The Strategy Interview

Christopher Strachan, Partner, The Bulldog Group, TorontoChris Strachan is a founding partner of The Bulldog Group, a three-year-old communications firm that applies advertising and marketing skills to state-of-the-art multimedia technologies. In 1987, Strachan opened and ran the Toronto office of Montreal-based...

Christopher Strachan, Partner, The Bulldog Group, Toronto

Chris Strachan is a founding partner of The Bulldog Group, a three-year-old communications firm that applies advertising and marketing skills to state-of-the-art multimedia technologies. In 1987, Strachan opened and ran the Toronto office of Montreal-based marketing firm Kelly Lavoie. Before that, he held marketing positions with two major Toronto real estate developers. Among other things, Toronto-based Bulldog has developed a kiosk, Multimedia Transaction Centre, that enables consumers to browse through product information, speak on the telephone with attendants and make payments. Bulldog works in partnership with Apple Canada, Kodak Canada and Northern Telecom.

Q. How is Bulldog working with its clients in the use of multimedia or interactive to reach its customers?

A. We’re helping our clients to develop a systematic approach to understanding the two environments [telecommunications and cable.] We guide our customers in investing in the necessary technology and electronic capability to be able to offer those services.

And take into account the future evolution of either environment, without limiting them to one versus the other, and without getting them into any deadend situations.

We’re talking to companies now about how they want to offer their products and services over both networks, and we’re also talking to those networks about how they want to formulate their services to better appeal to businesses.

Q. How will a consumer shop at home?

A. As an example, during regular tv programming there will be streams of advertising that will allow you to take yourself out of the program and into that advertiser’s interactive selling proposition.

If you see a 30-second commercial for Club Med, you’re able, through simple remote-control, to touch keys to activate and make a direct inquiry to Club Med about availability or price.

You can find out what location you’re interested in by reviewing the facilities at that location, or talk to someone face to face at that location.

Many levels of interaction will be possible, all leading you to the point to give you everything you need to book two weeks at Club Med and then get back to the movie you were watching.

There are a lot of variations.

Q. How about multimedia on the telco side?

A. One of the projects we’re working on is a combination of the telephone and some form of computational ability that will allow a business to uniquely address packets of information to customers.

If I have a catalogue company, for example, and mail a full-color catalogue to you, I’m going to be able to address packets of pricing and availability information that you can access from your phone over a device that’s more graphic and interactive than you can imagine from a phone.

Q. What skills do Bulldog employees have that those working in a traditional agency wouldn’t have?

A. We’re a fully electronic company. Everybody here works on a computer system. Everything we do is designed and produced electronically.

Agencies typically don’t have the full capabilities. They might do some of their graphic design in digital form, but, at the last minute, will use traditional presentation boards, or they isolate that capability in one area – such as the studio producing electronic design.

What they don’t have culturally within their organization is the ability to take that digital information and manipulate it all the way up to, and including, broadcast video.

For example, let’s say the writer and creative director have been doing radio commercials their whole lives, and one day someone comes in and says, ‘Let’s do television,’ and you’ve never produced it, and you’ve never seen it.

How would those people know how to do television?

First of all, they would have to (and I think agencies will tell you this) have years of experience knowing what the medium can do – techniques of editing, film, sound, acting, casting, etc. Take that transition from audio to video, and put another dimension to that, and that’s what multimedia is.

If you understand interactivity, and you’ve had two or three years’ experience in customer trials about interactivity and what consumers react to, you’re going to be able to design an interactive interface.

If you’ve never had that experience, sure, you’ll have great creative ideas, but it might take you a long time to figure out how to solve that problem because you’ve never had the extra dimension.

Q. Can’t a creative person work in a team with people who can take their ideas to the final product?

A. Not necessarily. We still have technicians and software programmers, but, for the most part – and this is where the revolution is – our creative people are technicians. Our graphic designers know hardware and software. The experiment of getting designers to use technicians to design for them failed. I believe very strongly the same experience will be true in multimedia.

That is to say, a great video producer leaning over the shoulder of a great multimedia technician at a computer will be less satisfactory than a great video producer who understands the hardware and software.

That’s been our experience. That’s why we’re so far ahead – and I know it sounds like these guys think they’re so great – and why we’re being singled out so often by companies, by major banks, by Apple Worldwide, to do the work, because their agencies are years away from being able to understand what we’re already doing.

They’re still into, ‘If I buy the computer and the operator, I have the capability.’