Curtain comes down for Holmes & Lee on Post

In an odd move, even within the wacky world of advertising, Toronto-based ad shop Holmes & Lee issued a press release last week stating that it had resigned the National Post account because it couldn't work with former theatre impresario Garth...

In an odd move, even within the wacky world of advertising, Toronto-based ad shop Holmes & Lee issued a press release last week stating that it had resigned the National Post account because it couldn’t work with former theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky, who had been hired last month as a marketing consultant for the paper.

According to the four-paragraph release, the agency encountered ‘extreme differences in advertising’ with Drabinsky, who, the release states, wrote, produced and directed a direct response television spot currently on air that ‘has no connection to Holmes & Lee, whatsoever.’

Reached by telephone, Peter Holmes, the agency’s co-founder and creative director, says, ‘We tried to work with (Drabinsky) but it was impossible. The man’s ego knows no boundaries.’

The thing is, according to Ron Clark, the Post’s vice-president of marketing – whose name, incidentally, was included as a contact on the press release – the account wasn’t Holmes & Lee’s to resign, as the agency was brought in solely on a project basis.

‘Resigned from what?’ he asks incredulously. ‘They weren’t hired as our agency of record and the project they were hired for is nearly complete.’

Clark says he was aware of the conflict between Drabinsky and the agency but was surprised by the latter’s actions. He adds that he stands behind the appointment of Drabinsky, who he says is helping to position the Post as more than a financial newspaper and increase its appeal in entertainment and cultural circles.

‘You cannot dispute what the man did for Cineplex and for Toronto theatre,’ says Clark.

Drabinsky has close ties with National Post owner Conrad Black. Black sat on the board of directors of Livent, the live theatre company founded by Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb, before it collapsed amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and fraud. Drabinsky and Gottlieb are currently fighting extradition to the U.S. to face criminal charges.

Drabinsky could not be reached for comment.

The Post, meanwhile, has consolidated much of its marketing in-house, but will continue to look for agencies to aid it on a project basis. Those agencies will be told that they will have to establish a working relationship with Drabinsky, Clark says.

That probably doesn’t come as welcome news to Holmes & Lee, as, according to the release, ‘We love the potential of the (National Post) brand, and we hope to be able to help if and when Mr. Drabinsky is gone.’

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group