Editorial – Revolution arrives

Labatt Beweries of Canada President Hugo Powell sent alarm bells ringing through the Canadian advertising agency community exactly one year ago with his call for a 'revolution' in the way agencies operate. For anyone wondering how serious he was, Powell laid...

Labatt Beweries of Canada President Hugo Powell sent alarm bells ringing through the Canadian advertising agency community exactly one year ago with his call for a ‘revolution’ in the way agencies operate. For anyone wondering how serious he was, Powell laid all doubt to rest last week when the brewery announced it had awarded English-language advertising for every brand that carries the Labatt name to an agency it had known for barely three months.

Merely contemplating such a move would have been considered daring by traditional standards. To have actually gone ahead with it suggests that, for some clients like Labatt, at least, a new era truly has begun.

In some respects, these times are radically different. But, in other ways, things have not changed at all. When stripped to its basics, advertising, and all the thinking that goes into it, is not that complicated. Making it work, and nurturing the relationships associated with it, can be real simple. At least, that is the feeling one gets after trying to get to the bottom of what made Labatt and Ammirati & Puris turn on to each other.

A brief conversation with Martin Puris, the head of a&p in New York, provides a glimpse into the culture that so impressed Labatt.

It begins with the way Puris responds to a question about his role at the agency. ‘So, how do you describe your title?’ we ask. ‘I’m president, ceo and writer,’ he says, saving the emphasis for the word ‘writer.’

A request for some reaction to his agency’s amazing accomplishment in Toronto brings a response that is notable for its understatement. ‘Our ultimate plan was to have an agency dominated by local clients, rather than system clients. It makes for a better agency. We’ve achieved that a lot sooner than expected.

‘We wanted to duplicate in Canada what we’ve done here [New York,] and that is to build something with quality people and quality clients. I guess you could say we created our own mould in the agency business. We’ve never had growth objectives to be ‘X’ billion dollars at a particular point in time.’

The part of Martin Puris that has made him a standard-bearer for many toiling in the advertising trenches does not reveal itself as a blinding flash of light. It becomes illuminated gradually. He offers that the common characteristics among the people his agency tends to hire and the clients he tends to work with are that they are smart, they are passionate and ‘they’re all nice. We never want to be bullies. We want clients that we can work with, rather than work against.’

And, back to simplicity.

‘If you have good clients, you will have a good life. If you have bad clients, it will be a bad life.’

As to his future plans for the agency in Canada, or elsewhere, nothing much has changed.

‘We have no desire to be multinational or a part of that global thing, and we have no desire to do more than Toronto, although I suppose there is some validity in creating a North American agency.

‘We intend to grow as fast or as slow as we can. There is no dollar objective. We want to grow with the kind of clients we want – more Labatt types.’