Labatt gets a Grip on its advertising

Grip Limited, the 'new-model' agency conceived by Labatt Brewing Company, stepped out of the shadows recently to declare itself as the first shop of its kind in the world.

Grip Limited, the ‘new-model’ agency conceived by Labatt Brewing Company, stepped out of the shadows recently to declare itself as the first shop of its kind in the world.

‘Some of the fundamental operating principles are absolutely different from anything else that’s out there,’ says Bob Shanks, partner, business.

Along with being 100% employee-owned and -operated, among its most distinctive traits are an open-accounting policy that gives clients access to the books, and a client advisory board, chaired by Peter Elwood, former president of Lever Brothers and Lipton.

Shanks says: ‘There’s an opportunity for the client to discuss how to make operations more efficient or have the process more enhanced [through the board].’ He adds that a payment-by-results component will also be instilled.

Grip, which will be situated at 160 John Street in Toronto, will handle Labatt Blue and Blue Light for North America as well as John Labatt Classic, Kokanee and Carlsberg in Canada.

Nothwithstanding the addition of the key creative team of Dave Chiavegato and Rich Pryce-Jones from Palmer Jarvis DDB in Toronto, and the fact that media planning for Budweiser and Bud Light have been brought in-house at Labatt and is no longer with PJ, Labatt VP marketing Charles Oliver says PJ will retain the Budweiser and Bud Light business.

The new agency’s mandate is ‘world class advertising for less.’ According to Shanks’ partner in business Mike Robitaille, formerly Labatt’s director of marketing, the transparent accounting will draw more rigorous budgeting practices, while reduced administrative staff will also help keep costs down. ‘We’re going to increase efficiency of the ad development process with fewer people involved and fewer steps.’

Adds David Crichton, a partner on the creative side of the agency: ‘There are no meeting takers, or people who are there for face time. Our people [who meet with clients] are actually producing the advertising.’

The creative roster reads like a who’s who of award shows. Crichton, co-founder of The Crichton-Kim-Kirkland Company in Toronto, will form a creative team with Graham Lee, most recently of Odiorne Wilde Narraway & Partners of San Francisco.

(The two worked together previously at JWT, Roche Macaulay & Partners and BBDO Toronto.

They are joined by Chiavegato and Pryce-Jones, former co-CDs of PJ in Toronto; Randy Stein, former CD of PJ Vancouver; and Scott Dube, former SVP and co-CD at BBDO Toronto.

But while Grip may boast high-profile talent, its goal to reduce costs through a revamped structure is not new. Due North and Zig bring in expertise as needed and base their compensation on client success. Roche Macaulay & Partners doesn’t have account executives. And, at smaller agencies like John St., and Zig, clients do work directly with senior talent.

Moreover, not all observers are impressed with the move. In a statement about the new Labatt agency, Rupert Brendon, president and CEO of the Institute of Communications & Advertising, says Labatt is not the first – and won’t be the last – to come out with what they believe is a better model for developing advertising. He cites as one example LINTAS (now part of Interpublic), that started as Lever International Advertising Services, Unilever’s attempt at an in-house agency. But the vast majority of advertisers still find the full-service agency the best route to take, he says.

At press time

After three short months at the helm of Ammirati Puris Toronto, Neil Everett resigned as chairman and CEO on Jan. 9 and was replaced by Jeff Finkler, who moves up from his post as CCO. Both joined the agency in October to fulfill the role of co-founder and chairman Doug Robinson. They were handed Labatt’s walking papers in their second week on the job, and lost several other key accounts.