A&P told Labatt `something new’

Ammirati & Puris, an ad agency that did not even have an office here a year ago when the first Canadian Congress of Advertising took place, seems to have been listening anyhow.The New York-based agency that opened in Toronto in October...

Ammirati & Puris, an ad agency that did not even have an office here a year ago when the first Canadian Congress of Advertising took place, seems to have been listening anyhow.

The New York-based agency that opened in Toronto in October to service two big u.s.-based accounts, has just pulled off what many believe to be the single biggest account win in Canadian advertising history.

At the heart of the recent decision by Labatt Breweries of Canada to award a&p every one of its brands that carry the Labatt name, is the feeling that a&p was able to deliver on two of the most important requirements that Labatt President Hugo Powell made of agencies at the congress.

Powell said, in his blockbuster speech, that clients were waiting for agencies to tell them something they did not already know, and that clients were hungry for agencies that they felt they could call true business partners.

It seems a&p was able to fulfill these expectations, and, in the process, picked up English-language advertising for some of the most coveted brands in Canadian marketing, such as Labatt Blue.

That, industry sources estimate, could be worth between $3 million and $4 million in annual fees.


‘They delivered new information that was relevant, that made sense and then rounded that out with a recommendation that looked like it could drive our business, down the road,’ says Bruce Elliot, vice-president of marketing for Labatt.

‘We felt that we received a lot of new learning from a&p, and they were not traditional about how they got to things,’ Elliot says.

‘They sourced facts that were new to Labatt,’ he says. ‘The Labatt research team didn’t drive the new information.


‘They also provided us with some knowledgeable thinking on how to relate to our customers.’

Labatt felt it was getting something more than the kind of client/supplier relationship in which a supplier delivers on an order, adds Labatt communication director Paul Smith.

‘We saw new thinking and [the prospect of] a real partnership,’ Smith says.

The sequence of events leading to the stunning decision – in which Labatt dropped agencies J. Walter Thompson, Young and Rubicam and D’Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles entirely, as well as shifting Ice beers and Carlsberg from Scali McCabe Sloves, Toronto – goes back about two years.


(In the new line-up incumbent agency Bozell Palmer Bonner relinquishes Labatt Genuine Draft to a&p, but gets licensed products under the Carlsberg and Budweiser names.

(Scali, Toronto is awarded new product development, and Scali, Vancouver, which like Scali, Toronto reports independently to New York, retains its western regional brands.)

In March of 1992, Labatt sat down with a myriad of people supplying communications resources to the brewery – including its ad agencies – to map out a long-range plan.

From the outset, Labatt let it be known the brewery was planning to change its own business culture, and that, in principle, the brewery wanted to end up dealing with fewer but more closely tied business partners.

One of the teams involved in the overall planning process consisted of Richard Kelly, a special consultant to Labatt and a former agency president, and Henry Fiorillo, a prominent Toronto researcher.

Kelly and Fiorillo were engaged in a strategic project under the umbrella of the long-range plan when a&p’s intention to establish a Toronto office came to light.

a&p, a $350-million shop known in the u.s. as an agency that has maintained its focus on advertising, announced it was moving to Toronto, initially to service existing clients United Parcel Service and Compaq computer.

Even before signing a lease for office space, the Toronto operation, headed by chairman and creative director Tom Nelson, was hired by Labatt to help flesh out the work that Kelly and Fiorillo had been doing.

The story from there is one of an agency and client relationship that just seemed to click from the beginning.


Labatt and a&p executives both talk a lot about the ‘great chemistry’ that developed between agency and client in the few months that followed.

‘It’s not like we’ve brought them some kind of alternate universe,’ Nelson says.

‘We just did what they paid us to do,’ he says.

‘We responded to the assignment, and I guess the reason there was great chemistry is because we really listened, and I guess they liked the way we do things.

‘As we got to know them better, we saw in them people who we thought we could be terrific partners with.

‘I think they felt it was a very participatory thing, a very collegial process.

‘I guess they’ve thought through what is the right thing for them to do, and now it’s time to get on with it. And we feel the same.’

Fully staffed

Nelson says a&p’s work for Labatt came from its New York and Toronto offices, and while Toronto will continue to tap New York resources, Toronto will be fully staffed to handle the account.

Only English advertising assignments are affected by the changes. Agency assignments in Quebec and the United States are not affected.

Harrison Young Pesonen & Newell, a media buying and planning company owned by Labatt through its entertainment holding, Supercorp, continues as Labatt’s agency-of-record.


Former y&r brands in Atlantic Canada, Oland and Keith’s, remain unassigned.

Now that the decision has been made and the agenda set, Elliot says Labatt is looking forward to developing a new kind of agency partnership.

‘We expect to see fewer, more focussed, more senior people around the table, and we would expect them [agency people] to be more intimately and passionately involved in the business on a day-to-day basis.’