N.B. Entrepreneur Bringing IABC to Provincial Forefront
Allan Gates is an unabashed advocate for the business community in New Brunswick.
So, when he joined the IABC Maritime Canada board in November 2021, part of his mandate was to extend the organization’s reach in his home province. “New Brunswick doesn’t have a large group of marketing and PR professionals in one city, like you do in Halifax,” says Gates. “We don’t have that same sense of community or the ability to move as easily to other professional opportunites. I thought boosting IABC’s presence in New Brunswick might help forge some new relationships and make the profession stronger here.”
Co-founder and president of Saint John-based integrated marketing and communications agency Bonfire Communications, Gates has made a career out of helping others with their communications and marketing needs. Launched in 2013, Gates has steadily grown Bonfire into one of the region’s top agencies, now working with many of Atlantic Canada’s largest businesses. “At Bonfire, we focus on telling meaningful brand stories, using the best channel to reach the desired audience – sometimes that’s an online ad, other times it’s a social media post, a piece of content or a news story. The goal is always to deliver the right message to the right audience in the right way.”
Frustrated by the default media negativity toward business in New Brunswick, Gates also launched Huddle.Today, a regional business news site that believes business can be a force for social good. That positive attitude and strong social media presence soon attracted a sizeable audience. Huddle.Today was later sold to Acadia Broadcasting Limited.
While Gates earned a BA in political science from Dalhousie University and, while working, a Bachelor of Public Relations and Master of Arts in Communications from Mount Saint Vincent University, he says his best education came with a job on Parliament Hill, working first for a Nova Scotia MP and later for the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
“I spent nearly four years on the Hill, fresh out of university. It was an amazing communications training ground. I learned more about real world communications and politics on the Hill than I ever did in the classroom,” he says. “The theoretical underpinnings are absolutely important but seeing how an issue plays out in the national media can be even more valuable. It was a great experience.”
From Parliament Hill, Gates moved on to the agency world, first with Halifax-based CCL Group. While CCL was the largest agency in Atlantic Canada at that time, Gates was struck by the siloed approach to the work. “There wasn’t a lot of collaboration between the PR side of the shop and the advertising folks,” says Gates. “I always thought there was more benefit to clients by taking a more integrated approach, and that’s something I have done over the course of my career.”
After a stint in Boston working for technology PR firm SHIFT Communications, Gates returned to Halifax and worked with Extreme Group (now part of Arrivals and Departures) before taking on the Director of Marketing and Communications role at St. Francis Xavier University. To his surprise, he ended up returning to New Brunswick in 2007 after being offered a senior leadership role in a Saint John agency.
“I have lived in Halifax, Ottawa, Boston and Antigonish during my professional career and I wasn’t sure that returning to New Brunswick was in the cards. But we came back and found that New Brunswick is the perfect place to raise a family and build a business,” he says.
Allan Gates had this conversation with Jordan Parker, Founder, Parker PR and Director of Communications & Newsletter for IABC Maritime.