Co-founding Environics Communications Inc. (ECI)


In early 1994, I thought I was doing just fine as a young Vice President of Hill & Knowlton in Toronto. I was running the Canadian firm’s largest client relationship with Microsoft, building its rising new advanced technology practice and often assigned to international opportunities, such as the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a nuclear energy project in Seoul, Korea, as well as European missions for client De Beers in Antwerp and London.

In reward for my efforts, I was given a whopping big office complete with a sofa, coffee table and credenza. I couldn’t conceive of working anywhere else and I found my salary of $78,000 Canadian dollars perfectly fine at the time.

So when Bruce MacLellan — more senior to me at the firm and my first PR mentor — approached me to co-found a new firm that summer (in partnership with fellow H&K alumnus Elizabeth Hoyle and Michael Adams of Environics Research fame), my initial reaction was reluctance. He was talking about things like entrepreneurship and freedom and equity…concepts which had yet to crystallize in the mind of this then-29 year old.

I first met Bruce in 1979 through youth politics in Canada, and I regarded him then — as I continue to today — as an exemplar of excellence in communications and as one of the most creative idea-driven thought leaders in the business. It didn’t take long for him to rally me to the cause of raising a new PR standard, one which we hoped would stand staunchly for consulting quality and building clients’ businesses through what we called ‘breakthrough communications solutions.’

After an anxious first few weeks waiting for the phone to ring, the new Environics Communications rose quickly in its first year of life. Our largest initial revenue source was the satellite television sector, then poised for explosive growth. One of those clients — the now-defunct AlphaStar Digital Television — was entering the U.S. DBS TV market. Our client wanted us to help them find a new American agency partner. When we asked them for their budget, they indicated that it would be $500,000 per year, which in those days was a considerable retainer.

Then it was Bruce’s idea to ask the client if Environics — by any measure a leader in satellite PR — could establish a new operation in the U.S. custom-designed around their more than ample level of foundation business. As the account leader, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they were a courageous and fearless lot and responded positively when we proposed the concept, a key element of which involved my moving to their New York-area headquarters in Connecticut and becoming their PR leader in America (while establishing the Environics office nearby in Stamford).

Thus the first Canadian owned PR firm in the United States market was born. Here’s a video showing some of the first publicity we helped secure for our original client:

It was one of the great highlights of my career to lead the firm’s American market entry, build its business from the ground up, and run its progressively prosperous operations. Here’s an article from Canada’s Marketing magazine that ran at the time.

Today Environics continues its winning ways as a strong North American PR agency and I am fortunate to have so many fine friends working at the old firm.