Written by Brooke Anderson

Member Spotlight: 12 Questions with Mathieu Larocque

Long-time IABC Ottawa member Mathieu Larocque has worked in communications in the National Capital Region for close to 20 years. Today, he is Manager, Crisis Communications at Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC). In this profile, Mat offers sharp insights on crisis comms, how his career prepared him for his current role, and the top skill he looks for when recruiting.

1.Can you describe your current role and organization?

Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) is a federal Crown corporation that was created more than 50 years ago to protect Canadians against the loss of their savings in the event that member institutions like banks, trust companies or Federal credit unions fail. Insured deposits are covered to a limit of $100,000 per insured category at each member institution.

My role is to make sure we’re ready for any failure scenario. CDIC has been given several powers where we can intervene to protect depositors and promote financial stability. We work to make sure Canadians are aware of CDIC and its powers. In a failure scenario, we want them to know that CDIC has their back.

2. What do you enjoy most about crisis comms?

Ensuring that we’re ready for the unexpected. This means looking at all angles, connecting the dots, and avoiding gaps in communications planning. We brainstorm how we could be impacted and do a lot of research and testing. For example, using focus groups to test our strategies and messages and gauge the public’s response. We want to know what resonates and what doesn’t and make adjustments. We also work to collaborate with others and establish working relationships in “peace time”.

3. How do you determine whether something is a crisis versus an issue?

I say tackle every issue as if it could become a crisis. The longevity of an issue will define whether or not it’s a crisis. There’s no golden rule – some organizations may define it differently.

4. In your opinion, what are a few fundamentals for managing a crisis effectively?

No surprises! You can’t speak out publicly without key partners knowing and being aligned to what you’re doing. Otherwise you don’t look organized or inspire confidence. If you breach trust with partners, it’s very hard to rebuild. So I try to live by that. Rarely can you successfully manage a crisis on your own. You have to consider government, law enforcement, the target audiences, and coordinate messages that complement each other.

I also believe strongly in fact-based, research-based strategies. Crisis comms is just like marketing on that front. This can mean leveraging focus groups, message testing, conducting audits, and so forth. Don’t rely on your instinct or own knowledge. Sometimes we’re cooped up in our own world and think something makes sense, when it really doesn’t.

5. How did your previous experiences at CATSA and the City of Gatineau train you for crisis comms?

Being Director of Communications for a Mayor, there’s a new crisis every day. It’s issues management 24/7, not just political issues but incidents like fires and floods. This period of my career absolutely gave me a foundation in crisis comms. Then I spent over a decade at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), a 24/7 operation. As a spokesperson, I handled thousands of media interviews. There were daily cases of passengers bringing items through security that were screened as potentially harmful, and we dealt with many complaints – small crises which sometimes lasted for several weeks. I saw a lot of parallels between CATSA and CDIC, because ultimately both organizations communicate to instill confidence that a system is safe, whether Canadians are flying or banking.

6. Speaking of CATSA and CDIC, are there unique nuances to communicating on behalf of Crown corporations?

Crown corps have a little bit more flexibility in how we communicate, do outreach, and set up external partnerships with industry and non-profits.

7. What do you look for when recruiting team members?

The key is writing. You have to be a good writer, and even if you think you’re already a good writer, try to improve. I still work really hard to be a good business writer. Keeping plans and reports concise is a top skill. As the French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I ran out of time.”

Curiosity is also important. When I hire someone, I want them to dig into SharePoint folders and explore the universe in which we work. We as communicators need to understand our subject matter. You have to be constantly curious to see the connections between things and propose strategies and messages on channels that make sense.

You also should be ready to do multidisciplinary tasks – not just media, not just social. Most organizations require a mix and I definitely try to multitask and be proficient in more than one area. You can learn from shadowing and talking to colleagues. Again, it goes back to being curious.

8. That’s a great point. How do you advance your own development and suggest others learn?

These days there are a lot more online events, which are easier and cheaper to attend. For example, I recently joined the IABC Ottawa senior comms event on the Edelman Trust Barometer. I set up Google Alerts related to my field, read news, tap into relationships with our PR firms – always keeping an eye open.

There are examples of crises in the media every day. You can learn by observing how companies are communicating externally and following their response from several angles (community management, media, stakeholder engagement, etc.) Of course, you can access a ton of free, publicly available information on Google, too.

9. What value have you gained from being an IABC Ottawa member?

I’m always looking for learning opportunities and IABC Ottawa is a great way to find events and network with other PR professionals. I’m really interested in the case studies and “lessons learned” that I can apply to my work at CDIC.

10. What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m an avid hunter and fisherman. I golf as often as I can and cycle quite a bit too – in a normal world I would cycle from Gatineau to downtown Ottawa 12 months a year. I play hockey and tennis. And I spend time with my two daughters, age 13 and 10.

11. Have you picked up a new hobby during the pandemic?

I started a professional certificate in management at Carleton University. It’s 100% online and the format is actually a lot better than I expected. The way the instructors use Zoom with breakout rooms is very dynamic and seamless. I would love to learn how they do it!

12. And finally… the rapid-fire round:

  • Morning person or night owl? Night owl.
  • Sweet or salty? Salty.
  • Summer or winter? Summer.
  • WFH or office? Office!

Mat misses human contact and can’t wait to return to the office. While nothing can truly replace in-person social interactions, why not say hi to Mat on Twitter or LinkedIn and see where the conversation takes you?

Interested in being profiled or know a fantastic member in the IABC Ottawa community? We’re always open to receiving suggestions for our next Member Spotlight. Drop us a line at membership@ottawa.iabc.com. We choose profiles on a bi-monthly basis and aim to highlight a diverse range of members from different career levels and a variety of communications-related fields.

Posted in Member Spotlight

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