It is with pride and excitement that we announce the acquisition of SHIFT Communications by NATIONAL Public Relations –the largest PR firm in Canada, with a storied history in the region and a reputation for good work and fair dealing.

Wait?! What?!

I know, it’s a little jarring at first to hear this news. SHIFT has prided itself on its independence for the past 13 years (and our status as one of the few ESOP companies out there), even as so many of our competitors were peeled off by intergalactic holding companies like WPP, Publicis, etc. Now, it’s happening to us, and I am excited to share some background and insight on how we got here…

It’s no secret that the PR industry has been changing rapidly for the better part of 10 years. My recent tour of the USC Annenberg School’s Center for Public Relations only confirmed my hunch that our formerly-hidebound industry has been radically transformed via social media, content marketing, visual storytelling, better analytics tools and processes, etc. – and that this process is speeding up, not slowing down. To compete effectively in this arena against the behemoths of PR, we’re going to need to be able to scale up our offerings significantly.

Since becoming the CEO of SHIFT in 2012, my partner Jim Joyal and I have been approached by dozens of potential M&A partners. I’ve always been a big believer in building my network, and heck, it is fun to be wooed. But it never felt like quite the right time, or, there was just that feeling in my own gut – that many of these fizzy and fun courtships would inevitably lead to less-than-happy marriages. I demurred. I declined. Although concerned about our ability to match guns against the Big Firms, I was ready, willing and able to keep SHIFT independent for a good, long while.

Then, I met with the folks from NATIONAL. From the first moment, I felt an ease and rapport that had never quite gelled with other prospective partners. They got us. They shared our values. Indeed, they led those initial conversations with so much talk about the importance of values that I once caught myself wondering if they were ever going to get around to asking about our business operations!

They also got me. They were not only intrigued by our agency’s long-term vision but understood and respected my personal motivations. Most importantly, they were the first prospective partner to recognize the importance my lovely bride plays in my decision-making, and invited her to meet with them in their Montreal HQ. My wife Siân will always be my first and truest advisor. When our meetings with NATIONAL’s executive team concluded, her first words when we were alone were, “My heart feels good about these people. I trust them.” As the words left her lips, the final decision was made. My heart felt pretty good, too.

While one expects rough patches in any serious business dealings, in this case, there were relatively few knotty issues. The good people of NATIONAL recognized early that SHIFT is a special kind of agency, and they were keen to maintain everything about our culture, people, vision and services. Basically, whenever I expected a no, I invariably got some version of yes.

What’s next? More of the same. But more. And better. We’ll still be the data-driven PR agency angling to change perceptions about the role and value of public relations, but with the backing of a stalwart partner whose sole desire is to see our success and teachings amplified to the max.

Before signing off on this seminal post, I’d like to sincerely thank the entire staff of SHIFT Communications (my fellow employee-owners: you guys rock!), but especially our co-founder, Jim Joyal, whose advice and fellowship have been crucial to me for over twenty years. SHIFT president Amy Lyons and COO Paula Finestone have been my steady counsel, and truest friends, for the duration of the journey: thank you so much, my friends. Finally, I want to express my deepest gratitude to my patient wife and our terrific kids, who know more than anyone the costs of non-stop business travel, multiple cross-country moves, and unswerving commitment. Thank you, all!

I am genuinely excited to barrel down the road before us and accelerate our way through the opportunities we will seize. It’s gonna be fun.


Todd Defren


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