GOLD: M2 Universal

M2 Universal is obviously doing something right. Everything, in fact. The Toronto-based media agency has once again garnered gold in strategy's Media Agency of the Year competition, an honour it has won for the fourth consecutive time.

M2 Universal is obviously doing something right. Everything, in fact. The Toronto-based media agency has once again garnered gold in strategy’s Media Agency of the Year competition, an honour it has won for the fourth consecutive time.

And rightly so: The shop had a stellar year. While its existing client list is already impressive – including the likes of Sony, Labatt and General Motors – in the past year the agency also scored some new business wins, which overall helped generate double-digit growth, says president Hugh Dow. ‘It’s been a very good year. Certainly one of the best we’ve had in a long time.’

It all started in February, with the win of the Cadbury Adams account. M2 walked away with not only the planning and buying business for the candy giant, but was named its media agency of record as well. Next

up was the Intel win. Collaborating with the NYC office for the North American account, the agency landed the computing company as a client. Following that, there were wins from existing clients, which included the print and out-of-home work for Staples Business Depot and retailer ListenUP!’s market expansion.

Dow says all this activity is due to the agency’s reputation as home to a team of senior managers with bar-none expertise – Dow himself has been at the agency for 36 years, while SVP/MD Sara Hill has worked at M2 for 26 years; collectively the senior management team has racked up 159 years of service at the agency.

Then there are the solid, longstanding relationships with clients – a comfort factor marketers adore. General Motors, for instance, has been on M2′s client roster the longest, since 1922. But Dow also attributes some of the agency’s success to the love-in happening between media agencies and marketers, as more marketers recognize the role effective media can play. ‘We’re really starting to see the momentum,’ which, he adds, is only at the beginning.

Certainly, Gayle Padvaiskas, Montreal-based director communications and professional for Johnson & Johnson, describes M2, which has been the company’s media agency for 24 years, as a strategic partner. ‘And I use that term selectively,’ she says. ‘They get us whatever we need, whenever we need it – they are basically an extension of J&J.’

She also admires the agency’s ability to find ‘innovative ways to reach and connect with the consumer.’ For instance, a couple of years ago, Canadian Living published a 13th edition, titled ‘Health for Life.’ M2 Universal brokered a deal with the magazine whereby the issue was branded and wholly owned by J&J. ‘We were able to leverage that in-store as well, and it encouraged our relationship with retailers,’ recalls Padvaiskas. ‘It was all about putting our brands in a relevant context.’

From Dow’s perspective, innovation ‘remains the single most important thing we do.’ He points to the agency’s past campaign for the Pontiac Wave, which is aimed at first-time buyers, as an example. The goal was to get the Wave on youth’s radar screen. M2′s solution? Along with traditional media, the ‘integrated content’ campaign, which had strategically placed online media units drive users to a micro site. There, they found a choice of streaming music, including indie, house and pop, free downloadable MP3 tracks and a chance to win the car. The result? Over 60,000 site visits and almost 15,000 unique contest entries.

‘[Client's are looking for] things that provide a competitive edge: tactics and strategies that engage consumers…and that really stand out from the clutter,’ says Dow.

And so to this formidably sized media agency, Dow attributes an agile, forward-thinking unofficial motto: ‘Always take it to the next level, because last year’s, last month’s and last week’s media activities are no good today.’

Agency head: Hugh Dow, president

Number of employees: 172 in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal, & St. John’s

Notable clients: the largest include General Motors, Sony, Labatt, RBC, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson/McNeil, CHUM, Wendy’s

New business wins: Cadbury Adams (planning and buying, AOR management), Intel (planning and buying), STAPLES Business Depot (new assignments), ListenUP! Canada (market expansion)

Major losses: Kellogg’s TV buying


Tiny spots drove huge results

The goal
When it was revealed that hot show The Apprentice was featuring a business project that involved teams designing a brochure for General Motors’ new Pontiac Solstice, the M2 team knew that they had to capitalize on the opportunity. Unfortunately, by the time they found out, they only had 10 days to turn it around.

The strategy
With no television creative available, the M2 team was forced to be very resourceful. Working closely with the CanWest Global team, they created a series of five- and 10-second beauty shots – billboard-type spots that featured the car. The plan was to show them only during the one Apprentice episode, but often, and encourage traffic to the GM Web site by offering viewers a chance to win the car.

The execution
This was the first time that Global had executed a blitz of five- and 10-second spots over a very short period of time. In fact a total of 20 spots – none running consecutively – were run leading up to, during and after the show.

The results
‘The beauty of it is that it [was] very simple but extremely effective,’ says Hugh Dow, M2 Universal president. To the tune of 45,000 visits to the site in the first two days alone. In the end, there were a total of 200,000 visits. And a whopping 100,000 unique entries for the contest. ‘It was one of the best Web site activities GM had ever seen,’ says Dow.