Campers pitch new tent

one of the established and better-known names in Canadian advertising, Camp Associates, is now a part of advertising history.In its place is a new shop, officially known as Axmith McIntyre Wicht, A Communications Partnership.The names on the shingle refer to the...

one of the established and better-known names in Canadian advertising, Camp Associates, is now a part of advertising history.

In its place is a new shop, officially known as Axmith McIntyre Wicht, A Communications Partnership.

The names on the shingle refer to the agency’s three equal partners who have worked together at Camp for – by agency standards – an unusually long 20 years.

They are Dianne Axmith, John McIntyre and Arnold Wicht.

While Axmith is from the account side, and McIntyre comes from the creative department, as does Wicht, the three have deliberately avoided using those types of designations in their new titles.

They describe themselves as equal partners and say that in general terms Axmith will look after strategic partnerships, McIntyre will manage the creative product and Wicht takes over most of the administrative function.

They say the move away from traditional titles is indicative of the way the shop will run and that it’s the culmination of a hard look into the changing needs of both the consumer marketplace and the client community.

‘We thought a lot about not just where we wanted the agency to be, but where we thought it ought to be,’ says Wicht.

‘The fact is that we are facing an entirely new consumer. There is a saturation in the marketplace of what people can buy, and what they want to buy. The next generation has grown up and it is seeing the world in an entirely different light. Material things are not as easy to attain and in many instances they are not as important to acquire.

‘Our clients are struggling with these new realities, and so are we, the communicators.

‘For us, the challenge is to find new ways of being more innovative and effective. We must find new ways of reaching consumers beyond 30-second television commercials.

‘Whether it’s an infomercial, the use of a tv station’s own resources to create a commercial aimed at motivating a national sales force, radio messages tied to outdoor billboards or a complete reexamination of what was once considered rather secondary below-the-line activity, we as communicators must be ready to meet the demands of today.

‘Advertisers want more business, not more show business.’

McIntyre, who has worked as Wicht’s copywriting partner on such campaigns as Canada Tourism’s ‘The World Next Door’ describes the changes at the agency as ‘evolutionary.’

The agency began by branching out into such activities as public affairs, fund-raising and direct marketing.

‘We were moving out into more and more channels. In some cases we got into them directly, and in others we established contact with people who could provide those resources,’ says McIntyre, adding:

‘In our research into the type of agency clients are looking for, we kept hearing: `Don’t tell us you can do everything. Tell us you can get everything done. Tell us what tools we need, and if you don’t have them, get them.’

‘Essentially, clients are buying our judgment. In much the same way we can shop outside for research or film production, whatever the particular project may require. In the end what we provide as an agency is an independent perspective on marketing issues, and not just advertising.’

The current industry-wide push towards leaner operational structures is not new to the mid-sized agency (it is in the $30 million billings range with 37 employees).

‘We’ve never had the opportunity to build layers of bureaucracy,’ says Axmith. ‘We’ve always had to run efficiently. Our size has also allowed us to remain in direct contact with all our clients. Every one of our accounts has at least one of our three partners working on it at any time.’

Wicht says that over the past five years, the agency has been quietly reshaping itself through the kinds of people that have come on board. The strategy has been to build diversity by hiring people trained in different communications disciplines.

Says Wicht: ‘It used to be that an art director would look at a communications problem, analyze it and the solution would automatically be: `I’ve got a great idea for an ad.’

‘We’re saying: `Give us your communications problem and we will try to come up with an idea of how to solve it. And that idea, developed at the early stages, is not media specific.’

The many changes that have occurred in the marketplace have ‘put new demands on what you call a great idea,’ says McIntyre. ‘Not only do you need an idea that stands apart, but you also need one that is going to travel well.’

As to the timing of the name change, McIntyre says:

‘I guess you could call it truth in advertising. We run the place. We own it, so the work should carry our signature.

‘But it also signifies a beginning. It has helped to generate a lot of energy inside. We have created new internal programs and we’ve questioned basic principles. We’ve gone back to school to learn more about our jobs and how to get better.’