Rebranded and re-energized, Lowe RMP takes top spot

This past year has been 'jam-packed with excitement,' says Lowe RMP president Peter Coish. Wait a minute. On second thought, he admits, the year before that was pretty crazy, too... and well, the year before that....
In fact, every one of the last four years - since the direct agency opened its doors in Toronto in February 1998 - has been a whirlwind of change, growth and activity.

This past year has been ‘jam-packed with excitement,’ says Lowe RMP president Peter Coish. Wait a minute. On second thought, he admits, the year before that was pretty crazy, too… and well, the year before that….

In fact, every one of the last four years – since the direct agency opened its doors in Toronto in February 1998 – has been a whirlwind of change, growth and activity.

Even so, 2002 has been significant in terms of the depth of change the youthful company has undergone and continues to experience.

First, it decided to adopt a new brand identity to align itself with international partner Lowe & Partners. The rebranding resulted in a clean new design and a fresh and innovative Web site.

The agency also gained several new clients and nearly doubled its staff, going from 25 at the beginning of the year to 47 (of course, then there were major renovations to the office space to contend with).

Plus, it garnered several awards, including a few RSVPs, a couple of Marquees, Caples and an Echo. And now, another notch to the belt: For the second year in a row, Lowe RMP has earned the title of Direct Agency of the Year.

‘It was a great year, but it was scary, too,’ admits Coish. ‘Here we had built ourselves on being a fun, feisty [shop] and then we double the size and go through an identity change as well. Through it all, we made sure we kept that iconoclastic culture where there are no sacred cows and everyone in all departments is involved in the creativity.’

Managing director Martin Strazovec sees it this way: ‘We are still freewheeling with an emphasis on open communication and creativity. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and we welcome and try to encourage ideas from every level of the company.’

Still, despite its trademark free-spirited style, it was time for a new, more sophisticated image. The re-branding was necessary, says Coish. ‘We had reached a point where we wanted a more mature look, less tongue-in-cheek. It has had a re-energizing effect on the company.’

Additions to Lowe RMP’s client roster in the last 12 months include HSBC Bank USA, high-end children’s footwear retailer OLLY Shoes, Nestlé Purina and Vincor International. It continues to work with such clients as Mercedes Benz, Grand & Toy and the Sony Store. The only client lost was Navision. And President’s Choice, the client that launched Lowe RMP four years ago, this year returned to the fold.

While creative director Steven Bochenek is reluctant to single out any particular client or campaign of the past year (‘I love all my children!’), a few in particular stand out.

For example, N.Y.-based HSBC Bank was a significant leap forward for this agency. Lowe RMP is responsible for the bank’s in-branch materials, especially POP.

‘It’s our first significant U.S. client,’ says Coish, ‘and we were part of their international rebranding effort. Walking down Third Ave. in New York and seeing our posters in the windows of the bank was a wonderful, thrilling experience.’ And, he adds, it’s nice to get paid in U.S. dollars.

Bochenek and Strazovec point to the Daily Bread Food Bank as a client/campaign that stands out in their minds.

For the past two years, Lowe RMP had designed the DBFB’s paper grocery bag, distributed as an FSI in the Toronto Star during the three-times-a-year food drives, and which won a Silver Cables for innovation. But with DBFB’s growing number of customers and increasingly bare shelves, more was needed. Lowe RMP had set up a Web site, www.givegroceries.com, so people could donate all year round, and it set out to promote the heck out of it.

With the help of its main media firm Initiative Media, Lowe RMP used a creative strategy the team says is best summed up with one word: ‘guilt.’

They created banner ads of hungry-looking children dolefully looking through the window of a grocery store, and various guerrilla postings, transit shelters, radio, elevator advertising and Digital Dan – which broadcasts messages into food courts – all directing people to the Web site to give to the food bank.

Later in the year, circumstances reached a critical point when the Food Bank literally ran out of food. Lowe RMP stepped up, calling in a few more favours from Initiative Media and quickly creating a campaign that included banner ads, outdoor advertising and a heavy PR campaign (that Lowe RMP co-orchestrated, using the tagline ‘The Daily Bread Food Bank is starving.’)

The campaign garnered a lot of media attention, and as a result the site raised $40,000 inside of a month, an important part of the whole campaign, which took in more than $350,000.

‘Because of the great response, that campaign resonates with us in a special way,’ says Bochenek.

‘Between frequent travel to New York and learning about that market and working on the HSBC account, and focusing on feeding the hungry in Toronto with the Food Bank, it has been quite a broadening and consciousness-raising year,’ adds Strazovec.

Among the other campaigns near and dear to their hearts is one for Grand & Toy, in which a direct mail piece went to senior buying managers at major companies, featuring an offer to get a free pair of Nikes for spending an hour with a Grand & Toy business development manager.

Inside the shoe-box-shaped mailer was the offer and the headline, ‘What some people will do to get a foot in the door.’ Already, $4 million in promised sales for next year have been realized – 30% above the final objective.

For the Sony Store (one of its longest-standing clients), Lowe RMP charged the data gurus at sister company Analuein with a massive segmentation analysis of the Sony Store’s customer data. The result: eight different types of customers, complete with descriptive names and common behaviours for each type.

These insights were used to create fun, sporty trading cards for in-store staff in an effort to teach them about their customers and to remind them to log customer data at every sale. By collecting the cards and entering data, staff members could win prizes. By the end of the program, sales associates had increased their data capture from 10% previously to 70%.

That the company’s growth and strong results have come during a year of economic uncertainty is impressive. In the last year, Lowe RMP revenues have reached $4.4 million, up from $3 million the previous year, a 46% increase.

‘Overall I don’t think the industry is seeing much growth,’ says Coish. ‘People weren’t retreating into direct [away from general advertising] like they often do in tough times. Still, we see a lot of positive opportunity in mail, telemarketing and, for building customer relationships, e-mail has so much potential.’

Lowe RMP has also seized several opportunities this year to rally the direct marketing community. It orchestrated its Canadian Direct Marketing Scholarship for business students for the third year in a row – this year in partnership Toronto-based OgilvyOne worldwide and VBDI.

And it enjoyed great success with its inaugural Direct Marketers’ Other Ball, which saw 700 direct marketers turn out to party with rapper Snow and support the Daily Bread Food Bank. The event raised over $8,500 for the DBFB.

‘We want to promote and celebrate direct marketing,’ says Coish, ‘and let young people and business students know that they can have a great career in the field of direct marketing.’

Besides taking on more staff – or as a result of – Lowe RMP’s growth has demanded more space, and the sweet sounds of hammers and drills and the pungent smell of paint have been emanating from the agency’s Wellington St. digs of late.

The office environment has become as vivid and rich as direct marketers’ imaginations, with bright blue dominating the walls. It’s a look consistent with all Lowe offices around the world. (‘After all,’ it’s pointed out on the Lowe RMP Web site, ‘if we’re telling our clients to be consistent with their brand, so should we.’) But rapid growth and jamming extra staff in tiny spaces pre-renovations, has been stressful at times, Coish admits.

‘In spite of, and because of all the growth, we’ve been able to maintain a real strict focus on the creative product, something we’ve built the agency on from the start,’ he says. ‘When I look at all the work we’ve done in the last 12 months, I see a consistency in the quality. I’m proud we’ve been able uphold our ‘Creativity Pays’ motto amid all the change and excitement.’