Q’s & cocktails with…

Paul Lavoie, Taxi chairman & CEO

Q’s & cocktails with…

Paul Lavoie, Taxi chairman & CEO

In a way, Paul Lavoie’s decision to steer Taxi into the Big Apple has been like travelling back in time. It has an odd likeness to the day he took his little agency to Toronto from Montreal. First, there’s the fact that it’s a small group. Along for the journey are his partner Jane Hope, account manager Richard Muhlstock, and creative team Kenny Herzog and Jim Larnon – who come to Taxi by way of Ogilvy & Mather in New York City, and are known for their crafty Miller and Amex work.

Then there’s the fact that Taxi’s first client is a specialty TV network called College Sports TV. (In Toronto it was YTV.)

But there are also major differences between the Big Smoke and the Big Apple, admits Lavoie. ‘Everything’s on steroids in New York – budgets, pressure, it’s very competitive.’ But he adds, ‘New York is not a creative town. Culturally it is, for sure, but when you look under the cupboards at the ad business, it’s a big-business town. The challenge is to make people understand that creative is not a self-indulgent exercise.’

Having left Taxi Toronto safe in the hands of president Rob Guenette, and CDs Zak Mroueh and Steve Mykolin, Lavoie felt it was time to turn a new corner.

So far the ride’s been good too: Taxi placed sixth in a recent top-10 hot-shop list ranked by Ad Age.

What kind of opportunities does Taxi have in New York?

The media landscape in the U.S. is changing, so it’s harder to attract the consumer’s attention in a consistent manner. We have a business model where we don’t get compensated for media. We [focus on] storytelling, whether interactive, design or TV shows. And media right now is the new creative. It’s where all the excitement is happening.

Did you think about hooking up with a network?

There were networks that wanted to help us establish in the U.S. We looked at some opportunities, but decided to stay independent. Being independent gives you complete control. The frustration I’ve experienced [in the past] with suits fighting against creatives doesn’t exist here. It’s wasted energy. That’s why the Taxi thing works, because we don’t have these fucking departments.

What are the major differences between Canada and the States from a brand-building perspective?

Canadians are incredibly creative. The challenge is to put the pieces together and build something. We have two-thirds of the fresh water in the world and yet France has Perrier and Evian. That’s the thing we lack. In my heart, I know that’s why I went to New York.