Determination replaces frustration

A sense of optimism has swept through the Quebec agency community. Four months ago, many oozed cynicism at the thought of le Grand Virage, which kicked off Nov. 12 with le Ralliement de l'industrie, a three-day conference to confront issues haunting Quebec advertising. It's a waste of time, they said, blowing it off as just another opportunity to sit around and listen to whining about Quebec creative.

A sense of optimism has swept through the Quebec agency community. Four months ago, many oozed cynicism at the thought of le Grand Virage, which kicked off Nov. 12 with le Ralliement de l’industrie, a three-day conference to confront issues haunting Quebec advertising. It’s a waste of time, they said, blowing it off as just another opportunity to sit around and listen to whining about Quebec creative.

But a quick check in with the same people just before last week’s meeting found a sea change when it came to attitude. They now say it’s something that must be done to raise Quebec’s standards to world-class. It’s a healthy step for their industry, they add.

In the words of Jean-François Bouchard, pompiste en chef (a.k.a. president and chief culture driver), for Montreal-based Diesel Marketing, frustration has transformed into determination.

That new attitude is launching le Grand Virage in the right direction. Forty years ago, Quebec agency representatives gathered to form the Publicité-Club de Montréal (PCM) to assess why Quebec advertising is different, and how that affects their industry. This month, they’re gathering again to talk about issues such as education and over-regulation, and set in motion a plan on how they can make improvements in those areas.

‘It’s now not enough to say to the Canadian market that we are different,’ says Jean-Marc Léger, president of Montreal-based Léger Marketing and who also heads up PCM’s board of directors. ‘We have to prove not only that we are different but that we are the best.’

With $600,000 invested in the event, the PCM has laid five topics on the table for discussion: training and education; the change in media choices, the quality of advertising, client relationships, and their positioning in the Canadian ad industry.

Some topics are long-standing issues the industry has been debating for years. But the PCM also gathered input from sources such as the recent meeting of 182 creatives from across the country including Jacques Labelle, VP creative director for Montreal-based Cossette Communication-Marketing, Geoffrey Roche, creative director of Roche Macaulay & Partners, and Paul Lavoie, president and creative director of Taxi Advertising & Design.

Along with discussing the state of the Quebec industry, the Toronto creatives gave their perspective and clients such as Rob Guenette, VP marketing for Molson Canada and Pierre Ladouceur, ex-VP marketing for the Montreal Canadiens, talked about the creative client.

Also on the table for examination are studies from Montreal-based SECOR, Descarie & complices, CROP and Léger Marketing on topics such as the financial state of the industry (number of jobs, etc.) and clients’ needs.

One big topic being handled is education and training, a hot issue for some. While there’s a solid base in marketing education, other areas in advertising education still lack in Quebec, says Philippe Meunier, VP of Diesel.

‘We need education,’ he says. ‘Right now we don’t have any degree in advertising, especially in creative.’

It’s odd in a sense, because elsewhere in the country, such as Toronto, you hear that there’s sometimes too much advertising education. But Meunier says in Quebec, educational basics in advertising need to be covered. ‘After that, of course, creativity is really wide open and you have to leave what you learn in school and start over. But right now there are a lot of young creatives who don’t know the difference between a TV storyboard and an actual finished product.’

It’s an issue too for Sophie Gaudet, account supervisor with Montreal-based Publicis who, like Meunier, is pushing for more courses. ‘In education we’re maybe a little bit too much marketing and not enough creative,’ she says. ‘We should have a little bit more of a background, especially for people who work in agencies – and also for the client side.’

Client relations is another topic attendees are addressing at le Virage. Especially the notion that the ability to make strong, impactful advertising is a dual responsibility, falling on the shoulders of both the agency and the client.

‘Very often agencies blame the client for poor work, and if there’s something that’s emerged in the past few months, it’s that this is no excuse,’ says Meunier. ‘Of course clients have responsibilities, and we have to be courageous enough to have real discussions with them, but that’s part of our professional work, to raise the standards of clients.’

Many point to the work being done by la Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec – advertising that wins awards and creates an impact with consumers – as being a good example of a cohesive client-agency relationship.

And raising those standards can lead to bigger things, such as landing those big national accounts Quebec seems to crave. ‘If a client doesn’t feel it can start a great [national] advertising campaign from Montreal, it can be an issue in the future,’ says Patrick Beauduin, group creative director for Blitz in Montreal. ‘I think the creative people can do it, I think it’s just the attitude.’

But part of putting out good work means continuing to operate under numerous advertising regulations, some of which agency executives point to and call censorship. While some, such as Beauduin, say it’s just part of the business – every country has to produce advertising under certain regulations – others, such as Paulette Arsenault, EVP, CD of Palm Publicité Marketing, say it affects that creative process from the start. Rather than beginning an ad campaign with your mind open to all ideas, she says, you start with what you can’t do, and ultimately create diluted advertising.

Part of the problem is that Quebec viewers are more vociferous about ads they object to, and some advertisers pull a campaign after only two or three letters of complaint are sent in.

‘Some clients are allergic to complaints,’ says Arsenault. ‘And nobody has the courage to fight.’ She suggests that maybe the answer is leaving the ads on air or in print to let consumers understand the campaign better.

For instance, Palm received letters when it first launched advertising for the President’s Choice brand. But the client and the agency both agreed the advertising shouldn’t be pulled. Now, three years later, ads such as ‘Ma tante Pauline,’ which features two kids debating whether it’s worth pursuing a piece of President’s Choice cookie lodged between Aunt Pauline’s ample breasts, hardly raise an eyebrow. ‘Because the consumers know the campaign after eight or nine executions, there’s less complaints,’ Arsenault says. ‘Once they get used to it, it’s okay. We’re lucky the client stuck with us.’

While all these issues may not immediately find resolution, what the PCM does promise to do is not drop the ball for say, another 40 years. The conference will be followed up in the form of monthly meetings, to further discuss the issues and then potentially work on ways to resolve them.

Nicole Dubé, president of special events for the PCM, and the advertising director for la Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec, says priorities will be established on resolving the issues and a plan of action will be created for 2002. But will that positive attitude continue in the months and years to come?

Dubé, for one, thinks it will. ‘A few months ago, people wouldn’t believe this could happen. And today, you won’t believe how many people are involved. From agencies, clients, from the media,’ she says. ‘People have changed their minds.’