The Indie List: WS

The Calgary-based agency is about finding solutions with soul.
RicJeffSusan

From left to right, Co-owners Susan Groeneveld and Jeff Groeneveld, Ric Fedyna, EVP Creative

What does WS stand for?

Ric Fedyna, EVP Creative at the Calgary-based agency got asked that a lot when he first joined a year ago. Friends, family, industry peers all wanted to know what the two letters meant. It was also something he asked himself and his colleagues in a planning session.

The identity search arose when the agency split from its U.S. partner offices Woodruff Sweitzer in 2017. The move was an opportunity for the 26-year-old Canadian agency to really hone in on its own client promise, Fedyna says, as it plotted its path forward.

A lot of what the agency does deals with food – from crop protection and fertilizers to beef production to farm equipment manufacturing – but WS doesn’t want to just be limited to what people eat, so that it can maintain a broader client appeal.

This year, the 27-person shop rolled out its new tag line “We Solve. With Soul.” across all its communication touch points. “It encapsulates what the agency is about and how we approach solving client problems,” says Fedyna.

To help feed hungry children, WS undertook a CSR campaign for Alberta Beef Producers and Mealshare encouraging meat lovers to #MakeHungerRare.

The agency works with more than 200 freelancers, says Susan Groeneveld, co-owner and EVP Strategy, allowing it to be channel agnostic. “We pride ourselves in solving the clients’ problems first and creating an environment where the different groups are forced to engage with one another rather than run with separate P&L departments, so we are not creating silos and internal inefficiencies,” she says.

WS has been growing over the past year, picking up new clients including a beef producer, pet health company Elanco and High River Brewery.WS has added four members to the creative team, brought aboard a new content strategist and beefed up its insights and analytics team, bringing aboard new staff and promoting Graham Kahl to the role of EVP of the department.

Elanco’s “Share Everything” campaign encourages people to get up-close and personal with their dogs, with the help of de-worming medication, of course.

Elanco’s “Share Everything” campaign encourages people to get up-close and personal with their dogs, with the help of de-worming medication, of course.

The two departments work closely with Groeneveld to develop brand work. It’s all part of its “360-approach” to marketing, with insights and analytics helping drive strategy, creative, PR, media, content and lead generation. She points to long-term client Morris Industries as a brand attracted to the agency for its model.

The Saskatoon-based company had invested a lot in a new product line up, as well as a new corporate leadership, and was looking for a way of differentiating itself from the pack.

The campaign was targeted at farmers, who are often second- or third-generation growers. “They’ve lived on the farm their whole lives,” Fedyna says. “They want to pass it on to the next gen as well. They don’t get to ‘go home’ at the end of a typical day. Their business is their life. The land is everything for them – it’s a very emotional thing.”

A lot of the competitors’ marketing focused on the shiny, new equipment farmers could use, with little in the way of emotional connection with the target demo.

The agency unveiled the “Innovation Unearthed” platform in June, and launched a radio, print and digital campaign to support it. The creative featured a relatable Morris “spokesperson” – someone wholesome and approachable, who could stand in for the farmers. He hosted a mock talk show on which he interviewed guests that have an influence on growers’ day to day lives, like the weatherman (who admits tearfully he isn’t able to predict the weather at all); the company’s lawyer (who prevents the host from divulging trade secrets by aggressively bleeping what he was saying); and even the company’s head of innovation (who pours her heart and soul into explaining all the brand’s innovations on a single piece of equipment).

As part of an ongoing campaign for manufacturer Morris, the agency rolled out a new brand platform “Innovation Unearthed” across digital, radio and print featuring a clueless weatherman as well as spoofing other experts to appeal to its farmer target.

The campaign only recently finished, and results are just starting to roll in with signs that it is exceeding all the KPI goals outlined. The push also picked up the best multi-media campaign honour at the 2018 CAMA awards and best cross platform campaign at Digital Alberta’s Ember Awards. And the agency and brand have already turned their attention to 2019, beginning work on the next phase.

The shop is also currently working on a range of programs from a multi-channel creative campaign for Anuvia SymTRX, an environmentally friendly fertilizer for the southern U.S., to a new app for vets and cat owners on behalf of pet care initiative Cat Healthy.

The agency launched the new craft beer company High River Brewery, including naming and designing labels, with the creative playing off the town’s well known history with floods.

The agency launched the new craft beer company High River Brewery, including naming and designing labels, with the creative playing off the town’s well known history with floods.

As it continues to grow its own brand, WS is also focusing on building an emotional connection and putting its employee recognition program at the fore, making it a stronger part of its external communication with brands and prospective staffers.

Modelled after a secret society, the retention program is geared towards meeting the changing needs of its workforce – in this case the up-and-coming millennials who value being rewarded on a more ongoing basis. The program offers employees “spontaneous” rewards for great work – mandatory birthdays off, monthly recognition platforms – and of course, the pinnacle of any secret society, a members-only awards gala. It launched in the spring, complete with branded black hoodies and, of course, a covert ceremony.

“I believe this kind of program will help attract better talent, which translates to better work for the clients,” Fedyna says. “Ultimately, we’re growing quickly and just starting to find our stride.”

CONTACT

Ric Fedyna

EVP Creative

rfedyna@simplyws.com