Earlier this year, Thomas Gobeil, Senior Director and Leader, Strategy and Creativity, Integrated Solutions at NATIONAL Public Relations’ Montreal office, received the prestigious AVENIR GLOBAL Way Award, presented to the person who best represents the Firm’s values. Thomas has shown tremendous commitment to the Firm this year, thanks to his innovative ideas and out-of-the-box thinking. Driven by incredible passion for his projects, his clients and his colleagues, Thomas is an asset for the Firm. Stéphanie Auclair, Editor and Associate at AVENIR GLOBAL, sat down with him to learn about the qualities that earned him this wonderful international recognition.
Since you joined NATIONAL in 2015, what aspect of your job would you say has changed the most?
In fact, in a relatively short time, quite a lot has changed! Just looking at who the Firm has been recruiting, there’s a broad scope of talent joining our teams, and to me that’s a reflection of the changes happening in our industry. The boundaries are fading between the traditional tasks of a creative agency, those of a digital firm and those of a client’s public relations partner. Many clients surround themselves with several experts and don’t really care where the good ideas come from. I think that the same thinking applies to us as communications experts to ensure that our content stands out and attracts the attention of the people we’re trying to reach. And that requires us to do things a little differently. When I arrived at NATIONAL in 2015, there were probably a few people who were wondering what a guy like me could bring to the table. Three and a half years later, our Integrated Solutions team is almost systematically involved in mandates. We didn’t reinvent the way the Firm conducts its business, but I think we bring an ingredient that is increasingly essential.
In your opinion, what’s the secret behind your team’s success?
From the outset, I have to say that not everything we do is successful. And I think that’s part of the integration process of digital services. On the other hand, we always try to bring something new and to challenge the way things are done. I think that the success of our projects lies in our colleagues. Personally, I have a nice role: I’m involved upstream, I look at everything with a certain distance and I come up with solutions. But there’s heavy lifting to be done after that, and that’s where the bulk of the work is. Having an idea or a strategic direction is one thing, but after that, it takes people to deliver the goods. Success is directly dependant on that, as well as on the quality of our interactions with each other and on the openness of colleagues. It is not always easy to expose yourself to criticism. It’s easy to copy the same recipe, but from what I see of my colleagues’ work in Montreal and across the network, there’s always an openness to try something new, as long as we’re able to demonstrate how it will contribute to the project.
You travel regularly as part of your job. Does meeting with your colleagues change the way you approach them or tackle the task? Are strong professional relationships facilitated by these face-to-face meetings?
While I’m aware that the Firm can’t send everyone everywhere, the reality is that meeting colleagues in the flesh versus talking to them on the phone is night and day. I’m not saying it’s impossible to develop a professional relationship with colleagues in other offices without actually having met them , but having the opportunity to meet in person speeds up the whole process in a quantum way. It gives us access to the non-verbal and enables us to see our colleagues evolve in their own environment. Once you’ve had the chance to meet someone in person, it’s instinctively easier to call on them when you see opportunities or when you feel that they can contribute to a project. Being able to travel and meet people is an undeniable asset. Offices have very different ways of working. In Montreal, it’s in our DNA to be extremely responsive. Part of our reputation was built on our ability to jump in at a moment’s notice and address any type of situation. What I see in other offices is a desire to take the time to push the reflection a little further. Neither way is good or bad,. both approaches are equally valid, but they should enrich each other. Every time I travel to another office, I have the opportunity to see how people work and bring back some good practices to Montreal. It gives me perspective.
In 2018, you were selected as the new Visionary Leadership Model (VLM) Ambassador in Montreal. How was this great responsibility entrusted to you?
In all honesty, I was pleasantly surprised. I think that the Firm’s management recognized my willingness and enthusiasm to get involved in all types of projects. I take every opportunity I have to meet colleagues in different contexts, such as training. For me, the VLM is really interesting because I don’t have the pretention of being the poster child of visionary leadership every single day. As such, being an Ambassador is also a way for me to keep tabs on my own behaviour. I replaced Paul Wilson in this role and I had big shoes to fill (no pun intended). Paul had the quality of being very generous with his time, and this generosity is important among colleagues, but it is also extremely important as we encourage more and more inter-office collaboration. We will always be closer to our own mandates and our own clients. But for inter-office collaboration to work, we need to put in the same amount of work and invest ourselves in the project in the same way we would for one of our local clients.
When you received the AVENIR GLOBAL Way Award in front of your Montreal colleagues, you seemed very moved. What does such recognition mean to you?
It’s invaluable because it’s the acknowledgement and the culmination of everything I’ve worked for. Obviously, you don’t start a year by saying that you want to win a particular award at the end of the year. Honestly, the reason I was so moved was because I was truly flabbergasted. I looked around the room and thought of all the people I know across the network (and everyone I don’t know). There are so many people of great talent who are invested in the Firm. Realizing that I had been chosen among all of them also contributed to the rush of emotion I felt when I received the award. I really didn’t expect it, and a bunch of people would have deserved it just as much. It’s very humbling. This award is a way of telling me that I have the right approach and that my work brings value. I’m already very involved within the Firm, but it’s a boost that inspires me to continue. It’s a confirmation that I have a role to play in the evolution of the Firm at a time when we are experiencing significant and stimulating change.
In addition to being in high demand by your colleagues across the network, you are also the father of a nine-year-old boy. Do you have any advice on work / family balance?
I am fortunate because my role allows me to see the big projects coming ahead and plan accordingly. I try to draw a clear line between my role as dad and my role as a consultant. When I am with my son, I am fully with him, and when I am at work, I am fully at work. Having a good relationship with my son’s mother is also very important because we can accommodate each other during busier periods at work. This is probably the most important thing, along with the fact that my spouse Marie-Christine also works at NATIONAL. Having an exceptional and generous spouse who understands the nature of my work, because she does the same, is another huge asset to work-family balance. I also have the good fortune of having a boss who understands my reality, and there’s give and take. When you show that you are serious about your work and that you will always be there when people need you, others are more understanding. And, let’s be honest: it’s 2019! Of course, the nature of our work makes it much more practical to have our colleagues physically next to us, but at the same time we’re never too far away with videoconferencing, phone calls, emails and text messages. It’s the reality of our practice, and we must make ourselves available.
What’s coming up for you this year? Are there specific projects or goals that you’re looking forward to achieving?
The year is really off to a good start. Ever since we came back from the Holiday break, projects haven’t stopped lining up. Our Integrated Solutions team went through significant change in 2018, and we’re kicking off 2019 with a team that is arguably the strongest and most complete it has ever been. There’s still a gap between our creative abilities in Montreal versus those in other offices like Halifax and Toronto, but my goal for 2019 is to narrow that gap and to increase our capabilities. It’s part of my plans to get external recognition for our projects. Not for the awards themselves, but rather to send a clear message to the industry about what we can deliver for our clients. It’s not part of our DNA to be very vocal in the market, and I respect that. We work first and foremost for our clients and not for our personal achievements, but I would like us to be a little more present in the industry. Even internally, given the volume of client work, there are so many little gems that we aren’t even aware of, so many exceptional things that we don’t hear about. I’d like to change that.