graduate students, 1993-2004
- Quebec Carnival, board of directors, 1957-1978, its foundation, 1955-1956
- Ordre du Bonhomme Carnaval, founder and association,1965 to 2005
- Exposition provinciale de Québec, head and collaboration, 1978-1988
- Floralies internationales de la ville de Québec, collaboration, 1976
- Pope’s visit to Quebec, collaboration, 1984
- Quebec City Summer Festival, collaboration, 1989
- The Tall Ships, collaboration, 1989
- Centraide (United Way), established Centraide offices in two cities in Quebec in 1954-56, and served as Vice President of public relations and advertising, Quebec Campaign, 1978-1979
- Conseil central des œuvres de Québec, Red Feather Campaign (now part of Centraide), responsible, external relations, 1952-1957
Industry and Commerce
- Canadian Unity Council (CUC), chairman, provincial committee for Canada Week, 1975, Provincial chairman (Quebec), 1992, national vice president, 1987-88, and 1991, president, 1993-94, service on provincial referendum committee, 1995 and executive director, Quebec regional office, 2000
- Robert Bourassa Leadership Race, provided consulting services, 1969
- Quebec Liberal Party, designated advertising agency, 1970, 1973, 1976 elections
Environment and Conservation
- Chambre de commerce et de l’industrie du Québec métropolitain, president, 1974
- Quebec Chamber of Commerce, executive, 1975-1980, president, 1980-1981
- Council of the Canadian Chambers of Commerce, business representative, Canada Employment and Immigration Advisory Council, 1982-1985
- Lac Sergent Boating Association, project manager, 1967
- Chargex (now VISA), established system in 44 Quebec towns outside of Montreal, 1974
- Société inter-port de Québec, president, 1975-1976
- Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, President, Les Mercuriades, an annual competition, 1982
- National Bank of Canada, established regional advisory committees, 1986-1987
- Sommet de la francophonie, Quebec City, consultant to Republic of Togo, 1986
Honours and Awards
- Fédération québécoise pour le saumon atlantique, and Fondation François de Beaulieu-Gourdeau, service on Boards and Executives to promote and protect salmon resources, 1984; 1991-1992
- Fondation de la faune du Québec, Quebec, board member 1993-1997
- The Atlantic Salmon Federation (Canada), St. Andrews, N.B., Vice-Chair of the Canadian Board, board member, 1995, vice president, 1998-2004
- Fonds de recherche interuniversitaire sur le saumon atlantique (FRISA), vice president, 1997
- North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO), Canadian representative and Chairman of its North American Commission, 2002-2004
TREMBLAY’S REFLECTIONS ON CHANGES IN PRACTICE SINCE 1950
Changes in Strategic Communications Planning
- Canadian Public Relations Society, Accreditation, 1971
- Canadian Public Relations Society, Shield of Public Service, 1975
- Officers’ Mess of the Quebec Citadel, Honorary Member, 1987-1988
- Fondation de Université Laval, Governor,1990
- Les Diabétiques de Québec, Honorary Chairman, 1991-1992
- Commemorative medal for the 125th Anniversary of Confederation, 1992
- Canadian Unity Council, Governor, 1994
- Cercle de la garnison (Garrison Club), Emeritus member, 1996
- Officer of the Order of Canada, 1998
- Elected to l’Académie des Grands Québécois, 1999
- Canadian Public Relations Society, College of Fellows, 2001
The PR function has existed since time immemorial, says Pierre Tremblay. He admits that when he began practising, there were fewer technical ways to communicate, but emphasizes that it was not the increase in communication methods that gave rise to public relations practice. His experience has convinced him that it is human functions like analysis, reflection, and decision-making that are the essential elements of public relations, whatever the tools the practitioner has at hand.
Of course, new techniques have been developed and implemented over the years. But audit systems and all the processes that allow quality control of communication with clients, shareholders, employees and other publics are based on the same fundamental principles: analyze what is there; check whether it’s working; change it, if necessary; and plan a strategy to give it the right direction.
As Tremblay says, "Companies, associations or government ministries will always need to send messages to target publics, and the channels for the distribution of these messages are continually evolving. Take the example of creative design in advertising. Whether it is drawn on paper or produced with the most sophisticated software, the message can be transmitted just as effectively by one means or another as long as we know what we want to say."
In short, says Pierre Tremblay, communications planning may be done very differently today, but it is essential for the development of public relations in any era and by any method.
Changes in Reputation Management
Managing the image or reputation of a company, or any type of organization, does not depend on modern communication techniques, but has always been a very important function of public relations. Pierre gives the example of the time he worked on Robert Bourassa’s leadership race and electoral campaigns for the Quebec Liberals. The credibility of the subject determined the effectiveness of the message. Therefore, the strategy consisted of building a credible image of the future leader or political party in order to persuade publics to buy into their agenda and, thus, their message.
It goes without saying that reputation management is also managed through advertising, one of the fields on which Tremblay’s firm specialized. Advertising can sell both the messenger and the message, whether the campaign is political, social, or commercial. An example is the current logo of la Société des alcools du Québec (the Quebec liquor board) (SAQ), which he and his team developed. In his view, that logo was an important method of convincing the public of the message the SAQ wanted to send. His insistence on expressing the values of the corporation through its image has been proved right. No one can deny the important contribution of the logo in the modernization of the SAQ over the last 20 years.
These days, image campaigns are more elaborate and often more subtle, but we have always used some form of communication or another to persuade our publics.
"The reputation and image of individuals or corporations have become of prime importance now that we have so many communication channels that are so fast and complex," says Tremblay. "Very often, the quality of the reputation or the image influences our decisions on whether to buy or participate. So it’s a very dynamic element of our community life in 2005."
Changes in How Public Relations is Practiced
Pierre Tremblay defines himself as a public relations practitioner. He emphasizes that whatever the specialty – advertising, media relations, internal communications, promotion, sales, fund-raising, lobbying, – the practitioner remains the champion of the idea and a participant in the communications strategy.
When asked whether the profession has undergone major upheavals in the last 40 years, he responds: "The profession has gone through huge changes in a number of areas. First of all, the number of students graduating every year is enormous compared to the past and to market needs. In addition, the profession has become almost exclusively female."
He explains that, in the old days, practitioners came mostly from the field of journalism (his case being an exception). They became public relations practitioners by the seat of their pants during their career development because university training did not exist.
The development of a structured training program has brought with it over the years a practice based on new themes. This training is now steeped in university vocabulary. But while people may not have talked about "communications orientations" in the old days, every project they undertook was based on the famous RACE formula. It’s no less relevant today.
The way things were done 30 or 40 years ago was certainly less structured because the learning process was less structured. Networking was the starting point for social research and analysis, as well as for evaluation of projects. The actual communication actions have always depended on the methods at the disposal of the practitioner.
Pierre Tremblay points out the major upheaval caused by the advent of computers and the Internet. These important tools have facilitated research by providing access to a staggering amount of information and have allowed us to reach publics in a much faster and more selective way.
The methods may have a new look but the communications process has not changed as a result, according to Tremblay. Whether the issue is a crisis or a new product launch, the situation and the objectives remain fundamentally the same: research, inform, segment the markets, target, measure results... "We still need to know what people are thinking, to reflect on what we want to say, to prepare a plan. But we don’t call a news conference the same way we used to, and the channels for sending our messages are in constant evolution at a tremendous speed."
New methods are opening up whole new dimensions of communication in both geographic and human terms, making it much more global in nature.
The specializations within communications are more numerous today and more integrated than ever before. The communicator’s tool kit is larger and has more tools in it. In one situation, it may be marketing that is more important; in another, it may be advertising or public relations. Each case requires its own tools and success comes from knowing how to use each one judiciously.
Favourite Public Relations Achievement
The success that Pierre Tremblay had when he took over the reins of the Quebec Carnival in 1963 not only gave his professional reputation a boost; the experience also turned out to be a solid base for his public relations career.
It opened the doors of the profession to him. Task-oriented at the beginning, he became strategic quickly as he understood that the success of the event depended on good communications strategy. He showed his organizational abilities early on and he found an outlet for his talents in areas like developing networks, and persuading people. In short, he found his true passion.
Pierre was then able to capitalize on both his own strengths and the close relationships he developed with business people to establish his own thriving public relations firm.
Another significant event in his career was the secret filming, in the conference room of Pierre’s firm, of the message from Premier Robert Bourassa that sparked the 1976 Quebec election. The original was sent to New York, where copies were made by local technicians unlikely to leak the content -- they could not understand what this unknown man was saying. A few days later, these copies were then distributed to Quebec media.
Worst Moment in Public Relations
The most difficult experience in Pierre Tremblay’s career was undoubtedly the information campaign that he had to lead on the eve of the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. The challenge was to convince the Quebec, Canadian and international publics that Montreal would be truly ready to host the Games. Entitled, Nous serons prêts (“We’ll be ready”) this huge television campaign was no easy task, as the messengers themselves first had to be convinced of the message they were preparing to deliver. Problems had arisen during the preparation of the Olympics and, with barely a year to go before the opening, people were asking whether the Games would take place. How to sell the confidence that the installations would be ready on time?
Tremblay recalls that he had to use an unusual strategy: a subterfuge. "In order to film a TV advertisement a few weeks before the opening of the Games, we had a small section of the Olympic Stadium completed while, in fact, they were still pouring the concrete on the floor below! We were right to go that route because, in the end, the Montreal Games began on schedule and the honour of Montreal and Canada was saved.”
Pierre Tremblay states that anyone who believes in the value of communication cannot neglect the organizations that promote it. They provide exceptional opportunities to gain knowledge and experience from our colleagues and to share ours with them. It was through the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) – the annual conferences, the committees and the social activities – that, as a public relations pioneer, he established his peer network. (In Quebec the early days, there was no member society: the SRQ came later.) CPRS, like the National Advertising Agency Network (NAAN), was an important reference point for acquiring knowledge and developing as a professional, says Pierre, and they are the best way to establish benchmarks in the practice.
Advice to People Entering the Profession
Pierre Tremblay says that, first of all, the public relations specialists of tomorrow will need the gift of good judgment. Skills can be acquired but judgment is a commodity that you either have or you don’t have. "Everything you’ve learned, seen and heard is stored, to be absorbed, understood, weighed and used when you need it," he explains. "That’s called judgment."
The future practitioner must have three main tools:
- good ears, to listen
- good eyes, to see what’s going on everywhere; not just with a furtive glance, but really look, stop and question
- ability to analyze and judge.
University training is effective in developing the necessary abilities of excellent practitioners, says Tremblay, but learning is not limited to structured courses. Practitioners need to continue their studies once they are on the job market, too. Doors will only open according to the efforts they put into their profession.
In particular, he advises:
The Future of Public Relations
- Join groups, associations and organizations in a variety of fields.
- Do a lot of networking – get involved in different milieus, not only on a professional level, but also on a personal level, by supporting community causes, for example.
- Devote considerable time to practice and career development; you don’t practice the communications profession by sitting behind a desk; you have to work in team situations.
Today’s large cohort of graduates worries Tremblay. He wonders where they will all find a place in the profession. However, he is glad to see more small communications businesses. These provide wonderful learning opportunities for young practitioners because they demand great versatility.
While everyone has access to extremely rapid communication channels, public relations specialists will be called upon, increasingly, says Tremblay, and their participation will be essential for the vitality of corporations and other organizations. Even small groups, associations or companies will continue to need PR counsel. This is even truer for medium and large businesses that need to promote their interests and their raison d’être, as well as listen to what the public thinks of them, their products or services.
For Pierre Tremblay, the future of the profession seems assured as long as communication channels continue to multiply and become more sophisticated. "There’s no doubt that our society in the third millennium will need more and better skilled public relations practitioners using tools better adapted to the challenges of our times."