Copywriters open hybrid shop

Two well-known Toronto copywriters are hoping to make the transition to commercial directors with the formation of a new hybrid shop offering both agency creative and tv production.The shop, called Guerrilla tv, is a three-way partnership headed creatively by Judy John,...

Two well-known Toronto copywriters are hoping to make the transition to commercial directors with the formation of a new hybrid shop offering both agency creative and tv production.

The shop, called Guerrilla tv, is a three-way partnership headed creatively by Judy John, until recently associate creative director with the Toronto office of Taxi Advertising and Design, and Michael O’Reilly, a freelance copywriter who has worked for a number of top agencies.

David Medlock, a tv producer who has operated his own company, Box Productions, for the past four years, is the third partner in the firm.

Gorilla tv is bound to cause waves in the close-knit agency-production community in that its principals intend to work directly with clients, both writing the ads and shooting them on film.

John says ‘I think that when working with clients directly, the ideas come out purer because there isn’t that level of interpretation.’

John says she believes the time is ripe for a shop such as Guerrilla tv to begin knocking on clients’ doors, explaining that during the recession both clients and agencies flattened out their organizations to the point at which many marketers gained experience working face to face with creatives, rather that through an account director.

John says that as a result, marketers now ‘realize we aren’t as crazy as the account people made us out to be.’

‘I think clients feel empowered when they work with creatives directly,’ she adds.

Medlock says he could envision Guerrilla tv starting a trend towards specialized production companies that hire agency creatives as directors and work directly with clients.

‘The advertising industry is always trying to improve itself and one way it does so is by specializing,’ says Medlock.

What Guerrilla tv brings to the market is yet another option, he says, adding ‘I often wonder, when clients choose one agency over another, what they are picking.

‘I think Guerrilla tv offers a distinct choice,’ he says.

What the shop clearly brings to the table is award-winning creative talent. John has been one of the most award-winning copywriters in the country in the past couple of years, copping medals in Canada and internationally for such clients as Sleeman Brewing & Malting, Lovecraft, and the Leukemia Research Fund of Canada.

In June, she and O’Reilly both made news by picking up two of the three awards won by Canadians at the June International Advertising Film Festival in Cannes.

John won gold for a poster for Toronto’s Keen Music, Voice and Sound Design.

O’Reilly, who has also won a mantle full of awards over the years, picked up bronze for a tv ad for Cystic Fibrosis.

Although clients might view Guerrilla tv as a breath of fresh air for their industry, the jury is still out on how the company will be received by the agency community. Guerrilla tv hopes to obtain some work from traditional agencies at the same time that it is pursuing work from clients.

A brief survey of senior executives with ad agencies shows some would welcome Guerrilla tv as yet another creative resource, while others would have reservations, considering the shop to be a potential rival for their clients’ business.

And at least one agency president, Peter Jeffery, president of Gee, Jeffery & Partners Advertising of Toronto, says he ‘would not even think of hiring them.

‘These people have got to decide who is the hand that feeds them,’ says Jeffery.

‘If you try to get a feeding frenzy going with both clients and agencies, you are likely to get one of your hands bitten off,’ he adds.

Brad Riddock, creative director with Backer Spielvogel Bates, says he would not have a problem with hiring the shop as long as none of his clients were working with it.

Riddock says he thinks the concept of a hybrid agency boutique and production house is an ‘interesting idea.’

‘I think good for them,’ he says.

Bob Hawton, executive vice-president and group creative director at bbdo, where John worked briefly in 1993-94, says he has ‘some difficulties’ reconciling the idea of Guerrilla tv being both a supplier and a potential rival.

‘If you introduce Judy and her people to the client and the client really liked them, which is entirely possible knowing Judy, then what’s your role?’

But ultimately, says Hawton, ‘if the right project came along, there is enough respect in the agency for Judy that I think we would work with her.’