Diesel pumps up the volume

When they left school in 1993, Jean-François Bouchard and Philippe Meunier were a cocky pair of advertising wannabes. A bright young freelance creative team, they scoured Montreal in search of someplace to call home - an organization that fit with their...

When they left school in 1993, Jean-François Bouchard and Philippe Meunier were a cocky pair of advertising wannabes.

A bright young freelance creative team, they scoured Montreal in search of someplace to call home – an organization that fit with their notions of what an ad agency should be. And when they failed to find it, they set about building one of their own.

The result is Diesel Marketing, one of the fastest-growing agencies in Quebec. Built on its founders’ belief in integrated communications, Diesel has evolved rapidly from a two-man operation to a shop that, by the beginning of 1999, employed close to 30 people. And now – aided immeasurably by a recent infusion of investment capital – the agency has set about reinventing itself for the new interactive age.

The new, improved Diesel is neither a traditional ad agency nor an interactive agency, says Bouchard. Rather, it’s a brand new model altogether – a kind of hybrid entity that brings together expertise from both sides, throughout the planning process, to create communications that combine mass media and online elements into a seamless whole.

‘It’s very interesting to have around the table a traditional art director who also designs Web projects, with a copywriter, an engineer, an interactive director, an information designer and a planner who’s got a management consulting background – all working on finding a potent communication solution,’ he says.

For an agency grounded in traditional mass advertising, this kind of wholesale transformation is anything but easy. Bouchard, however, says that Diesel’s relative youth helped to ease the process. Most members of the team, he notes, are in their 20s and early 30s.

‘For us, the new consumer and the new economy are the only consumer and the only economy we’ve known,’ Bouchard says.

On the other hand, a little guidance from an older and wiser mentor never hurts. For this reason, the agency recently brought on board Jean Morin – a founder of Cossette Communication-Marketing – as chairman. He serves as a much-valued voice of experience, especially when it comes to the servicing of larger clients.

Another essential ingredient, of course, is cash. Earlier this year, Diesel sold a 20% equity stake to a division of the Caisse de dép`t et placement du Québec, for an undisclosed figure somewhere in the millions. (It’s a big enough sum that Bouchard says he would have lost sleep had it been a bank loan.)

The money allowed Diesel to expand its staff quickly from 30 to 75, with many of the new additions coming in on the digital side. Bouchard says the staff is now split roughly 50-50 between traditional and interactive marketing personnel.

To facilitate the development of new digital tools, the agency has established its own computer lab and been designated an official Microsoft Solutions Provider.

For Copernic Technologies, a Quebec-based high-tech client that markets a meta-search engine, Diesel developed a new application designed to support a ‘viral’ promotion.

Copernic, which has approximately three million users, wanted a campaign that would encourage more people to download its software. So Diesel created a promotion whereby each person who recommended the product to a friend via e-mail would automatically be entered in a contest. The challenge was to design a database program capable of tracking three million e-mails. And the solution was Diesel’s new ‘Viral Engine’ product.

The agency has also spun off a stand-alone research company, called Diesel ThinkTank. This Toronto-based firm, headed by David Saffer, supplies consumer research to support Diesel’s projects – as well as servicing some clients of its own – and provides the agency with a presence outside of Quebec.

A newly launched site for Bell Mobility’s Club Solo prepaid cellular phone service (www.clubsolo.com) is the sort of project for which Diesel hopes to become known in future. The site features an interactive movie that serves to communicate the brand message in an entertaining fashion, and promotes Club Solo’s new one-cent offer.

There are those who question whether a traditional ad agency can successfully remodel itself to operate in the interactive arena. Eugenio Zuniga, chief executive officer of Montreal-based K-OS Multimedia, says that most ad agencies are too steeped in traditional thinking to have any real understanding of how to adapt themselves to the Web.

For his part, Bouchard sees Diesel’s hybrid model as the way of the future, bridging the old and new media worlds.

Both worlds will continue to co-exist, he adds.

Those who dismiss the Internet as a fad are dead wrong, Bouchard says. But those who predict the death of mass media are equally mistaken.

‘I don’t see the role of mass communication changing that much,’ he says. ‘I just believe the language has to evolve, to recognize that consumers no longer want to be sold to. More and more, mass communication will be used to initiate a relationship – but then other forms of communication will take over from there.’

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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.