Louis J. Cahill, APR, FCPRS
St. Catharines, Ontario
A man who does not know the meaning of the word retirement, Lou Cahill continues to work in the field of public relations and communications with OEB International Inc at age 91.
Cahill began his career in communications as a freelance sports reporter with the St. Catharines Standard, covering lacrosse, football and baseball as well as sports teams at Ridley College. At that time, he made his first media contacts.
After a few years as a sportswriter, Lou Cahill met noted public relations practitioner, Lee Trenholm, of New York. After working with Trenholm on the old Fort Niagara Four Nations celebration at Youngstown, New York, Cahill was offered a job at Trenholm’s New York office in 1934. Although Cahill did not pursue the opportunity, the fact that he was offered the position at the young age of 20 inspired him to pursue a career in public relations and communications.
In 1936, Cahill established the Niagara News Bureau that provided news and feature stories to newspapers across North America, particularly in Canada and Western New York State. Upper Canada history was a great source of material and Cahill was able to develop an organization that generated copy to newspapers at that time. In 1946, the company was renamed the Niagara Editorial Bureau, and in 1950, the Ontario Editorial Bureau.
Also, in 1936, his company was retained by the Ontario Paper Company, owned by the Chicago Tribune and the New York News, when they were building the mill at Baie Comeau to provide newsprint for the New York News. That relationship would continue for over 50 years until the Ontario Paper Company was sold to Quebec interests and the relationship with the Niagara Editorial Bureau was terminated. This connection was a Canadian record for continuous corporate public relations services, equaled only in the United States by Hill and Knowlton’s relationship with U.S. Steel.
During the Second World War, Cahill was considerably involved in promoting the Victory Loan campaign, forerunner of the Canadian Savings Bond (CSB) program in which his firm worked with the Bank of Canada for 20 years, promoting the sale of CSBs and stressing the durability of them. One key promotional tool developed was rallies across Canada in factories to encourage industrial employees to invest in bonds.
In 1946, Cahill established an office in Toronto. Soon after, the firm was retained by the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario to establish the words ‘Professional Engineer’ and ‘P.Eng.’ His firm would work with the Association for over 20 years.
At this time, Cahill started a professional working relationship with Leonard Knott, one of the founding presidents of the Canadian Public Relations Society. For the first time, they formed a network organization known as Inside Canada Public Relations, with key offices across Canada, stretching from Halifax to Vancouver.
The company continued to develop a group of competent public relations practitioners. The organization now operates under the name WorldCom Canada and the WorldCom Group, with over 100 offices worldwide and the same line-up across Canada. One of its most famous associates was John Fisher who was known as Mr. Canada and became Canada’s Centennial commissioner in 1967.
Professional and Community Service
- Member, Canadian Public Relations Society, 1951 - 2001
- Life Member, Canadian Public Relations Society, 2001 to present
- College of Fellows, Canadian Public Relations Society, 2000
- Establishment of the Consultants Section, Canadian Public Relations Society
- Philip A. Novikoff Memorial Award, Canadian Public Relations Society, 1989
- Lamp of Service, Canadian Public Relations Society, 1985
- Award of Attainment, Canadian Public Relations Society, 1978
- Canadian Public Relations Society Accreditation, 1976
CAHILL’S REFLECTIONS ON CHANGES IN PRACTICE SINCE 1940
Changes in Strategic Communications Planning
- Communications Consultant, St. Catharines Roman Catholic Diocese, 2000
- Publications Consultant, William Lyon Mackenzie Printing Museum, Queenston, 1991
- Public Relations Advisor, Niagara Symphony, 1960s
- Public Relations Consultant, United Way, Niagara Region, 1946-1950
- Press Officer and Communications Advisor, Niagara Region, The Royal Visit of 1939
- Secretary-Treasurer, Niagara District Hockey League, 1929-1932
When we started in public relations, generally speaking, top management did not know who we were and what we were trying to do. You had to develop a trust and a confidence with them. Today, management is much more aware of public relations than they were 30 or 40 years ago. They are much more aware of the importance of the profession. Then, it was more of an education process.
Now you have stronger support of management. For instance, if McDonald’s wanted to put a restaurant in a residential area, they would rally public support for that by cooperating fully with the strategy, instead of allowing the public to attack the company for disturbing a residential district. There wasn’t management interest and involvement to the degree there is today.
More recently, along with the tide of Canadian nationalism, Canadians wanted to be more visible and directly involved in planning and managing our own affairs. For example, in a big hotel chain project, an American manager was removed and a Canadian put in his place. The American made some bad decisions and the hotel chain wanted Canadian involvement.
In public relations, the most important thing is having the client determine what he hopes to achieve out of a campaign. Before moving in any direction, there should be a firm understanding of the client, what his objective is, what he hopes to achieve, and how much his is prepared to invest in the campaign. These things should all be discussed before proceeding. This can be a great help in promoting continued positive relations between a public relations firm and the client it serves. This aspect of public relations has changed because public relations communications has become so specialized. Consequently, a positive understanding of objectives, strategies, and investment of time, between firm and client, is even more important today.
Changes in Reputation Management
Today, there is usually a staff public relations person in many large companies who enjoys the advantage of having a public relations consulting firm working with him or her, someone who can understand the problem from a public relations perspective. Other company personnel might not view the problem in the same light.
Similarly, companies that employ professional engineers or financial advisors hire outside consultants from their own specialty so that they have somebody who can speak the same language when they are fine tuning an activity or plan.
There is also the matter of how much respect and confidence the company places in public relations. The president might have a supportive public relations attitude. This is a great advantage for the public relations consultant or company public relations staff because you can accomplish so much from a grass roots point of view. It would not apply if management is not pro- public relations. So, it is up to the outside public relations consultant to do as much education as possible with his or her client to make them aware of public relations and what is being done to help the company.
The management of the reputation of clients is the responsibility of the public relations firm. They must warn the company when they are endangering their reputation in the community. They have to keep building the respect that the company has attained. The leadership should come from the consulting firm in co-operation with staff personnel.
Changes in How Public Relations is Practiced
In the 1950s and 1960s in Canada, the public relations function was about 25 years behind the United States. But during the Second World War, we made great progress. The various federal government branches employed public relations specialists. Based on the need to know, they informed the public about what was happening by developing, for instance, Victory Loan campaigns.
This work gave public relations a higher profile. In addition to daily wartime newspaper coverage by reporters and editors, numerous well-known newspapermen worked for the armed forces public relations units, and other government departments.
The changes that have taken place, of course, have to do with computers and the elimination of carbon paper and all these things that were used in the early days. Despite the change and improvement in technology, the consensus seems to be that public relations basics and practice is what it sets out to do is exactly the same as when it started many years ago.
In the way the media deals with public relations professionals, I think there’s a more cooperative spirit. Toronto was cooperative but that spirit has been traded to the provincial cities in Ontario and the community and weekly newspapers. I think they look to us for help in covering the news and activities in their area. And they look to us for trust and respect.
The thing that was not fully recognized was the public relations fee system which exists today. It did not exist for a long time. It took quite a while for clients to accept that they paid public relations people at the same level that they paid other consultants such as accountants, lawyers and management who helped them run their business.