Copy of original article posted November 2, 2015 by the Toronto Star
Daniel Tisch’s journey from the public to private sector led him, reluctantly at first, to the world of public relations — he’s never looked back.
While working as a member of a cabinet minister’s staff and attending the G7 summit in his 20s, Daniel Tisch never imagined a future for himself inside the private sector. “I was a public-sector person in my soul back then,” he says, recalling his days in Ottawa. With an MBA from Queen’s University, however, he decided to broaden his horizons. When a handful of job offers came at once, it was the riskiest one — moving to Toronto to work at a public relations firm — that appealed to him most.
The move proved to be a life-changing one; Tisch eventually went out on his own and is now the president and CEO of Argyle Communications. Tisch chatted with The Star on how he grew his business and shared tips on how to make it in public relations as technology transforms the industry.
What attracted you to that first PR opportunity in Toronto?
Several things. It was my first and only private-sector job offer. The Queen’s MBA had opened my mind to the dynamism of business. While in government, I had advised many Canadian companies on cross-border trade issues, but I had never worked in the private sector. Life was also changing — I was 29 years old and had become a dad. My heart’s always been in Toronto, and I wanted my son to grow up here.
What does your average day look like?
There is no typical day. One of the joys of consulting is never knowing exactly what the day will bring. I may interact with a corporate CEO about his or her leadership communications; I may meet with government officials, consumer marketers or pharma executives — often all in one day. I might generate wild ideas with colleagues in the Argyle Brainstorming Room, and then consider how we would implement the best one. I’ll post some stuff on Twitter. Join a volunteer board call. And if it’s Tuesday, I’ll take my younger son to Cub Scouts that evening.
You’re a fast-growing company. How have you managed to set yourself apart from other public relations firms?
The two big things we’re known for is setting high standards and treating people well. In terms of how we’ve grown our business, it’s been steady year after year — we’ve tried to organize ourselves around areas of the economy where there’s growth and where we can serve clients with excellence. When I joined the firm, it was a corporate communications firm, and every couple of years since then, we added a new specialty built on something we were doing on a small scale. We built based on a consumer practice, a public sector practice, a health-care practice, and a digital practice. Last year, we opened an Ottawa office and a small branding and design boutique within Argyle, so at every step of the way, it’s been thinking about where there is market opportunity, coupled with competitive advantage for Argyle based on our expertise.
What advice do you have for people who want to break into PR?
It’s been a steady increase in the professionalization of public relations. So when I started out, almost no one had formal education in PR, and now almost everyone does at the entry level, so professional education tells employers you’ll be job-ready. You may not have the experience, but you have the skills and the aptitudes. I think over above (being a communicator), you need business literacy, some public policy literacy, consumer literacy, intellectual curiosity and the ability to think critically . . . We’re in a reputation economy, a relationship economy, and so it’s an era of highly engaged and empowered audience. We’re all walking around with global publishing power in our pockets, on our mobiles. So we need to understand that there’s a reputational dimension to everything an organization does — the ability to think critically about risks to a client, but also to be creative in seizing opportunity becomes more important than ever before.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about PR?
The biggest misconception is that it’s something that’s optional, that it’s only something you do when you want publicity or when you have a crisis. The way I look at it is, in an environment when most of the value of a brand lies in intangibles like reputation, are relationships more important or less important? The answer is obvious. So every organization needs an ongoing strategy to build and invest in those public relationships. The perception is that it’s just about getting in the media. The reality is it’s about building ongoing relationships with publics for mutual benefit, and if you do that, you’re going to get the reputation you need and deserve.
Is there a famous person who is a role model to you?
My favourite artist is Bruce Springsteen — not just because of his music, but because of what he stands for: his writing is profoundly humanistic. He tells individual stories — sometimes harsh, sometimes joyful — and the common theme is a search for community and shared experience. It’s about the journey more than the destination. I relate to that. It’s inspired my career and my philanthropy.
Networking is a big part of succeeding in public relations. Do you have any networking tips?
Take the long view. So much networking is superficial: brief encounters in search of short-term gain — a job, a client, an opportunity. Don’t think of networking as handing out business cards and following people on Twitter; think of it as building long-term relationships with mutual value, and stewarding them over time, not just when you “need” them. Follow what people are doing and saying, and tell them how it affected you. Finally, think about reciprocity: share ideas that are meaningful and helpful.
Daniel Tisch is the President and CEO for Argyle Public Relationships. He is one of Canada’s best-known communicators, having worked at senior levels in government before embarking on a 20-year consulting career in which he has advised CEOs, boards, government leaders and marketers for some of the world’s biggest brands.