New agency aims to bring back the joy

The joy of advertising - at least in creating it - has been lost, according to Brian Hickling and Leslie McCallum, who are forming their own Toronto-based agency to 'bring some lightness back' to the business.
According to the duo, the Canadian marketplace is burdened with 'safe, predictable' work because of the manner in which agencies have come to mirror corporations.

The joy of advertising – at least in creating it – has been lost, according to Brian Hickling and Leslie McCallum, who are forming their own Toronto-based agency to ‘bring some lightness back’ to the business.

According to the duo, the Canadian marketplace is burdened with ‘safe, predictable’ work because of the manner in which agencies have come to mirror corporations.

‘I think the process at agencies has evolved to match the process of [clients],’ says McCallum, the shop’s principal who has 20 years of experience in the ad industry, including the COO post at Toronto agency Goodgoll Curtis in recent years. ‘That’s starting to stifle creativity.’

It is hoped that the new shop (at press time, it was still not named, nor did it have an address), will establish a strong bond with clients en route to developing ‘world-class creative.’ But the founders stress that every senior player, regardless of discipline, will be responsible for contributing to client-agency collaboration, including the creative department.

‘Creatives have to accept responsibility for the relationship – normally they have no respect for the service side of the business,’ points out Hickling, who left Goodgoll Curtis, where he was CD, to start the venture.

Hickling, whose title remains the same, has worked in advertising for 17 years and produced advertising for companies such as McDonald’s, Kellogg and Labatt, among others. He has also earned many awards, including a gold at the One Show in New York. ‘We’re not interested in hiring hot creatives. We want people who will love working here,’ he says.

So far, the agency has made one hire – account executive Anja Bundze, who is a business graduate from the University of Western Ontario. Additional staff will be added as needed; each person must fit the boutique’s mind-set.

The human resources requirement is obviously a lot easier to keep top-of-mind while the shop is in its infancy, but the pair believe recruitment needs to maintain its priority status and they plan to keep a hand in the process of hiring candidates no matter how large the agency becomes. ‘That’s where agencies become unglued because recruitment gets pushed down the line,’ says McCallum. ‘Maintaining creativity comes down to recruiting. You are who you are.’

At press time, clients were still lacking, but the duo believes there are companies out there who are ready for them. ‘We won’t be for everybody,’ admits Hickling. ‘Some clients will be very uncomfortable with what we have to offer, because they need structure. But for those with a creative side, they can come to our place.’

That’s part of the strategy too – Hickling and McCallum, who are financially independent and will operate the agency on a fee-based structure, want to hold meetings in their own open-concept space, rather than clients’ cubicle-ridden corporate offices, which they say have become a common venue for gatherings between agencies and marketers over the years. Says McCallum: ‘We will encourage our clients to leave rules and problems at the door. Open concept helps facilitate the free flow of ideas and makes people feel less constrained.’

After all, she says, creating ads is all about ‘freedom and fun.’