Telum Talks To... Daniel Smith, Founder of CGM Communications

Telum Talks To... Daniel Smith, Founder of CGM Communications

This week, Telum Talks To Daniel Smith, Executive Director and Founder of Perth-based consultancy, CGM Communications (formerly Campaign Capital). Having recently celebrated CGM's 10-year anniversary, Daniel chats to Telum about launching and running his own agency, and sheds light on the evolution of the PR industry over those 10 years.

CGM Communications has just celebrated its 10-year anniversary - congratulations! Before we chat about what has happened and what you have seen over those 10 years, give us the 30-second elevator pitch: who is CGM Communications?
CGM is a WA-based, full-service strategic communications agency. We have a team of 12, comprised of former journalists, government advisors and community engagement professionals. We work across a range of sectors, including mining, energy, water, health, property and infrastructure. Most of our clients have some interest in how state or federal government perceives them, with an associated interest in their reputation with the community. At the end of the day, we help people grow their businesses, build stronger communities and ensure everyone has a voice when big decisions are being made, or when public opinion is being formed.

What led to you starting the agency 10 years ago?
I previously ran the WA office of a national public relations firm called CPR Communications. CPR changed their business model across Australia, so we parted ways. Fortunately, I was able to take a few clients with me and I was in business the next day. We haven’t looked back since.

What has been the biggest highlight and what was the biggest challenge you have faced running your own agency?
The biggest highlight for me, in terms of running my own agency, has been becoming a place where people want to come and work. Earlier in the business’s life, I felt like I was almost begging people to come and work for me. Now, we’re a place where great people want to come to learn, grow and make a difference in the work that they do.

What do you know now about launching and running an agency that you wish you could go back and tell yourself 10 years ago?
Identify and focus on your strengths, rather than spreading your resources too thin. We’ve carved out a niche as specialists in community, government and media relations in Western Australia, and representing WA clients on the national stage. Earlier on, I had visions of opening offices up and down the eastern seaboard and wasted a lot of time and money pursuing this. I even pursued the development of mobile apps for our clients, with less than excellent outcomes. I don’t regret any of it, because it was a fun way to learn. But I am glad we have found the space where we add the most value, and we continue to increase that value.

How do you think the agency model has perhaps changed and evolved since you started your agency?
I like to think that a number of agencies have followed the lead we set in providing a genuinely integrated community, government and media relations service. When we started, most of our competitors were one-trick ponies, in either media, government, community or digital. We’ve always sought to provide an integrated offering, so that we had all the tools at our disposal to achieve client objectives. We’re now watching our competitors rebrand and start to diversify their offerings. It’s nice to have been in front of that trend.

What are the pivotal moments that have changed the industry, or the way you operate in it, over the past decade?
It’s hard to ignore the role of the GFC or COVID in my career or in how we approach business. CGM started in the post-GFC environment, where clients were cost conscious and value driven, and that is where we found ourselves when COVID hit last year. In my experience, you give yourself the best chances of weathering these storms by having diversity in your offering and client base, while focusing on delivering high quality work at a price that provides value.

Tell us about CGM’s most memorable campaign or project since the agency’s inception.
It’s hard to go past some of the public campaigns that we have run that have really made a difference in people’s lives. These include leading the campaign for marriage equality in WA, that saw WA return the second highest 'Yes' vote in the country. We also led the recent campaign for Voluntary Assisted Dying, with Andrew Denton in WA, with those laws recently coming into force. Our staff tell us that making a difference in people’s lives is why they like working for CGM, and it’s nice to have these opportunities.

What’s next for CGM? Where do you hope the agency will be in another 10 years’ time?
At present, we’re working to grow our new trade and investment communications practice, which aims to help international investors navigate what is often a more complex community, government and media landscape than they are used to. And, we’re helping local companies develop strategies to access new international markets or attract international investment. We don’t necessarily aspire to being the biggest agency in town, but we want to be the most strategic and provide the most value for money, in terms of quality and outcomes. We think we’re well on this path and are working to continuously improve.

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