Dunn & Associates Communications and Public Affairs
Communicating to the world from Nova Scotia
Michael Dunn is very proud of the fact that he was able to coordinate a recent Canada-wide product recall out of a most unexpected place – his basement.
The principal of Dunn & Associates, a Halifax-based communications and public affairs firm, was retained to assemble and coordinate the partners necessary to manage the intense customer care needs of a client that only had a bare-bones sales and marketing presence in Canada.
Recognizing the magnitude of this undertaking, Michael immediately engaged a Toronto-based call centre scripted to manage the huge volume of customer questions and complaints. He analyzed call data and partnered up with a Toronto-based PR team to return priority calls and monitor recall media coverage. Outfitting a fulfillment house in Mississauga to coordinate customer product returns and refunds was next on Michael’s list – all while managing national media relations and issuing daily call status reports to his client in Markham. He did all of this remotely, for four months, without ever once setting foot in his client’s or partners’ offices.
It was a big job, much bigger than Dunn & Associates typically handles, but Michael had handled bigger during the 12 years he worked in Toronto’s bustling PR agency community. So, was working from Nova Scotia ever a problem? “No, absolutely not,” he says. “I actually had a bit of an advantage because I had an hour on Toronto.”
Michael honed his craft with Edelman Public Relations in Toronto as a director in the firm’s respected Corporate and Public Affairs practice before coming to Nova Scotia with his family.
“Face-to-face is the richest form of communication, of course, but not everything needs to be done that way,” he says. “With phone and Internet, it’s the next best thing to being there, as long as the client is comfortable and the desired results are achieved.”
Michael and his wife, also a public relations practitioner and native of Halifax, shared a plan to climb the corporate ladder in Toronto, then return to the natural beauty of Nova Scotia to work as senior practitioners, and raise their children among family. “With our first daughter turning one, we decided in 2004 that 2005 would be the year,” he says. “My then-employer said, ‘Good for you. Don’t work for anybody, work for yourself, and we’ll be your first client.’”
Within days, Michael founded Dunn & Associates and had work. He felt he was taking a chance, but he trusted his abilities and knew his gamble would pay off. And it has.
“I wanted someone to say, ‘There’s a guy who’s working in Halifax with his own company, and he doesn’t limit himself to the business he can find in his city,’” says Michael. Dunn & Associates has handled files for private and public sector companies and NGOs across Canada and into the US and Mexico. “I’ve got the experience, reputation and broad network to serve most clients anywhere,” he says.
The gamble has paid off in his family life as well.
“Every summer weekend we’re at our Chester cottage in 45 minutes. Sundays we take my in-laws’ picnic boat to a different island to eat lunch, swim and hunt for beach glass for our growing collection. It’s just great having that time together as a family,” he says. “Salt water’s in our blood.”
Dunn & Associates strongly believes in a sustainable approach to business. This means sustainability in all aspects of his life from home and office recycling and composting, to building clients’ communications capacities, co-chairing the annual Autism Golf Ball, and bringing client revenue dollars into Nova Scotia.
Bringing business home from Toronto means maintaining face-to-face relationships. He has affiliate relationships with three Toronto PR firms and has avoided the dead-end “we’ll call you if we need anything done in Atlantic Canada” arrangements that typically go nowhere. Hence the product recall assignment.
“My value to clients has nothing to do with my postal code,” he says. “My Toronto partners see me as a trusted, cost-effective, alternate team member who works from home…1,260 or so kilometers away.”
Michael would like to encourage Nova Scotians not to rule out work that’s outside of the Maritime backyard. “We’ve got to get on planes and show people the value we offer,” he says. Michael is a strong believer in partnerships. He has a strong network of senior associates both in and outside of Nova Scotia, and in communications and other complimentary disciplines. He’s always working to widen his network, and to bring people from different parts of his network together.
“For the last three years, a local colleague and I have been merging our distinct-but-complimentary skills to develop and implement a new approach to stakeholder engagement for a client,” he says. “So I took her to Toronto and introduced her and our work to my PR agency partners because I knew our approach would be of interest. Let’s just say it was well worth the trip.”
Michael suggests anyone who hasn’t tried to sell their products and services outside their own community should give it a try. “It really doesn’t take much these days to get on a plane or just go to the next community and follow-up with those smart people we’ve met,” he says. “Show them how something brilliant you’re doing might be useful to them and propose an arrangement,” he says. “And there you go, you’ve just brought dollars from outside your community into your community.”
He says all communicators are storytellers at heart. Moving to Nova Scotia allowed Michael the chance to be the boss of his own story-telling business for the first time, and he loves the chance to talk about it.
“These Come to life stories are great because they paint so many different and wonderful pictures of what is possible from here. As a communications consultant, I know the power of a good story to inspire people to do great things.”