Bay’s challenges escalate as Norris moves on

Change is good. With its top marketing post still vacant, an agency search underway, and its fashion-forward repositioning just six months into the bag, executives at the Bay must surely have adopted this expression as their mantra. Complicating matters, on March...

Change is good. With its top marketing post still vacant, an agency search underway, and its fashion-forward repositioning just six months into the bag, executives at the Bay must surely have adopted this expression as their mantra.

Complicating matters, on March 31, Rob Norris, the Bay’s executive vice-president, left the company he’s called home for the past 21 years.

‘It’s something that’s been in the works for quite a bit of time,’ the departing Norris said in an interview with Strategy, declining to offer any indication where he was headed. ‘It’s strictly a personal decision,’ he added. ‘It has nothing to do with where the company’s heading or anything else.’

Among retail industry analysts, Norris’ departure is said to have created a strategic void at the Bay, where a fairly extensive repositioning is underway.

Norris’ departure has also been cited as one of the factors that prompted Vancouver agency Palmer Jarvis DDB to withdraw from competition for an account that only a week earlier agency president Frank Palmer said he’d love to handle.

‘(The Bay) hasn’t filled the void of a good, strong marketing professional,’ Palmer says. ‘And until they’ve got their top marketing individual in place, I think it’s just best that we back away from the process.’

Palmer says that Norris’ leaving will simply add to the uncertainty, and since the account is only for creative and not strategic work, he no longer has an interest in pitching it.

Although he declined to discuss details surrounding the Bay’s search for a new vice-president of marketing, Norris maintains the marketing department has both good leadership and a clear sense of direction. ‘We have a strategy and we have a structure in place.’

He says the company has been busy ‘fixing’ its print communication with its customers and has begun tweaking its radio advertising to ensure it’s in line with the new positioning. ‘We’re now going out to find an agency to help us bring the brand to life in terms of television.’

Back in January, the Bay said it was delaying its search for a new agency until it could replace former vice-president of marketing Barry Agnew, who resigned last spring. But on March 20, with no new body in sight, the Bay submitted an invitation to 25 members of the Institute of Canadian Advertising. The account, for creative only, is valued at $15 million, and is said to include eight to 10 television spots and 120 radio spots annually. The Bay has said it will not reveal its shortlist.

While Norris insists it’s clear where the company is heading, the Bay is obviously grappling with the fact that it must define its position in a retail landscape that’s already toppled some big players of late: Eaton’s collapsed last year, Dylex is in the midst of a break-up, and when Marks & Spencer pulled out of the country last spring, it called Canada one of the worst retail markets in the world in which to make a buck.

Then there’s the competition: With Paul Walters at its helm, Sears Canada has become a formidable player in the middle market and analysts say will soon be duking it out with the Bay in the burbs. And even if the Bay manages to position itself a bit further upmarket than Sears, they say, it will face competition from a revived, more upscale Eatons in all its marquee locations.

It’s not an easy spot to be in, but Norris says he’s confident the Bay will flourish as a result of changes to its internal structure to help drive the ‘Stylish Ideas Made Easy’ positioning it adopted late last year.

‘Once the strategy and positioning were in place, it was clear we had to invest in our people as well,’ said Norris. ‘So we’ve hired a number of marketing managers and a marketing director as well.’

The new marketing director is Tony Scala, who, in the absence of a vice-president of marketing, will report directly to company president Marc Chouinard. Scala joined the Bay in January from Prepaid Solutions, a small cellular phone company. His background includes four years as director of retail distribution for Mobility Canada. Before that, he was senior vice-president, retail, at Doner Canada.

Along with Scala comes a new set of marketing managers, aligned along merchandise categories. They include: Carolyn Davis, formerly manager of creative services at Saffer Advertising; Danny Kyriazis, whose agency experience includes the Holt Renfrew brand relaunch at LA Ads; Mario Chiofolo, whose background is with Cotton Ginny, Thriftys and Nygard; Jennifer Radway, a long-time fashion marketing and merchandising person; and two people from the Bay, Neil Levine and Sue McDermott.

‘One of the things we’re trying to do,’ says Norris, ‘is position ourselves as the dominant retailer of choice in terms of merchandise offerings and depth of assortment. [We're] trying to fulfill the needs of the core customer so that when we’re talking with them a year from now, they’ll be talking about that fabulous linen department and all the things that co-ordinate.’

The company is also continuing to renovate its suburban stores in order to tackle Sears head-to-head. Norris says a new concept for a more upscale urban store will begin to take shape over the next three months, although neither Norris nor Scala would elaborate.

Six months into the repositioning, in-store changes are just beginning to become visible with a more stylish Fashion Guide, more consistent colours, and more cross-merchandising of clothing accessories. But it’s too early to say whether the Bay is getting it right, says retail analyst Richard Talbot of Talbot & Thomas Consultants International in Unionville, Ont.

Talbot says it appears the Bay is attempting to tailor its merchandising mixes for local markets, a strategy that should help staff to communicate more effectively with the company’s customers. He cautions, though, that while the Bay is moving in the right direction, it must avoid the mistakes that others have made in the past and make sure that it’s able to deliver on its promises.

‘The sooner the better,’ he adds. ‘They’re really scrambling to do that.’

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.

The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.