Direct Marketing Agency of the Year

Each year, for more than 10 years, Strategy has singled out one advertising agency by bestowing upon it the esteemed Agency of the Year title. And for years, direct agency execs have wondered why we didn't do the same for them. So, better late than never, here it is: Strategy Direct+Interactive's first annual Direct Marketing Agency of the Year.

Introduction:

Each year, for more than 10 years, Strategy has singled out one advertising agency by bestowing upon it the esteemed Agency of the Year title. And for years, direct agency execs have wondered why we didn’t do the same for them. So, better late than never, here it is: Strategy Direct+Interactive’s first annual Direct Marketing Agency of the Year.

The competition evaluates each agency’s performance on the basis of its work over the past year – judged from the perspectives of strategic thinking, creative execution and results. We also asked judges to assign overall performance scores, which they based on the work as a whole, as well as on a year-in-review summary provided by the agencies that highlights some of their milestones, accounts won and lost and new hires/fires over the past year.

In the words of one of our judges: ‘The Direct Agency of the Year must deliver more than great results. It should foster a positive culture, demonstrate long-term client relationships, and show a willingness to give back to the community. Many of the agencies delivered on this. And some truly stood above the others.’

Indeed, one agency that consistently wowed judges was Lowe RMP – earning it the title of 2001 Direct Marketing Agency of the Year. The Toronto-based agency’s competition portfolio included work for The Sony Store, EC-Gate and DirectProtect Group. In fact, Lowe RMP’s campaign for DirectProtect stood out for our judges as the top overall campaign of the year. The body of work was accompanied by the year-in-review synopsis – a ‘cheeky’ agency commentary, reflective of the agency’s ‘insouciant’ personality, according to one judge.

Overall, Strategy Direct+Interactive’s seven-member panel of client and agency judges gave Lowe RMP the top score, but the second- and third-place winners were hot on its trail – Toronto-based OgilvyOne worldwide came in second, followed closely by VBDI, also of Toronto.

The other contenders for the 2001 Direct Marketing Agency of the Year title were, in alphabetical order: FCB Direct Canada, Grey Direct, Mosaic Direct, Response Innovations Corp. and Wunderman.

Even for a year that one judge dubbed ‘conservative,’ not one of our adjudicators would deny the top-notch quality and calibre of every entry. Judges were particularly impressed with the strength of the creative, and the progress in areas like new media and integration.

Congratulations to all who took part! And we’ll see you again in 2002.

Top Spots:
Lowe RMP
OgilvyOne
VBDI
The Contenders
Judges
Top Campaigns

Competition Methodology: How do you get to be Direct Marketing Agency of the Year?

The process began with the selection of the agencies – the screening was based on an informal poll of more than 35 contacts in the direct marketing community. The key to our selection was this question: From all that you have seen and heard, which Canadian agencies stand out most clearly on the basis of their work reputation over the past year? The eight above-listed agencies made the cut. Although there is no entry fee for the competition, the agencies involved put considerable effort into the preparation of their submissions. Agencies were asked to submit three advertising ideas representing work they had done for three different clients over the previous 12 months – the submission could include anything the agencies chose to showcase. The judging involved a two-fold approach that took into account various criteria. Judges were asked to score each advertising idea on the basis of creative, strategy and results. The average scores for this section made up 70% of the final score. The other 30% was an overall score assigned by judges, which took into account agency culture and personality, client relationships and overall performance.

Open culture key to LoweRMP’s successful growth

‘Creativity Pays’ motto wins awards and clients for feisty shop

By Lucy Saddleton

An open culture together with a desire to nurture strong, lasting client relationships – that’s the key strength of Toronto-based Lowe RMP, says president Peter Coish. And it’s what has propelled the growth of the small-shop agency, particularly over the last 12 months.

Indeed, since opening its doors in February 1998 with only nine staff members, this relative newcomer has evolved into one of the most well-known and respected names in the direct marketing industry.

‘It is our free-wheeling, entrepreneurial, open culture that makes us what we are,’ says Coish. And it’s quite probably what also contributed to Lowe RMP being named Strategy Direct+ Interactive’s first-ever Direct Agency of the Year.

In fact, the agency, created by Roche Macaulay & Partners and The Lowe Group, prides itself on its unusual staff structure. ‘We try to avoid the trappings of hierarchy and keep the office completely open and free from departments, in an effort to avoid fractionalization,’ he says. Instead, the agency boasts a ‘client-centric’ structure that puts clients in direct contact with the people handling their business.

To this end, the agency breeds an atmosphere of confident, free-thinking individuals, Coish says, whereby every staff member – from the president to the student intern – contributes creative ideas at agency meetings. (Lowe RMP co-hosts a contest, ‘The Business Sense Direct Marketing Scholarship,’ whereby the winning business students gets a paid internship, among other benefits).

Creativity – which is at the core of the agency’s model, and its tag line ‘Creativity Pays’ – is what distinguishes Lowe RMP from its competitors, contends VP, creative director, Steven Bochenek. ‘What gets us noticed and works for us is doing the best possible strategic and creative thinking we can, because that’s what helps our clients’ business,’ he says, adding, ‘A lot of direct agencies don’t push their creatives as hard as we do.’

And as the old adage goes, ‘The proof is in the pudding.’ The past year was marked by a long list of awards, including RSVP, Marquee and Echo wins, for such clients as the Sony store, DirectProtect Group (DPG) (as part of its assignment from the Co-operators Group), and EC-Gate.

Bochenek is particularly proud of the work done for the home and auto insurance company DPG, which had been suffering from flagging business until Lowe RMP intervened. A new sales tool kit implemented in April 2001 resulted in 20 groups signing on by October to provide insurance for their employees, and a further six expected to join by the end of the year. (A leather wallet with introductory letter inside, delivered to HR managers, broke through the clutter, and opened the door for in-person sales presentations.)

Since November 2000, Lowe RMP has added seven new clients to its list: CUMIS, CitiFinancial, Americangreetings.com, i-Stark, Navision, The Toronto Board of Trade and Grand & Toy. The Daily Bread Food Bank was also taken on this year as a pro bono client. Coish is careful only to take on clients that complement the ethos within the agency. ‘An agency is the sum total of the names on the door,’ he says. ‘We have carefully assembled a list of clients that we are proud of, clients that understand us and our culture, and are willing to let us put a lot of emphasis on creativity.’

No client business has been lost since November 2000 when Lowe RMP declined to re-pitch its first account (the very business that opened its shop), PC Financial. (At the same time, it won the CUMIS account.) ‘It was a tough decision to make, but we decided we didn’t need to participate in the review,’ says Coish.

In an effort to diversify away from financial services in the last year, the agency turned its focus largely to increasing business in the retail sector. The most recent addition to the client list, Grand & Toy, which was won in August 2001 after a competitive three-round pitch, fits the bill. ‘We were really proud to win that business because the company has been around for such a long time,’ says Coish. ‘We’re enjoying working with a client who wants to do interesting break-through direct marketing.’

Another target was expansion into the U.S. market – a goal realized by the addition of CitiFinancial and Americangreetings. com to the client list in February and March 2001 respectively. Bochenek hopes to add bigger U.S. clients in the year ahead, but confesses that his larger goal is to win the business of a brewery.

The most significant personal challenge for Coish has been a gradual change of role within the agency. He opted to step back from the day-to-day nuts and bolts of the operation, and concentrate instead on developing new business, a process that took six months. ‘Staying out of the details was very hard for me to do at first,’ he admits.

The agency, which now commands annual billings of approximately $18 million, has added a further eight staff in the last 12 months, bringing the employee total to 24. Coish adds that he is still looking to hire additional staff. Three of the most recent hires are helming the agency’s new in-house analytics shop, Analuein, which launched in June 2001. Analuein subsequently struck a technology partnership with Quadstone Systems of Boston to help clients understand, predict and influence customer behaviour across all channels.

Direct mail continues to be a critical advertising medium for Lowe RMP, and is complimented increasingly by e-mail, which now makes up 20% of the agency’s work. The use of the postcard has also become far more important since Sept. 11, as a result of fears of anthrax-infested envelopes. ‘Not only does a postcard eliminate any risk [of bio-terrorism], it also provides a good billboard for a strong creative message,’ says Bochenek.

Bochenek says that although mail and direct selling will never die, he concedes, ‘The future of direct marketing is definitely on the Internet,’ and, ‘Loyalty programs will become far more integrated with the Internet in the future.’

Despite expectations for a tight economy in the first quarter of 2002, Coish remains optimistic about the year ahead and harbors ambitions for significant growth, revealing he, for one, is ‘still high on the optimism of the dot.com boom.’

OgilvyOne: Building big brands and growing more interactive

By Wendy Cuthbert

There’s nothing quite as pathetic as DRTV spots where the emphasis on the pitch overrides any semblance of brand identity.

You won’t see that kind of work from Strategy Direct+Interactive’s Direct Agency of the Year first runner-up OgilvyOne worldwide. The Toronto agency prides itself on producing DRTV spots that are true to a brand’s essence. ‘Gone are the days when DRTV was schlock-y,’ says Pete McLeod, creative director for the agency. ‘We have to respect the brand and we’re doing that quite well.’

Take its work for client IBM. Last year’s ‘Pete’ campaign was the first time a PC company had ever used DRTV. It was so successful – exceeding objectives by 37% – that it’s now a regular direct channel for the company, and has since been exported to the U.S.

Not only is this take on DRTV – what the agency calls ‘brand response TV’ – good for client results, it also makes for more exciting work. DRTV is no longer the lowest spot on the creative totem pole.

‘We’re fortunate to have good brands which allow us to attract talent,’ he adds.

Brands like Jaguar Canada, FedEx, AIG (American International Group), Harlequin, Amex, IBM, Dupont and ITI keep the staff busy. Despite the struggling economy, 2001 was nothing short of stellar for the agency, states Guy Stevenson, managing director. Revenue grew a good 15%, he says.

OgilvyOne also continued its longstanding tradition of proving itself on a worldwide stage. It picked up the American Express Travel Services Network international assignment – in a shoot-out with two U.S. agencies – along with the direct marketing assignment for German software manufacturer SAP.

Surely the most significant win was Ontario Hydro Energy, the company getting set to sell electricity and natural gas in the soon-to-be-deregulated marketplace. Coming out on top against 10 other talented agencies was a real coup and a testament to OgilvyOne’s credentials, says Stevenson.

‘They wanted people with a proven track record.’ OgilvyOne delivered with several case studies on which it had worked, including the launch of the Air Miles credit card, the re-branding of Export Development Corp. (set to launch in January) and the introduction of AIG, formerly Norwich Union. ‘It was all about finding examples that are most relevant,’ he says.

Stevenson adds that direct marketing will play a key role in helping the

company stand out from other utilities players. ‘It will be very similar to telecommunications opening up in the ’90′s,’ he says.

In addition to the development of new business, there was internal restructuring. The agency’s interactive division was spun out into a separate entity, Ogilvy Interactive, to better reflect the expertise needed in the fastest-growing area. ‘Interactive was the strongest, growing 35-40%,’ he says. ‘It’s a new channel that everyone wants to harness to meet their business objectives.’

In fact, while OgilvyOne’s 75-strong team stayed, for the most part,

constant, the interactive group grew from 12 people to 50 over the course of the year. And while the divisions are separate, the main agency prides itself on integration.

‘We have people who will work half the time on interactive and then spend their time in OgilvyOne,’ he says. This cross-pollination, especially critical for the bigger brands like American Express and IBM, is something that’s evolved to better serve the clients. ‘Rather than thinking of yourself as a member of OgilvyOne, you’re a member of the IBM team,’ he explains. ‘We want people who think in 360 degrees.’

This kind of integrated brainstorming led to an American Express campaign that Stevenson cites as his favourite. The company decided to include merchandise as part of its rewards program, rather than just travel points. The campaign, which included print, banner and direct mail, drove members to a Web site where they could redeem their points. Evaluating success was relatively simple for such a campaign, and midway through the campaign, the company had already beat its objectives, Stevenson says.

For now, the agency is trying to weather the recessionary winds. Stevenson predicts a flattening out of revenue for the coming year. While the last recession barely touched the direct marketing industry – in fact, it thrived as marketers sought more accountability in their media plans – it’s unlikely it will be so lucky again, he says.

‘Back then, direct marketing was much newer and people were considering it for the first time,’ he says. ‘We’re not going to ride the storm out as much as we did last time around.’

VBDI: Harnessing integration and Big Idea generation into growth

By Wendy Cuthbert

Hudson Bay Company’s Loyalty and Credit division was arguably the biggest piece of direct business up for grabs this past year – worth about $10 million, estimates Juhani Eistrat, president of Vickers & Benson Direct & Interactive (VBDI), the Toronto-based agency that won the account.

Not bad for an agency that wasn’t even on the map four years ago when it launched with 10 people. Today, it boasts 45 employees, most of whom have been there, steady, for the past two years.

‘That says a lot about our culture,’ says Eistrat. ‘Our philosophy is that we hire people that our people know.’ And, when a hire is considered, it tends to be in the intermediate positions, he adds. ‘We grow our own.’

Back to August, then, when Bryan Tenenhouse, VP, creative director, heard that HBC was seeking an agency for its Rewards business. The pitch was scheduled for only 10 days after the team was briefed, and Tenenhouse is the first to admit that there was little sleep during that period. But they went in with a high-energy pitch. ‘We took a holistic approach to how we executed the creative,’ he says. TV, print, outdoor, in-store and direct mail were all covered. In fact, the creative team took digital pictures from stores so that they could input their creative at the store level, just to give HBC execs a clear idea of what consumers would experience at that level. ‘We really showed a breadth and depth that the client reacted to,’ he says.

While both Tenenhouse and Steve Murray, also VP, creative director, say they thrive on working under pressure, the tight timeline worked for another reason – the Direct Agency of the Year second runner-up had so many other things on its plate this past year. It won several other accounts, such as Service Experts in Canada and the U.S., Harris Bank in the U.S., American Management Systems and Vincor Winery, while continuing to nurture current accounts, including its flagships: Bank of Montreal (BMO), Lennox, the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) and Sprint. Most notably, it helped Sprint launch Canada’s first major competitive local phone service. All this work netted growth of 30% in 2001.

The Sprint work happened to be Murray’s favourite this year. ‘It generated great awareness and response,’ he says of the home connections campaign that celebrated the end of Bell’s monopoly with, ‘Finally, the monopoly is over,’ words that tagged direct mail, newspaper, out-of-home and unaddressed pieces. It was also highly creative work – something that used to be an anomaly in direct response but is becoming more expected. ‘The creative has evolved from the more traditional DR approach to more of the big ideas,’ he says.

In fact, tying the big idea – often generated by the general agency – into direct response is critical, he says. ‘All direct response needs to respect the brand.’ What this means is that one of the industry buzzwords – integration – is practised on the agency level with VBDI working with its parent agency. Murray points to BMO’s Double Dip program. While the concept was tactical, designed to promote the product, it also stayed true to the mass media work for the brand. It was what Murray calls ‘synergistic.’ ‘We’d never fold up a brand ad into a DR campaign, but we do respect and utilize the initiatives that are done through our partners,’ he says.

‘The last year for the industry has been one of highs and lows,’ adds Murray. Anthrax fears have had an effect on the industry – and may continue to do so. Eistrat predicts that the next year will be a challenging one, not only because of the sluggish economy, but also because of the direct repercussions of Sept. 11. One client that is still enduring the effects of the terrorist attacks is the CTC. ‘We’re still trying to sell Canada to the U.S.,’ he says. ‘The challenges there are obvious.’

Tenenhouse predicts that, while there will be pressure on marketing and advertising budgets, business-to-business communications will still be strong in the coming year. ‘The need for accountability helps.’

The Contenders: A Year in Review (in alphabetical order)

FCB Direct Canada

FCB Direct Canada of Montreal realized 15% growth in 2001 – even after being forced to resign a major client, IBM, due to a global conflict within the FCB network. With offices in Toronto, the agency attributes its growth in large part to the strength and longevity of client partnerships, including Air Canada, CIBC, Primus and Cogeco Cable to name a few, as well as new relationships with the likes of Hilton Canada and destina.ca.

This year, FCB Direct also launched FCBi, its new interactive division, and beefed up its own internal ‘systems and procedures,’ incorporating, for example, a Web component for client accessibility.

Grey Direct

It was an eventful year for Toronto-based Grey Direct. In 2001, it branded and launched a major airline (Roots Air), only to see it sold to its main competitor; welcomed new clients such as Aliant, Sunoco, SunLife Financial and the Lung Association; and re-branded several existing clients, including the financial services division of Canadian Tire, which it is in the midst of launching.

This year, Grey Direct also completely integrated its creative department – placing interactive, advertising and creatives under the watch of the direct creative director – ultimately injecting fresh ideas and approaches into existing and new clients and breaking down the walls between disciplines.

Mosaic Direct + Interactive

For Toronto-based Mosaic Direct + Interactive, 2001 was marked by a plethora of new business – the agency boasted eight new client wins this year, representing more than 50% of 2001 revenues. New accounts included CIBC lines of businesses, Northwest Mutual Funds, Bizsmart, Amicus Financial and Sympatico-Lycos, Nabisco, Paradigm Direct and JTI-Macdonald. Mosaic also cut employee churn from 40% to 20% with its ‘no walls, no closed doors’ work environment. It’s a percentage it plans to further reduce to an industry-leading 16%.

In another coup, the agency ‘cracked the CRM Code for packaged goods,’ with a successful CRM model for Kraft Canada.

Response Innovations

Response Innovations key 2001 milestone – which also set a new North American standard – was the complex customer communications program for the TD Bank and Canada Trust merger. Both client and agency created dedicated teams to deliver on the program – one that many suppliers said couldn’t be done. In the end, the program – consisting of a completely customized Accounts and Services Guide for each of the 3.8 million customers – was delivered on time, under budget and with virtually no errors.

This year, Canadian-owned and operated Response Innovations also built its team, bringing the employee total to over 20 – for now. Its goal is to build, at a manageable pace, on the senior, international experience already at the company.

Wunderman

Toronto-based Wunderman began the year under the Impiric moniker (a name launched in February 2000), but in May it reinstated its heritage name to reflect its core competency – direct marketing. On a corporate level, the agency was purchased by WPP.

While name and ownership changes may have characterized the year, 2001 was also marked by several account successes. This fall, Kraft chose Wunderman as its AOR for CRM for North America, and IBM realigned its global direct and digital business to Wunderman due in part to its new e-CRM model.

Expertise in judging

A hearty thanks goes out to our judges who contributed much thoughtful deliberation – and invested a lot of precious time – into our inaugural D+I agency of the year adjudication. We are truly grateful for their participation.

THE JUDGES:

Mona Goldstein

With more than 22 years of advertising and direct marketing experience, Mona Goldstein is president of The Goldstein Group, a marketing and communications consultancy she launched in the spring of 1998. Prior to that, she spent 16 years at the helm of advertising agency Wunderman Cato Johnson. Goldstein is a member of the board of directors of Reader’s Digest Canada, chair of Ariad Custom Communication’s advisory board and vice-chairman of advertising agency Tattoo direct and digital. A past chair of the CMA (1989 to 1991), as well as its Privacy and Ethics Committee, Goldstein was named CMA Direct Marketer of the Year in 1991 and was made Honorary Life Member of the association in 1993. In 1995, the Toronto Direct Marketing Association presented her with its Direct Marketer of the Year award. This year, she was awarded the CMA’s RSVP Directors’ Choice award for her ongoing commitment and contribution to CMA.

Jim Tobin

Jim Tobin is director of marketing programs and operations at Toronto-based Scotiabank, in the retail marketing division. In this capacity, Tobin manages the strategic development and implementation of all retail marketing programs for advertising, in-branch collateral and POP, and the implementation of all direct mail initiatives. Prior to his tenure at Scotiabank, Tobin spent 25 years in a number of integrated advertising and communications firms in Europe.

Nancy Lee Jobin

Nancy Lee Jobin is the founder and president of Toronto-based Graffiti Direct and Interactive. Drawing on more than 20 years of direct marketing experience, Jobin’s clients include Sears Canada, Clearnet, Lucent, IKON Office Solutions and Schering-Plough. Jobin began her career in direct marketing with Cossette, running the Quebec Blitz Direct office and eventually establishing the Toronto office of Blitz. She was instrumental in building direct marketing as a discipline of Cossette’s integrated communications offer. Jobin is an active member of the CMA, where she sat on the board of directors from 1994 to ’97 and also served as chairman of the RSVP Awards for four years.

Ron Mitchell

Ron Mitchell is VP, integrated marketing communications for Compaq Canada, based in Richmond Hill, Ont. With over 28 years of business experience, he is responsible for the overall management of Compaq’s external communications programs in Canada, including advertising, corporate philanthropy, marketing communications, financial and industry analysis, brand management and public relations. Mitchell joined Compaq in 1998 from EDS Systemhouse where, over a three-year period, he served as VP marketing and communications, managing director marketing services, and director of marketing. Prior to joining EDS, he was VP business development, and VP and managing director with CDP Communications; and held various senior marketing and sales positions with SHL Computer Innovations.

David Foy

David Foy is president of AMW Direct, a division of Axmith, McIntyre, Wicht. In this capacity, Foy is responsible for program planning and mailing strategy, and oversees all creative design, copywriting and production co-ordination of the direct response campaigns for the company’s corporate and non-profit clients. He joined the Toronto-based agency in 1997, with over 17 years of direct marketing experience building successful direct marketing campaigns for such major organizations as American Express, DuPont Canada, Lever Brothers, Procter & Gamble, Bell Canada, Dow Chemical, Thomas Cook Travel, IBM and Gilbey Canada. He serves on the communications board for Second Harvest, a food recovery program that feeds the hungry and homeless in the GTA.

Patricia St-Jean

Patricia St-Jean is currently VP operations, commercial insurance for Toronto-based Zurich North America Canada, a leading commercial property-casualty, health and accident insurance provider. As such, St-Jean develops the overall profitability plan in conjunction with market management, contributes to strategic planning and product development, and develops profitable revenue and growth in target markets, among other responsibilities. St-Jean has held senior marketing positions at Zurich including VP, mid-market commercial and regional marketing manager, small business financial services. Prior to joining Zurich, she served in various customer and marketing management positions for such companies as Martin & Lachance (now part of Hub International), Crum & Forster of Canada and Dale-Parizeau.

Allen Schopp

Allen Schopp is currently VP creative director of Blitz Direct and Promotion of Toronto, the direct marketing, database management and sales promotion arm of Cossette Communication Group. Blitz’s client roster includes Bell Canada, BC Hydro, Cadillac Fairview Corp., Dairy Bureau of Canada, General Mills, General Motors of Canada, IBM, Molson Breweries, Nike Canada and Tourism Quebec. Over the years Schopp has honed his writing skills at a number of agencies, including Leo Burnett and Kert Advertising.

Top campaigns

Strategy Direct+Interactive asked the judges to pick their favourite three campaigns of the total 24 campaigns under review. Here are the top six, in order of most-votes-garnered, according to our distinguished panel:

1. DirectProtect Group,

direct mail and sales tool kit program,

by Lowe RMP.

2. E*Trade Canada,

E*Combat contest and multi-media ‘brand response’ campaign,

by Grey Direct.

3. Sprint Canada,

Sprint Canada One Plan DRTV campaign (supported by posters and direct mail),

by VBDI.

4. Calgary Conventions,

lead-generation direct mail package,

by VBDI.

5. TD Canada Trust,

customized direct mail program,

by Response Innovations.

6. SAP, high-impact direct mail package,

by OgilvyOne worldwide.