It’s funny how things go full circle.
27 years ago, I walked through the front door of my residence apartment at Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario — and a gregarious wall of a man handed me a beer and said, “Hey, buddy, looks like we’re roommates.”
His name was Hugh Burrill — and not only would he become my roommate, he’d also become a long-time trusted friend. And, as of last month, Hugh became my business colleague at Fraser Torosay — the strategic communications consultancy I started 7 years ago after a 20 year career in the media.
I knew from the first day of class back in 1989 that Hugh was talented.
The two of us competed for two years, going back and forth winning class awards. We had fantastic instructors who were experienced in the industry. And, they knew how to get the best out of everyone in our class. There was a lot of talent that year.
Outside the classroom, Hugh and I worked together as bouncers and even started a short-lived but profitable marketing company while we were still in school. Two blue collar kids from Sudbury and the Ottawa Valley — just faking it until they made it.
But, truth be told, Hugh was always more talented — an absolute natural broadcaster possessing charisma, humour and likability that you simply can’t teach. This became very evident after graduation. I went into the CBC system while Hugh quickly ascended on the private media side, ending up in Toronto’s competitive media market at a very young age — a market he’s been in ever since.
Hugh began in news where he became the Senior News Writer for Breakfast Television. The pace was frantic. The deadlines were inhuman at inhuman early morning hours. He always understood what made a good news story — people — and he had a knack for getting sources to speak with him and give him information.
In no time, he was on-air on BT — and then became a national sports broadcaster for Roger Sportsnet — covering everything from the World Series to the Stanley Cup.
It’s an area Hugh excelled in — developing a reputation as a hard-working professional who also gave incredible amounts of time to charities and non-profits during off-hours.
When the two of us got together for lunch, it was like dining with a celebrity as random strangers would approach Hugh to talk — like they were long-lost friends.
To be able to make that kind of connection through two dimensions is a true talent.
Two years ago, Hugh and I spoke about his potential exit strategy from the media.
It was clear at that point that cutbacks to media weren’t going to stop. I deduced that given his age and how much money he made, it was only a matter of time before the axe fell. But, we concluded there was no point just leaving his job. Instead, we would wait for the inevitable axe and severance package.
I told Hugh he would be an amazing media coach — and could truly use his talents to help people perform better in the media. My media coaching work was getting very busy at the time and I told him I could certainly use someone I know and trust to best represent the consultancy in Toronto area where our business was growing the most.
You see, our coaching sessions are not only informative and hands on — but they’re deliberately entertaining. I’ve always found people learn better and absorb more if you make it fun for them. And, anyone who knows Hugh knows how funny he can be. From my perspective, he was a perfect fit for Fraser Torosay.
Need proof? Watch this video below.
As predictable as the day is long, the axe fell a few months ago…and we were ready.
Most importantly, Hugh was ready mentally. That’s often the trouble with people leaving the media — they’re not ready to go and it’s tough transitioning. Hugh was ready.
He and I have already done sessions together — and not surprisingly — he is a natural and the two of us together truly proves to be one Hell of a session for clients.
We’re also working on earned media strategies for other clients and — as I’ve always said — once a storyteller, always a storyteller.
Like many journalists, Hugh clearly has a gift.
Our clients are better for it.
And, finally, those two wild-eyed kids who first met in 1989 are back together again.
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