Editorial: Are you ready?

The big question that was left hanging in the air of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre almost two years ago when Hugo Powell, president of Labatt Breweries of Canada, challenged ad agencies to re-examine themselves, was whether they would respond.Weeks and...

The big question that was left hanging in the air of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre almost two years ago when Hugo Powell, president of Labatt Breweries of Canada, challenged ad agencies to re-examine themselves, was whether they would respond.

Weeks and months later, with Powell’s comments fully digested, and with only a few feeble cries from agencies protesting the fairness of Powell’s remarks, the question shifted from whether agencies would react to how or, indeed, how quickly.

We have since heard a lot about re-engineering and reinvention, but have yet to see, through any significant change, what this means.

If anything, a certain flatness and indecisiveness has descended upon the community here as agencies appear, for the most part, content to wait on the sidelines and let others make the plays.

There have been notable exceptions, of course. bbdo and its spectacular handling of Molson Breweries’ Red Dog brand, now launched in the u.s. through the Toronto agency, is one of the first examples that comes to mind. Others are the aggressive turnaround at Vickers & Benson Advertising, and the continued strength of Cossette Communication-Marketing as a truly national, diversified agency powerhouse.

But, elsewhere, there is sameness, and a sense of expectation building as clients and agencies wait for the next generation of leaders to step forward. They are certainly in place.

Consider the number of agencies that have new people at the top, the majority of chief executive officers who have come into the job over the past year, many of them just in recent months. The list of agency names reads like a Who’s Who of the top multinational agency brands.

J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather, Saatchi & Saatchi, D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, DDB Needham, Chiat/Day, Bates, Bozell, and, now, for the second time this year, MacLaren:Lintas.

And, Strategy has heard that a Toronto executive recruitment firm has been assigned to find a replacement for another multinational agency ceo of long standing.

At the same time, after several years of recession-assisted stability among creative people, a delayed round of top-level talent shuffling is in full swing among many of the major shops.

But, as the community waits to see what this all means, and where the new generation of presidents stands, the marketplace is doing everything but waiting.

An admittedly small, but, by implication, extremely meaningful case in point comes from a news item out of Oslo. The story is that Coca-Cola, the company that with mutinational agency McCann-Erickson Advertising helped invent the global dictum of one client working with one agency around the world to create single-voice advertising, had walked down the street to the local office of the Leo Burnett Company, hiring the agency locally to produce adaptations of advertising for a variety of Coca-Cola brands.

Whether on the media side, where change is occurring daily, or among the consumer public where rules are being broken and rewritten all the time, or in the once seemingly unassailable protocols between clients and agencies, opportunities for the practitioners of commercial communication are opening. Will Canadians be ready?