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May 28 – 30, 2017

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Keynote and Plenary Speakers

Diana and Charles Tisdall Lecture in Communications Opening Keynote: Trust, Respect and Reconciliation

Speaker: Marie Wilson, Commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)


The cumulative impact of the residential school system is a legacy of unresolved trauma passed from generation to generation that has had a profound effect on Aboriginal peoples and on their relationships with other Canadians. The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was a significant step on the journey toward redefining these relationships and reconciling our communities for a better, stronger Canada.

But what does this mean to the public relations profession? Dr. Marie Wilson will describe the work of the Commission, why the legacy of residential schools as a symbol of the traumatic relationship between Canada and its Aboriginal peoples matters in our day-to-day lives, and how a deeper understanding of that dark past may help light the path forward toward a mutually beneficial relationships based in trust, respect and reconciliation.


Monday Breakfast Keynote: Post-Disaster Communications: After the media goes home.

Moderator: Della Smith, Q Workshops
Panelists: Michael Bourque, President and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) and Paul Spring, President, Operations Manager, Phoenix Heliflight

We’ve seen many times the case studies and speakers on “how to respond to a crisis” and “how to develop a crisis communications plan”. Less often we hear about the aftermath and follow-up from major crisis situations. What happens after the media frenzy has died down and things get back to “normal”? What are the long-term impacts on a company’s or an industry’s operations and reputation, and what role does public relations play in the ongoing management of communications in the wake of a major disaster?

Our moderated panel discussion will focus on:

  • the interface between operations and communications during, immediately after and in the months and years following;

  • the impacts when crisis protocols are either not followed or fall far short of what is required, both from a communications and an operational perspective;

  • how industry can plan for and manage ongoing reputation management, the costs of communicating and implementing changes and improvements to policies, regulations and legislation.

Case Studies:

Lac Megantic rail disaster (2013)
Fort McMurray fires (2016)



Michael Bourque, President and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada (RAC)

Michael brings extensive experience in policy development and advocacy, with established relationships with government and other organizations.

Michael joined RAC in 2012 from the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada where, as vice president of External Relations, he was responsible for parliamentary relations, communications and information technology. Prior to that he was Director of Federal Public Affairs with Bayer Inc., a management consultant for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and an executive in the Federal public service in the Department of Communications and the Privy Council Office.

Michael started his career as a political aide during the Mulroney government, as a special assistant to the Honorouble Perrin Beatty, in the departments of National Revenue, Solicitor General, National Defence, Health and Communications.

Michael is fluently bilingual and is married with two sons.

Paul Spring, President, Operations Manager, Phoenix Heliflight

Over his 40 years in aviation Paul has accumulated more than 14,000 hours of flight time in single and twin engine helicopters, also having flown fixed wing aircraft. He began his career as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer endorsed for rotary and fixed wing aircraft after attending Canadore College, later returning to Canadore to earn his commercial helicopter pilot’s license. Paul’s path in the helicopter industry included long tours in the Arctic and various postings throughout Central and Western Canada flying a wide variety of helicopter roles. He ultimately moved to Fort McMurray to begin his new role as a base manager and worked tirelessly for years to cultivate a viable operation. After a shift in his employer’s corporate focus Paul struck out on his own, flying and maintaining a single AStar by himself for 8 years. Over time and in calculated fashion Paul began to acquire additional aircraft and bring on more pilots, eventually constructing two custom hangars. With a sustained concentration on safe operations and ‘doing the right thing’ despite increased effort and higher costs Paul has grown Phoenix to be a highly respected industry member. He was an early adopter of Helicopter Flight Data Monitoring for light helicopters and his steadfast advocacy for the technology has seen him speak dozens of times in North America and Europe. Paul is an active pilot who dedicates himself to the betterment of the helicopter industry and to evolving Phoenix’s policies, procedures and equipment in order to enhance its position in a highly competitive market.


Monday Luncheon Keynote: The new PR stands for Personal Recommendation

Speaker: Peter Shankman, Founder, ShankMinds Business Masterminds

At the end of the day, the concept of PR people extolling the virtues of their clients will no longer be sufficient for media outlets anywhere in the world. Instead, as media undergoes a massive transformation, the true rising stars of the PR world will be those who are trusted, who are embraced for truthful, honest, and open communication with journalists, that are backboned by positive feedback from their clients' customers around the world. In other words, no one believes how great your clients are, if you're the one that has to tell them.



Peter Shankman is an entrepreneur, CEO, runner, skydiver, podcaster, Ironman Triathlete, and most importantly, a dad. He’s the founder of ShankMinds: Breakthrough, a private, online entrepreneur community with hundreds of members around the world. He’s perhaps best known for founding Help a Reporter Out, the world’s largest source repository in the world, which fundamentally changed how journalists source their stories. His customer service and social media clients have included American Express, NBC, Universal, E Entertainment, Sprint, the US Department of Defense, Royal Bank of Canada, Saudi Aramco, Snapple, Walt Disney World, and many others. Peter is the author of four books, including his most recent best seller, Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans.  Peter also hosts the top-rated Faster Than Normal Podcast, helping people understand that ADD and ADHD is a gift, not a curse. He’s based in NYC.


Monday Afternoon Plenary Panel: Small Town, Big City: The divergence of communications strategies and tactics in the 21st Century

Moderator: Kim Blanchette, APR, FCPRS, Vice President Public Affairs, Alberta Energy Regulator
Panelists: Leslie Quinton, Vice President, Corporate Communications, Air Canada and Steve Raper, Chief Communications and External Relations, Northern Health

Despite today’s focus on social content, big data and the death of traditional media, there are large parts of the Canadian population experiencing radio silence in the new digital landscape. In fact, the elimination or transformation of many traditional public relations channels has meant communications professionals in less populated regions of the country are finding themselves going back to the future to reach their audiences.

This panel will consider the radical changes public relations has experienced over the last decade in two distinctly different settings: rural and urban. In large, urban settings, new tools and tactics are being developed and deployed every day, and the challenge for PR practitioners is to stay on top of the latest trends, while continuing to follow sound principles of communications. Conversely, rural practitioners are required to be creative in reacquainting themselves with oft-forgotten channels to reach their audiences in small, geographically dispersed and sparsely populated regions.


Tuesday Morning Keynote: #AlternativePR | A Full Audience Discussion about PR in a Untrusting World

Mass layoffs in journalism, the rise of alt-media, unmarked advertorials, extremism, clickbait articles, echo chambers and filter bubbles leave a troubling situation for public relations practitioners to communicate within Canada.

The last year in public communications has taken an ugly turn, in a “bigly” way. Fake news permeated not only the elections of our southern neighbour, but in every western country. Factual information is now challenged as fake, major news media have been repeatedly attacked from the Oval Office as “fake news” or “dishonest,” while alternative facts have become something nearly a third of the United States population believes.

This is not a new development. It has come through decades of key moments where those in trusted positions have intentionally or by mistake, eroded the public trust. Edelman’s Trust Barometer notes an implosion of global trust. They found two-thirds of countries surveyed are now distrusters, with under 50% trust in mainstream institutions of business, government, media and NGOs. Never has trust been this low in 17 years of data collection.

The expectation is that automation and outsourcing of jobs will further erode trust, leaving those already with low income and education in a losing position, while the growing 1% challenge capitalism’s ideals.

How is trust defined for those who are economically cut off? How will public relations function in a world which is just as likely to trust alternative facts as real ones? What can you do to communicate among deeply-entrenched positions living in echo chambers? How does your organization and leaders begin rebuilding trust, when they are perceived as untrusting?

This will be an open discussion, both within the room and across Canada, as we look to all practitioners to compile ideas on #AlternativePR.

Begin now by posting your observations, ideas and opinions for #AlternativePR to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


Tuesday Afternoon Plenary: Brand Journalism, are you ready?

Speaker: Mark Ragan, Publisher and CEO of Ragan Communications, Inc.


Brand journalism combines real reporting and lively storytelling (that's the journalism), with your organization's experts and experiences (that's the branding). A few organizations have figured out a new way to tell their stories, using the tried-and-true methods of journalism to engage their audiences and boost their competitive advantage.

In this session, Mark Ragan will share the principles of brand journalism and show you how you can apply them to your own organization.

You'll leave this afternoon session knowing how to:

  • Write and manage content that appeals to today's hectic reader

  • Organize your communication strategy around a standard newsroom

  • Use original and curated content to be the leading publisher in your niche

  • Create content that is so useful that people will be compelled to share it—over and over again

  • Become the #1 destination for customers and potential customers—and get this done on a tiny budget

  • Master the 10 email techniques that increase readership and brand loyalty

  • Integrate social media and content to boost your website traffic

  • Generate leads for your organization by writing must-read white papers for your customers

  • Build a subscription list of customers, the media and key influencers and keep them coming back for more

  • Measure the success of your content strategy


Mark Ragan is the Publisher and CEO of Ragan Communications, Inc., the nation's leading provider of corporate communication information and training. For 15 years, Mark covered Congress, the White House and national political campaigns for Copley News Service, States News Service, New York Newsday, the San Diego Union-Tribune and Insight Magazine.

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