Terry Drummond and Alan Madill

Creative talent. ...

Creative talent.

Difficult to find, difficult to nurture, even more difficult to hang on to. But a quick poll of Canadian agencies shows that it’s out there, all right. It didn’t take long for Strategy to track down five up-and-coming art director/copywriter teams that, while still fairly new to the business, are already getting noticed for their fresh and ingenious work.

So we thought we’d take this opportunity to introduce them to you.

In doing so, we found that while the secret to birthing breakthrough creative concepts may remain shrouded in mystery, these winning teams do share some key attributes.

For starters, they all work as cohesive units: Throw your job descriptions out the window, because the best teams already have.

They put almost all of their energies into coming up with the ‘big idea’ – the actual execution is almost an afterthought.

And then there’s that rare magic you find between two people who seem to communicate on a ‘deeper level.’

Some of these killer combos may have come together yesterday, but each and every one demonstrates that when you combine the right personalities and the right creative strengths, one plus one definitely adds up to more than two.

The people

When copywriter Terry Drummond and art director Alan Madill say they work closely together, they don’t just mean it figuratively. Aside from sharing ideas, they work in such close proximity to each other that if they both stretch their feet out under their desks at TAXI Advertising & Design’s Toronto office, they’re liable to kick each other. And that, they say, is one of the secrets of their success.

‘Our desks face one another, so we always have continuous input with what the other guy’s doing,’ says Drummond, 34, who was hired by TAXI in December 1999 and has been sharing an office with his 27-year-old colleague ever since.

Madill moved to TAXI from Ranscombe & Co. in mid-1999, attracted by the agency’s strong art direction background. He holds an undergraduate degree in fine arts from the University of Western Ontario and a 1997 diploma in art direction and advertising from the Ontario College of Art & Design. Fresh out of art school, he hit the streets looking for a job, portfolio in hand. But he didn’t have a whole lot of luck. So he took a few months off to travel through Europe. When he returned, he reassessed and revamped his book, and was snatched up within two weeks.

About six months after Madill arrived at TAXI, his partner left the agency. He interviewed more than 20 candidates before finding a new partner in Drummond.

‘When we met, I just felt that we had the right mix to make it work,’ says Madill. ‘It’s important because if you don’t have a good relationship – especially when you’re spending eight or 10 hours a day with that same person – you’re going to drive each other nuts. You have to have the same kind of personality and the same thought process.’

Drummond, who has an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Wisconsin, came to TAXI via Montreal’s Académie Ogilvy. At Ogilvy, he had been working mainly on pharmaceutical campaigns and felt like he needed a change. He says the promise of working with clients such as the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival and Clearnet Communications (now Telus) attracted him to the 50-person agency.

‘One of the things we really like about working at TAXI is that we’re encouraged to do things that have a good probability of being either brilliant or really bad, but not mediocre,’ Drummond says. Madill added that Paul Lavoie, the agency’s president, gives his employees permission to fail.

‘That’s giving you permission to try whatever you want, and if you fail, it’s alright, but at least you’ve tried,’ Madill says. ‘I think that gives us the ability to push each other that much further.’

Madill and Drummond go so far as to display their work-in-progress on the agency walls and invite criticism from anyone in the company. The ability to be open to criticism is something they’ve both been working on for years, but last summer their confidence grew to a new level thanks to an improv class they took together at Toronto’s Second City.

‘You have to put yourself out there and look stupid,’ says Drummond of the classes. ‘The result is that, as a group, you begin to trust each other and you lose your inhibitions.’

In 2000, Madill and Drummond won awards from Communication Arts magazine, the London International Advertising Awards and the Advertising & Design Club of Canada.

TAXI creative director Zak Mroueh says he especially appreciates how Drummond and Madill respond to a challenge: ‘Whereas with some teams, they get sent back [to the drawing board] 10 times and they just give up, with these guys, the more they get sent back, the hungrier they get and the better the work gets.’

The work

Two campaigns created by Madill and Drummond garnered big attention in 2000. The Clearnet/Telus ‘disco duck’ TV spot was a huge hit last summer with kids and adults alike, as it succeeded in putting a friendly face on prepaid cellular service.

Clearnet was already a client of TAXI’s when the pair started working on the account, which was already using gekkos and frogs to good effect. So when Drummond and Madill came up with a dancing duck to introduce Clearnet’s Pay & Talk service, they hit a chord.

‘I’ve never worked on a campaign that was as high profile as the dancing duck,’ Drummond says. ‘It’s really, really satisfying when someone tells you their kid has a fit every time it comes on TV.’

‘What Telus’ advertising does is it makes it a friendly, likable company,’ Madill says. ‘So we totally played off the human characteristics of the dancing duck to create an emotion.’

The team’s other high-profile campaign in 2000 was for the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival, which moved to TAXI last year.

Madill and Drummond designed posters, TV and cinema ads for last year’s festival. The challenge was to promote the festival during a busy season for other music, theatre, art and film festivals.

‘We came up with this idea that the Toronto Short Film Festival is miles from Hollywood,’ Drummond says. ‘In other words, you have the opportunity to go to big blockbuster films all year long, but for this week you’re going to get a chance to see the kind of films you don’t ordinarily see.’

Their campaign features such blunt copy such as ‘Ending soon’ and ‘Boat hits iceberg and sinks. Does the movie really need to be 3 hours long?’ The folks behind the festival liked the team’s motif of a sardine-tin film canister so much that they adopted it as the festival’s logo.

Also in this report:

- Felix Legare and Jean-Francois Bernier: Bos team raises ire with SuperClub Videotron spot p.B9

- David Chiavegato and Rich Pryce-Jones: PJDDB team mixes creative anarchy with sound business strategy p.B10

- Shelley Lewis and Wade Hesson: Zig pair are ‘working for the client’

- Pam Fraser and Darren Bennett: Bryant, Fulton & Shee creatives not afraid to sound stupid p.B12