One year in, PR firm Edelman Ottawa charts local growth plans

A year after Edelman set up shop in the city, the public and government relations firm says it has big plans for expansion in the nation’s capital.

The company announced a year ago that it would be opening up an Ottawa office under the leadership of past Forty Under 40 recipient Darcy Walsh.

In an interview with the Ottawa Business Journal, Mr. Walsh says that the firm’s 10-person Ottawa operation is due for major expansion over the next three to four years, including hiring new talent. There are three burgeoning sectors of focus for Edelman, he says: data, research and analytics; communications work for the government; and of course, helping clients with government relations.

“If you’re going to be in the public affairs space, you’ve got to be in Ottawa,” Mr. Walsh says of Edelman’s local growth plans.

Edelman is the largest privately-held PR firm in the world, according to Mr. Walsh, with 6,000 employees in 64 offices. In Canada, Edelman has nearly 300 employees at offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa.

Before joining the firm, Mr. Walsh spent eight years with Hill+Knowlton Ottawa, first building the company’s procurement services and then being appointed to lead its business development practices. He says that while he learned a great deal at Hill+Knowlton, he couldn’t pass up the chance to build Edelman’s Ottawa presence.

“Sometimes opportunities come along that you’d be silly to turn down. And this was an opportunity to build something the way I saw it should be,” he says.

Mr. Walsh previously served as director of parliamentary affairs at the Ministry of Public Works.

Mr. Walsh says Edelman Ottawa remained unphased by shakeups to government officials that came in the wake of the Trudeau government taking office. He attributes this to the “balanced approach” he struck with his business partner Chris Vivone, a longtime Liberal.

“I’m sure the (change in government presents) some challenges for some firms around the city, but not for us,” Mr. Walsh says.

Another focus for Edelman Ottawa in the past year has been establishing a municipal focus. Mr. Walsh says several of the firm’s clients are particularly interested in having their voices heard at Ottawa City Hall, an aspect of public relations that may go unnoticed at some firms.

Mr. Walsh's previous firm is active at the municipal level, with Hill+Knowlton senior vice-president Jeff Polowin registered to lobby on behalf of several developers, according to city records

After taking the year to get established, Edelman is hosting the official launch of its Ottawa office on Oct. 26. The firm is also hosting a breakfast event that morning with American political analyst Steve Schmidt to discuss the potential fallout of the U.S. election on Canada.