Diversifying into corporate communications and making several major hires have been crucial to CGM Communication’s growth over the past decade.
It’s been a remarkable decade for Daniel Smith, to say the least of it.
In 2011, the former political staffer had just finished up a three-year stint with CPR Communications, a national lobbying firm that once employed the likes of deputy premier Roger Cook, television journalist Simon Dowding and political adviser Adam Kilgour.
That firm had decided to scale back its operations in Western Australia following economic pressures brought on by the GFC and a shifting political landscape nationwide.
Gathering a handful of clients on his way out the door, Mr Smith waited fewer than 24 hours before charting his next moves.
“The next day I was in business by myself in the loungeroom at home,” he told Business News.
That business, initially trading as Campaign Capital before rebranding as CGM Communications, has since outgrown Mr Smith’s loungeroom, encompassing an office at Parliament Place and a client list that includes notable names like Rio Tinto, St John Ambulance WA and Lifeline WA.
Nowadays, the company ranks as one of the largest public relations and lobbying firms in Business News’ Data & Insights lists, with 11 full-time staff, and is one of the largest firms in WA not connected to an external holding company.
Following celebration of the firm’s 10th anniversary, Mr Smith points to two significant hires as reason for the longevity.
The first was Rebecca Boteler, who joined the business as a media relations specialist following an eight-year stint as a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I always joke that she interviewed me,” he said.
“That was the stage I was in; I was a person with some clients, and I was kind of begging people to come and work with me at that point.
“She showed a leap of faith.
“I’m glad she did, and she’s been a big part of the growth of the business.”
The other was Anthony Fisk, who had previously worked in corporate communications with iiNet, Western Power and Citadel-MAGNUS, as an executive director and an equity stakeholder in the firm.
Mr Smith said welcoming someone to the business who could take direct ownership of outcomes was critical; Mr Fisk in turn cited CGM Communication’s approach to public relations as key to his decision to come aboard.
“From a small beginning, [Mr Smith had] managed to focus on having a much broader offering,” he said.
“I saw the scope of me coming in and bringing in a bit of my corporate experience and connecting to what he did was going to mean the business would grow and expand.”
Growth has been significant for the business since Mr Fisk came aboard in 2017.
Having widened its services beyond lobbying efforts since then, CGM has made several significant hires in the intervening years.
That’s included former Channel 10 reporter Rebecca Munro as an associate director, former state development official Stuart Crockett, who now serves as a strategic counsel for trade and investment communications, and former political adviser Simon Ward, who serves as an associate director of government relations.
Attracting and retaining experienced staff like them will prove paramount amid a tightening labour market for highly skilled workers.
Mr Fisk reasoned that, as the business grows, more opportunities will present themselves for prospective employees who may later rise to senior roles within the firm.
He also argued the firm’s decision to retain all its staff on reduced hours at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic fostered trust within the business and prevented it from needing to push anyone out the door.
“To be able to do that was satisfying, and we’ve seen most of our people stay on since then,” he said.
Mr Smith, meanwhile, said the firm’s flexibility as a smaller business gave it the ability to compete with some of the state’s bigger employers.
That includes offering revenue-sharing incentives, opportunities to work from home and the ability to work across disciplines and develop a broader skillset.
Looking ahead, Mr Smith said increasing the firm’s community engagement, trade communications and federal relations offerings would be of significant focus of continued growth.
And while he did not rule out the potential for welcoming another equity partner into the business for the purpose of expanding government relations or international reach, Ms Smith appeared content with the firm’s current setup.
“We like the ability to be our own bosses,” he said.
“I’m accountable to Anthony [and] I’m accountable to our staff, but we’re not accountable to faceless shareholders sitting in Sydney, Los Angles or anywhere else in the world.
“That’s a good thing; it enables us to make decisions in a nimble way, in terms of strategy, and respond to circumstances as we see it.
“It allows us to be very independent in the way we see things.
“I like the accountability that delivers; if you have a good day at work, you benefit from it. If you have a bad day... if you don’t put in as you should, you’re ultimately accountable for that.”