Smyka departure good news for him, bad news for us

Almost exactly four-and-a-half years ago, I wrote in this space about Mark Smyka giving up the editorship of Strategy. I will quote from my words from 1995, at some length: 'This is big news, and this is bad news. 'Mark Smyka...

Almost exactly four-and-a-half years ago, I wrote in this space about Mark Smyka giving up the editorship of Strategy. I will quote from my words from 1995, at some length:

‘This is big news, and this is bad news.

‘Mark Smyka is the best thing that happened to the Canadian advertising business since Vickers met Benson. But you are forgiven if you don’t know that, because I don’t think Mark has ever tooted his own horn in his life. So since Mark won’t tell you how good he is, allow me to try.

‘Mark Smyka is, first of all, a superb reporter. He will not simply rely on the press release. He will work tirelessly in search of a story, and will check and double-check to make sure he has it right. Equally important, he will get material out of an interview that the interviewee never expected to let loose.

‘You sit down with Mark to talk about something, and he makes you comfortable in his (sorry, Mark) Jimmy Olsen Cub Reporter kind of way, and suddenly you realize you’ve revealed a lot more than the marketing strategy. You’ve told him about the big fight between the agency president and the creative director, dropped a few words about the absolutely-secret-from-the-competition test market, and also probably tossed in your opinion of the client’s new toupee.

‘(I do not mean to imply that there is anything underhanded about this. If you really do think twice, and say, ‘OmyGod, Mark, please don’t put that in print!’ you will not see it in print. Mark is a gentleman who respects his sources, as he respects everyone else who deserves it.)

‘Because he makes people comfortable, and works very, very hard, Mark has gotten to know, over the years, a lot of inside information. When he was at Marketing, he originated the ‘Street Talk’ column, and that column became ‘must’ reading for ad people, because the little rumours in ‘Street Talk’ one week had a remarkable way of becoming the headline facts a week or two later.

‘After he and Jim Shenkman founded Strategy, Mark continued to be an innovator. He involved his readers and the whole ad community in many different ways, creating an ‘Agency of the Year’ award based on open judging, a scorekeeping system on awards, a lovely series of tributes to our our Brian Harrods and Terry O’Malleys, and much more.

‘But Mark Smyka is important to Canadian advertising for a bigger reason than these. When he was first assigned to the advertising beat, he did not, like many trade journalists, just view it as another way station on the path to Bauxite Mining Monthly. He fell in love with advertising. And he wanted it to be as good as it is capable of being. And he applied his extraordinary innate enthusiasm to high-minded reporting of, and cheerleading for, and occasional editorial scolding of, our crazy business. And man, these days, does advertising need people like that.’

In the year 2000, advertising needs people like that more than ever. But unfortunately for us, we won’t have Mark Smyka anymore. He is leaving the organized business world (an oxymoron, that) and the publishing company he co-founded, to write screenplays and such.

Bad news for us. Good news for Mark. And I know, from personal experience, why he’s doing it.

There’s an old proverb that says something like, ‘Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.’ Mark and I had parallel dreams 15 years ago, and we talked a fair amount about them. I wanted to build an agency, he wanted to create a fine trade paper. We both succeeded. Mark lasted longer than I did.

Because unfortunately, when you create an empire, you wake up one morning to discover that you’re no longer doing what you love and what you’re good at. You don’t have time to find new angles on the endlessly fascinating business of advertising. You’re dealing with lawyers and accountants and landlords and Fred’s attendance problem and meetings, meetings, meetings. And sooner or later, if you’re wise, you have to say goodbye.

Goodbye, Mark. You’ve done an enormous amount for a lot of advertising people, many of whom don’t even know it. But I doubt if you’ll stray too far away. Advertising is in your blood, and in between the screenplays, we sure would like to have the benefit of your wisdom.

Maybe Strategy can talk you into writing a column.

John Burghardt’s checkered resumé includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING – CREATIVE THINKING’. He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072, by fax at (416) 693-5100 or by e-mail at

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