Marketel’s Duval combines business savvy, innovative advertising

Every time Marketel wins a big account, Jacques Duval, the ad agency's president, commissions a work of art reflecting the new client's business. These artworks - all shaped like ties - are hung, neatly aligned, on a wall beside his desk.

Every time Marketel wins a big account, Jacques Duval, the ad agency’s president, commissions a work of art reflecting the new client’s business. These artworks – all shaped like ties – are hung, neatly aligned, on a wall beside his desk.

The tie for the Tourism Québec account is a computer animation of a map, and the Nautilus Plus tie reflects a healthy human body. The wall of ties forms an attractive trophy wall. But it also expresses Duval’s management philosophy.

‘Like a suit, the tie is a universal symbol of business. The designs inside represent (advertising) creativity,’ Duval said.

According to Duval, the ties reflect the fact that the key challenge for any advertising agency is managing the delicate balance between its creative and business elements.

Marketel’s success at this shows in its customer list and sales totals. Under Duval’s guidance, the company has landed work for a coveted clientele that includes Air Canada, Mouvement Desjardins and Hydro-Quebec.

As a result the agency’s sales are expected to hit $19.5 million during 2002, an increase of 53.5% in just five years. It’s an impressive total for a mature agency in an industry that traditionally grows at the rate of the economy. And those sales totals don’t include the more than $100 million of advertising placement that Duval controls on behalf of his clients.

Duval is more than just the Marketel’s president. He is the agency’s co-founder and controlling shareholder. The agency is the third largest in Quebec, which makes him one of the most powerful men in the province’s ad industry. Although the company’s profit numbers are not public, he is likely one of the industry’s wealthiest as well.

According to Gail Chiasson, who has followed Duval throughout most of his career most recently as editor of Pubzone.com, his success is no accident.

‘Duval’s strength is his management skill,’ said Chiasson. ‘He has the ability to attract good people, and doesn’t seem to be afraid to spend the money to keep them. As a result they are loyal, and will turn on a dime for him.’

Duval has a big advantage over several of his main competitors. Many of Quebec’s top agencies are partnerships of several key shareholders, which makes the decision making process and power structure unwieldy. But no one questions who the boss is at Marketel.

The son of former sportscaster Lionel Duval, as a youngster Jacques drifted through a variety of trades. But it was his talent as a jingle writer that first got him exposure to the advertising industry. This lead to his first agency – Publicité J. L. Duval, – which he founded at the tender age of 20. He later merged the firm with Marketel, when he took on the job as its president in 1986.

The Marketel brand consists of two companies, one named Marketel Communications, which Duval and two minority partners own outright. The partnership also controls 51% of Marketel McCann-Erickson, with the balance owned by U.S. based Interpublic Group.

The relationship with McCann-Erickson brings Marketel business here in Quebec, and has helped broaden its relationship with long-time client Air Canada.

‘Thirty per cent of our tickets are bought outside of the country,’ said Charlie McKee, the airline’s senior director of marketing. ‘The fact that Marketel is plugged into the Interpublic network worldwide, gives them the ability to control (our advertising message) and media buying in several countries.’

But not all clients have the multimillion-dollar budgets that Air Canada does.

According to Richard Blais, president of Nautilus Plus, a chain of 29 fitness centers, what differentiates Marketel is the ability to deliver creative ideas that are also economical to implement.

‘They have exceptionally talented creative teams,’ said Blais. ‘Almost every year they come out with at least one advertising campaign that really stands out. And what’s more, they have been able to design strategies that conform to our ability to pay.’

Duval’s success has not gone unnoticed. Two years ago he was asked to be co-president of the prestigious Cassie Awards, which recognize the effectiveness of advertising in boosting company sales. And this year Duval is slated to become president of the Institute of Communications & Advertising, which would make him the first Quebecer to head that body.

It’s not a bad set of achievements for Duval who at 45 years old, is already celebrating his 25th year in the industry.

But as to what’s next, he is not sure. In 2001, Duval took on a small sideline by managing the career of Quebec television star Julie Snyder, who is trying to translate her domestic popularity into success in France. But despite several offers he has been reluctant to accept other such clients.

This summer, for the first time in a quarter century Duval took two months off, to recharge his batteries. During that time he took his powerboat down to the Caribbean and reflected on his success.

He still gets a big charge out of the advertising industry but there are some big constraints to growth here in Canada. With the increasing globalization of corporate brands, many firms are controlling the advertising budgets of their Canadian subsidiaries from outside the country, making it harder for domestic agencies to grow.

Why doesn’t he buy another agency? Duval smiled the smile of a cool negotiator who has looked at, and turned down many deals over the years because they weren’t the right fit, or the asking price was too high.

‘I’d like to buy someone,’ said Duval. ‘But there’s no one to buy right now.’

Duval’s management strategy

* Provide clients balanced advertising ideas that are both creative and practical to implement from a business standpoint.

* Advertising is a people business. Attract the best, pay them what they are worth.

* Plug into an international advertising network to better serve domestic clients.

* Maintain a pyramid management and ownership structure so everybody knows their responsibilities and the chain of command. But keep the door open at all times.

Peter Diekmeyer is the marketing columnist for the Montreal Gazette. He can be reached at peter@peterdiekmeyer.com