PHD Canada: operation creativity

PHD Canada

PHD Canada

HQ: Toronto

Offices: Toronto, Montreal

Founded: 1979 as Harrison Young Pesonen & Newell (HYPN), changed name to PHD in 2002

Employees: 150

Ownership: Omnicom

Major clients: Unilever, Hershey’s, Honda

Media planning ain’t what it used to be. With consumers getting harder to reach, media folks have been forced to get pretty crafty just to keep up. To help address this shift, PHD Canada is working with Toronto-based CreativityLand to help managers foster creativity. The 18-month program, called Passport to Innovation, includes monthly gatherings with a creativity coach.

And this year PHD became the first media agency to sponsor Toronto’s Creativity & Innovation Week in which employees are encouraged to submit work to an on-site gallery and participate in exercises like celebrating their favourite mistakes. The strategy seems to be paying off: Last year, the agency took home 16 awards, including two gold media innovation awards from Marketing Magazine.

And 2007 is also shaping up to be a good year for the media shop. It’s worked on several high-profile campaigns, including the Sunsilk ‘Bride Has Massive Hair Wig Out’ viral effort and the media-rich Dove Pro-Age campaign in Quebec. For the former, PHD took the concept, the brainchild of Capital C, and leveraged it into a ‘Wig Out Weekend’ on MuchMusic, featuring branded content compounded by exclusively Sunsilk commercials.

For Dove, PHD spearheaded a print-heavy advertorial campaign surrounding the inspirational life story of popular Quebec comedian/actress/singer/author Judi Richards, with Dove Pro-Age branding that’s running in publications like 7 Jours and Le Lundi. And PHD arranged to have Dove sponsor in-store events highlighting Richards’ favourite books, music and CDs at Archambault book-chain locations, with on-site sampling of Pro-Age products.

‘This is something you wouldn’t have thought a media agency could put together,’ says PHD president Fred Forster. ‘It’s harder for media agencies because [the industry] hasn’t caught up yet in terms of remuneration.’

With leaner resources to work with, Forster says his agency has to be a well-oiled machine in order to enable creativity. ‘You have to have the process and the structure, and you have to be efficient,’ he explains. ‘We spend a lot of time making sure our systems work.’ Last year, the agency launched its own in-house media-neutral planning platform called ETNA – exploration, thought-leader, neuroplanning, action planning. It’s a web-hosted program that allows everyone working on a new campaign to plug in ideas and ensure they’re all on the same page strategically.