Canadians getting more work beyond our borders

Canadian agencies have been winning business beyond our borders for the past several years - but the current new business drought in this country has renewed agency interest in following the yellow brick road to new, challenging and more lucrative markets...

Canadian agencies have been winning business beyond our borders for the past several years – but the current new business drought in this country has renewed agency interest in following the yellow brick road to new, challenging and more lucrative markets in the U.S. and around the world.

Talent and a proven track record, spiced up with a little chutzpah and luck, appear to be the attributes common to agencies that have been successful in this realm. Networking and conference presentations have also helped to open doors.

For Roche Macaulay & Partners, international creative awards for its Canadian work helped familiarize the world with its name. A satisfied former client brought the agency in to handle the Ikea Germany business, and let the Toronto-based company prove itself on the world stage – and win more awards in the process, Bessies among them.

Its ‘Swedish Solutions’ television campaign for Ikea Germany – a collection of five-, 10-, 20- and 25-second commercials – has garnered a lot of attention in Europe as well as recently winning top honours in the annual competition of industry publication, Der Kontaker. The campaign has also been picked up by other European countries, including Austria.

Using the theme Imagine the Possibilities, executions include an ad for a picture frame being used to cover a hole in a wall caused by the head of the wrestler next door, and a total of 40 item and price five-second spots.

Bob Shanks, RM&P president, says business hasn’t totally dried up in Canada but Canadian agencies do have to become somewhat less isolated and start investigating other opportunities.

With the Web and the concept of a global community, there’s an assumption that there are no barriers to doing business elsewhere, but Shanks says that really isn’t the case. He says foreign companies will admit your work is great but they’re reluctant to hire you because Canada has a different culture from their own. The only way to overcome this objection is with examples of work that has run in other countries.

In addition to Ikea Germany, RM&P has had some of its Mercedes print and television work picked up in the U.S., which has also helped attract potential new clients to the agency, including project work for a Europe-based travel company.

Shanks’ suggestions for getting international work include simply nurturing relationships with clients, because if a client ever moves on to a new company or country, that relationship gives you the opportunity to explore new business.

He also says agencies that are part of a network (RM&P is partly owned by the Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide network of The Interpublic Group of Companies) can try to leverage the network to extend the business of existing clients to other countries, and that there are other ways to effectively use the network affiliation.

‘It’s the kind of thing that when we’re in Europe we really talk up. As part of the Lowe network, we have resources accessible to us over there. A potential client may not necessarily be associated with the Lowe network but knowing you have resources there is a good selling point.’

When it comes to prospecting for U.S. business, Shanks says a few years ago agency executives went on a fairly aggressive tour of advertising consultants in the U.S. to make them aware of the agency, its work and capabilities.

‘I’ve heard numbers such as 90% bandied about for the amount of new business in the U.S. that goes through consultants. I don’t believe the number is that big, but [consultants are] a good place to start when you begin investigating new markets.

Other Canadian agencies have been able to spread their wings by being part of a multinational agency network, as well. Ammirati Puris of Toronto, another Lowe Lintas agency, is working with Labatt USA thanks to its successful relationship with Labatt Breweries of Canada. The agency is also in preliminary talks with a Minneapolis-based client referred by a sister company. But Arthur Fleischmann, agency president, would like to make further inroads into the U.S. market.

‘We haven’t made an enormous effort because we’re still tapping this [Canadian] market, but as this market gets slower and dryer, you’ve got to look.

‘There has been much discussion [within the industry] about why U.S. marketers, particularly those in smaller markets, don’t tap into Canada where they could get an A-list agency, a top Toronto agency far better than anything they’re going to find in Rochester, Cincinnati or even, arguably, Chicago – within an hour’s plane ride. But they don’t, they stick with smaller less accomplished mid-western or Atlantic State shops.

Fleischmann adds, ‘It’s frustrating to everyone, but there have been very few Canadian shops really successfully tapping the U.S. market.’

Anderson Advertising of Toronto is one of them, having parlayed its success within the DDB network into not only new U.S. business but also new offices. The agency recently opened a full-service office in San Francisco and announced its first client, LifeScan Inc., a Johnson and Johnson company that makes blood glucose monitoring products for people with diabetes. In addition to the new U.S. office and its Toronto headquarters, the company has an office in Montreal and a specialized healthcare media-buying unit in the New York office of DDB.

Anderson was purchased by DDB Group in the early ’90s and made its first foray into the U.S. market at the request of its parent company a few years later when it handled the U.S. launch of the Nicotrol patch and spray for McNeil Consumer Products. Today Anderson works directly for a number of U.S. clients, including McNeil, Janssen-Ortho and J&J Merck.

Kevin Brady, president of Anderson, says a track record of successful and award-winning advertising helps agencies eliminate boundaries between countries, but that they must still establish themselves as a brand with a USP (unique selling proposition) – a positioning, a knowledge base and skill that is truly marketable.

‘You can’t just open an operation and make a bunch of cold calls. You need to go in with a point of difference and people may have heard of you and know your work.’

It was mainly the distance from Toronto that prompted the opening of San Francisco, but he says clients in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are just as happy to be serviced out of Toronto. The costs of a long-distance relationship and its associated travel are really not an issue – the higher revenue from U.S. clients offsets the expense.

Anderson’s sister agency Palmer Jarvis DDB has also been making its mark outside of Canada – both within the DDB network and directly with clients.

Work out of PJ DDB Downtown for Labatt Breweries’ brands Budweiser and Bud Light caught the eye of Anheuser-Busch and has led to the shop working with Budweiser in U.S. on those brands as well as Doc Otis, a hard lemonade made with beer.

Frank Palmer, president and CEO of PJ DDB, says, ‘We’re doing very well working with the U.S. because we’ve managed to show them that we have something of real value to offer. We have a creative reputation and we’ve been able to prove we can do the work in Canada, award-winning work.

Palmer says it’s taken a couple of years to smooth out the edges of its relationship with the U.S., but PJ DDB is being called on by the parent company to work on U.S. business more and more frequently in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. The Canadian agency is currently working with San Francisco on their shared client, Clorox, and with New York on the Michelin business.

Whereas in the early days of the merger of PJ with DDB, the U.S. agencies might previously have just looked to Canada for ideas but not execution, Palmer says they’re now convinced that the Canadian creative team that comes up with the concept should follow it through to completion.

‘If you can convince your own agency of that, then your chances of working together are going to be much more successful than if you’re just part of a team of people sitting around trying to resolve issues,’ says Palmer.

‘It’s all to do with the fact that if you deliver, you get an opportunity to prove yourself. It’s taken awhile and it’s not necessarily as easy as everyone makes it out to be because it comes down to turf, ego and financial matters.’

Watt International of Toronto is a real pioneer when it comes to international growth. The 35-year-old brand strategy and design company now owned by Envoy Communications Group, has offices in seven countries around the world and has worked in a total of 35 countries.

Watt grew its reputation over 25 years working with Loblaws and President’s Choice, designing the stores as well as developing the concept of no-name and store-brand products.

Its largest client today is an international one; Wal-Mart. Watt’s newest clients are the Swedish Airport Authority and Atlantis Paradise Island resort in Nassau, Bahamas.

Patrick Rodmell, VP, global marketing for Watt International, says the company is in the fortunate position of having a pretty good brand – a name that is well recognized and that has a history of success. It’s simply a case of success breeds success. He says new business comes from the company targeting markets it wants to develop as well as from companies that seek it out because of its reputation.

‘Canadian companies are in a very fortunate position,’ Rodmell says. ‘We have the advantage of being so close to the market giant in the U.S. In the Swedish market we’re seen as being branding and design experts from North America, where they see a lot of the trends being established. However, we’re [responsive] to the cultural sensitivities of their market; we’re not trying to ram ideas down their throat.’

Watt doesn’t open an office everywhere it does business but, because of its aggressive growth strategy, it’s currently looking at international markets in South America, Scandinavia and Europe for primary client development and then office development. An office has been set up in Sweden but Rodmell says the new Nassau business will be handled from Toronto because the market isn’t big enough to sustain a separate office.

The cost of travel and servicing a long-distance relationship has rarely been a barrier to doing business. ‘As soon as you get outside the distance of a reasonable car ride, it doesn’t make much difference to us if the client is across the ocean or across the U.S. border. At the end of the day, the cost of travel is such an insignificant amount versus the investment the client is making, not only in our services but also in capital costs associated with a project.

‘The processes and logistics of working in long-distance relationships, we’ve done for so long now that it’s just part of our business model. Something like 80% to 85% of our business is outside Toronto.’

Rodmell’s tip to companies looking to develop their business internationally in a cost effective way – attend and speak at international conferences.

‘We target conferences in the U.S., Scandinavia and Europe. It’s an extremely cost effective way to test the market. It’s been very successful for us. Obviously you have to have something important to say, but it has been the cornerstone of our international success.’