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.’

Also in this report:

* Extreme behaviour: Cordon Bleu taps youth market with irreverent approach p.B17

* Expos pitch grassroots love story: Woo cynical fans with winning spirit, community involvement p.B18

Zulu grows its team and makes a slate of promotions

A director of interactive production for Zulubot is among dozens of new faces and roles at the agency, in response to recent wins.
Zulu Alpha Kilo_New Zuligans

Toronto indie shop Zulu Alpha Kilo had made several new hires and promotions on the heels of new business and also organic growth from existing clients.

Zulu could not officially announce the account wins at this time.

However, it can report that Ece Inan, most recently at Toronto design and tech shop Array of Stars, has been named the agency’s new director of interactive production for Zulubot, the agency’s production arm. In the new role, Inan will lead AR, VR, voice and other digital innovation projects.

Also on the production side, James Graham, who has spent the last 17 years with Grip, has joined the agency as its studio director.

Zulu has also made numerous additions on the client services side, led by Michael Brathwaite, also from Grip, as account director.

It’s also announced a spate of new account supervisors, including Hayley Blackmore (from G Adventures), Risa Kastelic (from BT/A), Kara Oddi (also from BT/A), Emily Anzarouth (also from Grip), Chris Rosario (from FCB/Six) and Sarah Shiff (from Rethink).

In addition to the new hires (pictured above), the agency has also announced several promotions: Alyssa Guttman moves from account director to group account director, while Nina Bhayana, Michelle Fournier, Jenn Gaidola-Sobral and Erin McManus have all been promoted to account director, and Haley Holm to account supervisor. On the strategy team, strategists Carly Miller and Spencer MacEachern have both been promoted to strategy director, while Shaunagh Farrelly, who has been with Zulu for two years in a client service role, moves into a new role as a digital strategist.

In December, the shop also announced that Stephanie Yung would be returning to the agency after a stint in New York as its head of design. Recent wins the agency has been able to announce including work as AOR for the Ottawa Senators, as well as a new arrangement with existing client Consonant Skincare, setting up an in-house team to support growth after taking an equity stake in the company.

Zulu president Mike Sutton says it’s wonderful, in a new year, to welcome new faces and energy to the team and says the agency is fortunate to have had so many people across the agency step up to support its clients.

“Simply put, they were rock stars, and the promotions are very well deserved,” Sutton says.