Rob Hyams is the president of McMillan – an Ottawa-based creative agency specializing in B2B brands and campaigns.
What was your first export sale and how did it arise?
Our first export sale was a contract for clip art with Microsoft and we ended up providing them with thousands of images over several years. It was never our core business but it enabled us to set up ourselves as a legitimate creative agency.
Our first big break that aligned with our core business took place in the late 1990s. We were contacted by a marketing consultancy with offices in the Bay Area, Toronto and Ottawa that was looking for an agency to work with one of its tech clients in Gatineau. After meeting with them at our office in Ottawa, they decided that we were not suited to the account. Instead, they wanted to bring us in on a much larger relationship in the Bay Area with a company called Oracle.
Within a few weeks of that meeting we had rented an apartment in San Jose, California and were developing all kinds of marketing collateral for Oracle University. About six months into the contract, much of the marketing team was disbanded and they went to other firms, including PeopleSoft, CommerceOne and Charles Schwab, and these clients brought us with them. Our export business grew dramatically over the subsequent years until the tech crash in the early 2000s.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish we had known about all of the different services available to exporters because we were flying by the seat of our pants when we started working in the US. There were many different organizations providing different types of support to exporters and it was hard to navigate through all of it at the time. Now things are much more coordinated and much more content is available online.
How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
There have been some big shifts. Technology has accelerated communications. Business has distributed workforces. More businesses are interested in expanding globally. When we first started exporting our services almost twenty years ago, customers would question how we could service them effectively from Ottawa. Now, it doesn’t come up. All of our clients have staff in multiple regions and multiple time zones, and they are happy to have an agency with a global perspective.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
Business people are willing to look beyond their country’s borders if a company offers something them compelling. The world is much smaller than it appears.