It’s the advertising that really counts

Based on the reasoning that the core business of an advertising agency is still the advertising it creates on behalf of its clients, Strategy's Agency of the Year competition has been built on one basic foundation - an agency's work.Each year,...

Based on the reasoning that the core business of an advertising agency is still the advertising it creates on behalf of its clients, Strategy’s Agency of the Year competition has been built on one basic foundation – an agency’s work.

Each year, in determining which agencies should be in the running, we try as much as we can to focus on advertising product rather than other factors, such as public image, in making our selections.

Pure and simple, it was MacLaren:Lintas’ impressive creative output over the year that earned the agency a shot at the title.

And it was this same work, as judged by a peer group of 12 independent agency and client professionals, that won it for the agency.

‘It almost makes one feel a little self-conscious to be reminded that it’s true that, at the end of the day, it’s really only the work that counts,’ says Tony Miller, MacLaren chief executive officer.


‘The fact is, we get so distracted in this business, and we often lose sight of the basics,’ Miller says. ‘The distractions are real: growth, new business, revenue trends, the attitudes of your people and your clients, the perceptions of you in the marketplace.

‘Yet, while all of these things may be important, they can also be tremendously distracting.

‘What this [winning Strategy's Agency of the Year] demonstrates is that the formula is still pretty simple,’ Miller says.

‘If you have the ability to firstly identify, and secondly, attract, and thirdly, hold and motivate talented people, and,they are, in the end, focussed on the end product, it’s amazing how all of the other things become quite insignificant,’ he says.

Miller, who has been at the centre of one of the most tumultuous year’s in MacLaren’s long history in Canada, is eminently qualified to speak about the effect that these ‘other things’ can have on an agency.

First, he was brought back to Canada after having gone through a string of huge account losses at Lintas in New York, to take over from his former colleague, Marty Rothstein, who, in some ways, had an even rougher ride here.

Revitalize image

Then, Miller’s first big move to revitalize the agency’s image in Canada – hiring high profile creative director Peter Lanyon as president and creative head – went sour almost immediately. Within three months, Lanyon was gone.

Yet, the agency’s work obviously did not suffer, as witnessed first by the strong vote of confidence it got from Molson Breweries after the agency succeeded in retaining the prestigious Canadian brand, and, now, with Strategy’s top award of the year.

‘The key word, here, is distractions,’ Miller says.

‘If you allow them to get in the way, like making decisions based on how you think the market will react to what you are doing, then you’re working to the wrong agenda,’ he says.

‘And, it’s so easy to do.

‘When you’re `hot,’ you can get seduced by that, and start to believe that every decision you make is a good one.

‘That can be as damaging as being preoccupied by the negative things people may be saying about you, and having that influence your decisions.

‘I think a lot of people will pay attention to the fact that we won this award,’ Miller says.


‘And, I think they will take away from this a reaffirmation, as I said before, of some core values,’ he says.

‘All it takes is good people, focussed on the work, and some really good clients.

‘When you look at the body of work that won this for us, you will see a list of outstanding clients. So, in a sense, this is not just an agency win. It is a win for relationships as well.

‘What you will find behind every one of those campaigns is a great relationship and wonderful collaboration between agency and client. It’s not just creative people.

‘The lesson I take from this is that the most important thing is to keep believing in yourself,’ Miller says. ‘Keep your eye on the ball.

‘A lot of recognition, here, should go to people like Bill Durnan, who was able to identify and staff the agency with the right kinds of people,’ he says.


‘There is a certain glue in the place. What Bill put in place, essentially, continued, and that’s a credit to both him and the people he hired.

‘Certainly, there’s been a lot of anxiety in this place over the past year. But, again, the people remained focussed on the work, and it came out the other end.

‘I guess it’s a reminder that if you concentrate on doing what you’re good at, the other stuff will take care of itself.’