Simply effectual: How Philips Canada’s Jim Savage has adeptly activated the global ‘Simplicity’ repositioning

Keeping things simple isn't always easy - especially at a large global tech corporation. But Jim Savage, director of corporate communications at Markham, Ont.-based Philips Canada, has managed to skillfully activate the co's recent global 'Simplicity' rebranding campaign in Canada through a series of not-so-simple initiatives like scoring space at Toronto's Pearson Airport for a Philips-branded Simplicity lounge. As well, 'Simplicity Squads' in Toronto and Montreal handed out cab vouchers and provided couches at bus stops.

Keeping things simple isn’t always easy – especially at a large global tech corporation. But Jim Savage, director of corporate communications at Markham, Ont.-based Philips Canada, has managed to skillfully activate the co’s recent global ‘Simplicity’ rebranding campaign in Canada through a series of not-so-simple initiatives like scoring space at Toronto’s Pearson Airport for a Philips-branded Simplicity lounge. As well, ‘Simplicity Squads’ in Toronto and Montreal handed out cab vouchers and provided couches at bus stops.

The simplicity mission extends inside the company as well. Savage spearheaded efforts to simplify how Philips Canada pitches vendors, encouraging the four divisions – medical, consumer electronics, lighting and appliances – to work together more often to do group pitches, rather than functioning as four separate companies as they had in the past.

‘Jim has come up with ideas that have raised Canada’s profile in the Philips world,’ notes Iain Burns, president/CEO of Philips Canada, adding that Canada, as the Amsterdam-based company’s 15th largest market, hasn’t typically been a global priority. ‘He’s managed to get me more money at a local level.’

The airport initiative is one project that Savage tapped Holland for. ‘We had no funding in Canada,’ explains Burns. ‘He did an excellent job of selling it internally…with a lot of Philips savvy. He convinced them that it would be a success, and that it could be used elsewhere.’

Carat Canada, came to Savage with the airport opportunity last March. He spent much of the following months selling the concept internally, as well as dealing with airport regulatory speedbumps along the way. ‘Airports are the antithesis of simplicity. That made it that much more attractive to reinforce the message of simplicity in an environment that couldn’t be more complicated,’ says Savage.

The Philips Simplicity Environment, developed with Carat and creative agency DDB Canada, finally opened last October in Pearson’s busy Terminal 1. It aimed to be an oasis of calm for frenzied travellers, and featured a sound wall, leather furniture, a virtual aquarium, free Wi-Fi access and free quick charges for cellphones. It was staffed most of the day, and remained accessible 24/7 until the project wrapped last month.

Early results indicate that the brand association levels for the lounge were very high, and helped increase overall brand awareness. ‘It has been probably one of the best initiatives that Philips has done this year, and not just in Canada,’ says Burns.

Savage worked with his agencies to have his ‘Simplicity Squads’ hit the streets of downtown Toronto and Montreal to coincide with the launch of the airport lounge. The squads, dressed in white jumpsuits, toted white couches around town to provide relief for tired urbanites, while handing out cab chits and vouchers for Philips products. The stunt was a PR success, and landed Savage interviews from Citytv, Global and 680 News, providing him with a forum to promote the airport lounge.

Airports are familiar territory for the jet-set Savage, who studied at the London School of Economics after earning a poli-sci degree from UBC. ‘I grew up in central California as a child of Canadian parents. My earliest memories are of crossing borders,’ he recalls.

His career path has seen him enjoy stints from Ottawa to Hawaii, in various roles in the telecom industry. In the late ’80s, he worked for the Canadian Department of Communications (now Industry Canada). He then moved to Hawaii to work for Pacific Telecom before being recruited by GTE (now Verizon) to take a strategic marketing/ planning role in its international branch, based out of its Dallas HQ.

In 1999, Savage launched his own company, RainCoast, which focused on developing marketing/communications plans for start-ups – mostly telecoms and dotcoms. In 2001, when those industries started bursting, Savage moved to Syracuse, N.Y., to work as director, global communications for Philips Broadband. When the company divested its broadband division, Savage came back up north to tackle marketing for Philips Canada.

‘Philips had been too big and too smug for too long, and that had to change,’ says Savage, explaining the impetus behind the 2004 global rebranding.

As the only person responsible for marketing the overall Philips brand (each of the four divisions have small marketing teams, which Savage also oversees), his immediate goals included getting the Canadian office noticed by Amsterdam, as well as elevating the brand’s consumer awareness levels. And, he quickly noticed that the company’s divisions were very isolated, so he took action to address that. ‘He brought the divisions together,’ says Burns. ‘Jim built a team, and they leverage from each other. That’s helped maximize the dollar spend.’

A prime example of what the newly formed team could achieve is the 2003 opening of the Prince County Hospital in Summerside, P.E.I. Philips pitched itself as a strategic partner rather than just a vendor, and wound up equipping the hospital with everything from medical equipment to lighting to TVs. ‘It was a great showpiece for us. It greatly simplified the vendor relationship,’ says Savage. ‘Since then, we’ve worked on using that logic when approaching our retailers.’

Savage expects much of his efforts in 2007 will support the company’s strategic shift towards focusing more on consumer health care products like home defibrillators. He’s currently working on gaining internal support for having Philips Canada take on more of a public health advocacy role. If his past efforts to win over his colleagues are any indication, expect to see more of Philips in the health space.

Favourite book

Kingsley Amis’s The King’s English, a delight for anyone who works with words and the most entertaining desk reference you will ever find!

Favourite TV show of all time

The Rockford Files. It taught me everything I know about driving.

Favourite TV commercial of all time

There is a stunning Young & Rubicam spot from 1968 for the Chrysler 300, with the cars driving across the desert as gliders go past overhead – great jazz score and narration by William Conrad (Cannon) – makes you want to pour a martini and light a cigar…

Ideal retirement spot

Six months on the B.C. coast, six months in southwest Florida – guess which months?

Most useful business book

Most business books are terrible, but I found Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan’s Execution (2001) useful.