I’m not embarassed to say it. The C2 Montréal conference changed my life and shaped PROXIBA. More than once.
When I participated in the Commerce + Creativity (C2) conference for the first time, in May 2014, I was employed by an agency in Montréal and was going to the event with a very important client to do media relations. At the time, I had been juggling for a while with the idea of starting my own company.
I felt that I was at the top of my game in terms of my skills and abilities and that I had the energy to build my own practice. I lamented that traditional PR agencies were not spending a lot of energy and resources to think outside the box and be really creative. I humbly thought I could make a difference… but me, an entrepreneur? Doubts and hesitations had been jostling me for weeks, even months. Too old at 47, not well-enough known, blah-blah-blah, all good reasons for not leaving my comfort zone. I was sort of paralyzed. I had certainly consulted friends, found a potential name for my public relations firm but was not yet ready to incorporate the company. At least, not until the memorable day of May 29, 2014.
Spring had just arrived. The main doors of the Arsenal were wide open. The conference was drawing to a close and everyone was preparing for the legendary closing party. I was daydreaming in the lounge, watching the participants wander around and reflecting on the three intense days of media relations, networking and conferences that I had just experienced.
First observation, very personal: my network of contacts was very extensive even then. We always underestimate our network. I could not count the number of professional and personal contacts from my former careers as journalist, photographer, business developer and now public relations consultant, that I had crossed during the three days of the event. The C2 participants represented all walks of my career.
Second observation, very corporate: decision-makers in the business world, beyond the jet-set side of C2 Montréal, had an inexhaustible thirst for new ideas and inspiration, which confirmed the purpose of my plans for my own business.
In fact, right at that moment, I felt like I was in exactly the right place at the right time in my life. Revelation! While I abandoned myself to these reflections, rather satisfied with the media results obtained by my client, I began to chat with Jean-Marc Legentil, who was also relaxing after having facilitated some workshops during the conference. The change-management specialist told me about a fascinating book by Céline Bareil, a professor in the Department of Management at HEC Montréal business school.
Later, Vincent Marceau, another C2 volunteer whom I also didn’t know, joined the conversation and asked me to brainstorm with him about the ideal workspace. Parenthesis: for me these meetings are the very embodiment of C2, that is to say a place of inspiring meetings – planned and otherwise – of all types. So I indulged in Vincent’s exercise candidly, imagining the offices of my imaginary firm. In fact, I may not have realized it instantly, but my decision to create PROXIBA | public relations was in fact made at that time. The C2 magic was working … and the most peculiar thing was that C2’s official photographer, Agnieszca Stalkoper, captured the precise moment during the Tata Communications hackathon.
Eric Barbeau at C2 in 2014
Photo by Agnieszka Stalkoper – May 2014
C2 literally pushed me to jump without a Plan B, without clients, without contracts or even just one prior sale. Nothing. Yet. But I was filled with hope brought about by the conference.
I registered the PROXIBA domain names and ordered an email address in the days following the conference. A month later, I had already made my business plan a reality. Then, in July 2014, when I had just put the PROXIBA website online, I received a call from Vincent Marceau, the C2 volunteer I had met a few weeks earlier. Like many other C2 volunteers, brainstorming with participants was not his “day job,” which was working for the ÉTS engineering school’s scientific blog, Substance. He wanted me to refer a PR agency who could prepare a communications plan for them.
Needless to say, I referred myself, got the mandate and PROXIBA’s first-ever contract was signed with a volunteer from the conference where my project was born! Synchronicity?
During PROXIBA’s first year, one of my clients invited me to accompany him to the next edition of C2 Montréal in May 2015. It was a real homecoming, but this time as a business owner myself time, barely a year later. All to say that sometimes, luck (karma, planetary alignment, the law of attraction…?) does the trick.
In 2017, C2’s call was felt again. I joined the team of workshop facilitators. Among them was Jean-Marc Legentil, with whom I had talked about change management three years earlier when I participated in C2 for the first time. C2 workshops are an incredible way to absorb expert content. It is a technique in itself. These workshops are given in huge rooms. Every year since, I have facilitated workshops for C2 and Movin’On, the World Summit on Sustainable Mobility. Over the years, I have collaborated with extraordinary companies such as Aldo, Michelin, Frank & Oak, Influential, RISE Kombucha, Goodeeworld, Real Ventures.
With photographer Agnieszka Stalkoper at C2-MTL, once again in 2018
I really developed a passion for design thinking and facilitation. It’s part of PROXIBA’s basic service offering now. And I can even say that I am part of a rather select network of experts (and friends) who know how to create and facilitate collaborative live experiences for a few hundred people at a time. Thank you, C2!
PROXIBA is almost five years old. I am very proud to mark this important milestone at C2, which is moving to MTL Grandé Studios in Pointe Saint-Charles, for its 8th edition, beginning today. I will have the immense honour of once again facilitating three workshops for the 25 winners of the Young Entrepreneurs competition, anticipating that the C2 magic will provide them with as much energy, swag and resources as it has given me. Above all, I hope that C2 will continue to inspire and prove to them that we can continuously reinvent ourselves.
Long live C2!