It’s hard to believe, but Comit celebrated turning 20 this week! While some of our team members were mere toddlers in 1997, Comit founder and managing director, Allan Chapman, was busy setting up his own PR agency to service Ireland’s growing tech sector. Two decades later, Allan is still at the helm of the business as it continues to grow and deliver the best service to technology companies based here.
17. Herbert Street - Where it all began
To mark the occasion, we asked Allan 20 questions about turning 20. We also asked him to share some dodgy photos of himself from 1997, but we’re still working on that!
Who did the original Comit team consist of?
I was a lone ranger! My colleagues were the other people occupying offices in the Project Development Centre, which was a start-up hub in Dublin.
How has your job changed since then?
At the start, I was the classic one-man band. I had a couple of clients and worked hard to ensure I was providing them with a great service. On the other side, I was also doing everything from accounts and billing to tech support. Now we have a fantastic, multi-skilled team and an ever-growing portfolio of clients.
How did you come up with the name?
It was a logical name given what we were doing: communications services for companies in the IT space – Comit, or ComIT, as it was first.
Were you confident that Comit would be a success?
I initially set out to provide services to Irish companies, as well as US companies looking to establish a base in Europe. I went to the States and the feedback was mixed. What I didn’t expect, however, was that the Irish business would take off, leaving little time to focus on the international side.
What was the biggest challenge in setting Comit up?
Being on my own with no guarantee of income was tough. I was working very long hours to get the business in order while also delivering great service to clients. Holidays didn’t feature heavily in the first couple of years. My brother, Barry, joined Comit two years later and that transformed everything.
The Comit team
Who was your first client?
Oracle and LAKE Communications both signed up within a couple of days of each other.
Do you remember the first Comit press release?
I sure do. We were announcing a partnership between LAKE Communications and Cabletron, which had a facility in Shannon. To encourage journalists to write about the story, we flew them out on a private jet to Shannon for the day. I still have a fax receipt from an Irish Times journalist confirming her attendance! I also still have the bill for chartering a private plane to Shannon: it cost £1,181.
When we got there, I handed out copies of the press release on a floppy disk. It was a first for many of them to receive a press release digitally, as opposed to in print or via fax.
What was the most high-tech equipment in the Comit office in 1997?
We had a 48Kbps modem. It was 1,000 times slower than our current broadband connection but at the time it was really cutting-edge technology!
Your business partner and brother, Barry, joined Comit in 1999. Do you recommend working with family?
You had better ask him! Truthfully though, I couldn’t ask for a better partner in business. We share the same goals and have complete trust in each other. The openness, transparency and honesty that is typical of a family relationship is perfect for a growing business.
Why is Comit where it is now?
Relationships are crucial to our success and we have been working with longstanding friends like journalists John Kennedy and Leslie Faughnan since the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, clients such as Ricoh, Data Solutions, Dublin BIC, Strencom and TERMINALFOUR have been with us for more than 10 years.
We have built a fantastic team, work environment and a culture of being the best at what we do.
What has been your greatest success in the last 20 years?
We have never lost a client to a competitor. I’m not sure there are many that could say that. Hard work and a focus on helping clients grow their business is key to this.
Any mistakes you made along the way?
Ahemmmmm… I think I tried to do too much on my own in the early days. We could have gotten to where we are today, and further, much earlier if I had surrounded myself with the type of team we have today from the get-go.
What is the most exciting aspect of your job?
I love getting great results for clients. Picking up the papers in the morning and seeing a number of clients featured in the business pages always gives me a kick. I also love going to TV and radio studios with clients. We also value and put a lot into team development and growth and it is really rewarding to see our people grow and flourish.
Any funny memories you can share from the years?
We persuaded Eddie Jordan to take part in a client launch event once. He flew his own private jet into Weston Aerodrome and I offered to collect him... in my Ford Escort. While the Jordan V10 accelerated from naught to 60 in three seconds, my Escort was more like naught to three in 60 seconds! Thankfully he didn’t comment on my wheels and we had a great chat.
Spot the difference!
How has Ireland’s media landscape changed since 1997?
Immensely. Today, communications are instant and we have to be much more responsive than ever. The golden hour that we once had to respond to a breaking crisis is now a golden minute. There are also a lot more media channels today, which is great for us as a PR agency.
How has the world of PR changed since 1997?
Given that we used to Sellotape captions onto the back of photos which were then couriered out to journalists, it has completely transformed! Sending out press releases used to be such a painstaking, manual job but email has changed that entirely. Even tracking and clipping client media coverage was a major task. Cutting and pasting coverage involved a sharp blade, glue and paper.
How will you celebrate Comit’s 20th birthday?
We opened some bubbly over a little celebratory dinner with the team at the amazing Ananda restaurant in Dundrum. Then, later in the year, we will embark on a 20th birthday celebration, which will consist of a magical mystery overnight trip to a secret location.
What were you up to when you were 20 years old?
I was in UL and on work experience in Boston doing B2B telesales for a large US telco called MCI. It was a great training for PR because I learned so much about picking up the phone and pitching to people.
Where do you see Comit in the next 20 years?
Twenty years? That’s a tough one! At the moment we are growing strongly and we are on-target to achieve ambitious growth plans for the year 2020. We will continue to be very focused while having fun along the way and that can only lead to more great things in the future. We involve the whole team in regular company away days which helps keep own ambitions in focus.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own company?
Never settle for second best. Find your niche and be the best at it.