Co-operators tries new shop, new direction

The tiny people aren't dead yet, but they may well be on their last legs....

The tiny people aren’t dead yet, but they may well be on their last legs.

That’s the word from Paul Mlodzik, vice-president of marketing and communications for Guelph, Ont.-based The Co-operators, who says no decisions have been made yet about what direction the brand and direct response advertising will take for The Co-operators and its sister insurance company, HB Group Insurance Management.

An agency reassignment last month moved the account to Toronto-based Roche Macaulay & Partners and its direct marketing arm, Lowe RMP Direct. The account, which Mlodzik estimates is worth between $7 million and $10 million, had been with Toronto-based direct marketing agency Impiric since 1995.

Although The Co-operators will not reveal the names of the seven agencies it brought in for presentations, it did confirm that Impiric was invited to submit a pitch for the business. The review, which encompasses both The Co-operators and HB Group’s DirectProtect brands, did not require participating agencies to submit any spec creative work.

Lowe RMP, meanwhile, has resigned its business with CIBC Insurance, to take on The Co-operators business.

Impiric, which won The Co-operators business (as Wunderman Cato Johnson) without a review, has earned numerous accolades for its work on the account, including the Best of the Best Award at the Canadian Direct Marketing Association’s 1996 RSVP Awards. The creative focus of that campaign, which was for the client’s DirectProtect brand of direct-to-consumer home and auto insurance, was a ‘Tiny Man’ who emerged from a telephone handset to pitch the merits of the company’s insurance offerings. Subsequent campaigns adhered to the ‘tiny people’ theme.

According to Mlodzik, however, The Co-operators felt the time was right to begin exploring a new creative and strategic direction for the brand, including taking a more aggressive creative stance.

‘We were coming up to the end of our scheduled contract with Impiric and we were also about to be undertaking a new phase in the evolution of our brand,’ Mlodzik explains, ‘so we thought it was a pretty logical time to do an account review and reassess exactly what we wanted out of an agency.’

Adding to the sense of urgency, he says, is the fact that the Canadian insurance industry is much more competitive now than it was just a few years ago.

‘Now,’ he says, ‘just about everybody, particularly the foreign insurers, are spending a lot of money doing the same type of brand work. We know that we need to break through the clutter that’s out there in the market and get our message across in a much clearer way… I think we’re going to have to take things to another level to do that.’

Mlodzik, who joined The Co-operators less than a year ago and who previously worked for Richmond Savings Credit Union in B.C., says it was Roche Macaulay’s demonstrated willingness to take creative risks that appealed to him most when he was weighing his decision about which agency to select. The clincher, he says, was Roche’s particularly good reputation for being able to marry strategy with creative.

Peter Coish, president of Lowe RMP Direct, says the entire Roche organization is ‘thrilled’ to have been given the opportunity to work on The Co-operators business, which will entail an integration of direct and general branding efforts.

‘[The client] spent a lot of time with the agencies getting to understand how they tick and how they think,’ Coish says. ‘That was a very intelligent way to approach an agency search, because nothing says how an agency will work in the future like the work it has done in the past.’

Meanwhile, Trish Wheaton, managing director of Impiric, says her agency wishes both its former client and Lowe RMP Direct all the best in their new relationship.

‘We’re extremely proud of the work our companies have done together over the last five years. It’s been award-winning work and, in many ways, has defined excellence in the category,’ she says, adding, ‘[The Co-operators] has their own vision of the business and who they want to partner with to do that, and that’s certainly fair.’

Pointing out that there have been no staff layoffs at Impiric as a result of The Co-operators account loss, Wheaton says her agency will now be free to pursue new business in the insurance category.

‘We’ve turned away a lot of business over the years by virtue of [The Co-operators] filling the [insurance] category,’ she says, ‘and I’m confident we’ll be able to be in the insurance business again in fairly short order.’

As for whether the tiny people will live to see another day, Mlodzik says anything is possible, but that any such decisions will come out in the strategy meetings that are planned for later this month between him, his colleagues at HB Insurance and their new agency partners.

‘We’re really going to make sure we’re comfortable with the new approach and that we have very high quality work before we hit market with it,’ he says.