The timeline

Summer 1992

Summer 1992

Taxi Incorporated

Taxi is born in Montreal with the credo ‘doubt the conventional, create the exceptional.’ The premise, explains cofounder Jane Hope, is that the new shop will doubt solutions before adopting them. And then there’s the meaning behind the moniker: that the number of people needed to do great work should be able to fit in a cab. Hope and partners Paul Lavoie and François Sauvé borrow space in a friend’s studio and rent tables and computers to pitch new business.

Taxi wins Reactine

One of the agency’s early clients is Pfizer. Taxi has since credited at least some of its huge success for the pharmaco – need we say Viagra? – to the lucky pennies creatives have thrown into the Pfizer fountain before every presentation.

Spring 1993

Taxi wins YTV

Taxi again borrows office space, this time in Toronto to pitch YTV. Despite the fact that the agency places a handmade sign over the company’s logo on the front door, the pitch goes well. That is, until the client asks to use the phone. Quick to respond, Lavoie promises that if they win, they’d actually rent the space and get working phones. YTV signs up with Taxi and the shop creates irreverent ads for the net, like this one dissing school.

YTV needed to migrate from a kiddie network to a tween destination – note the high school reference – to access tween demo ad revenue. Phase one promoted specific shows, while the ‘You rule’ campaign was phase two, linking the irreverent self-importance of tweens to the brand.

Fall 1995

Taxi turns heads

Paul Lavoie is likened to Jerry Della Femina in Creativity magazine. The only difference, quips the New York-based pub, is that Lavoie has talent. Quite a statement, considering Della Femina was once an icon of the New York ad industry (not to mention also outspoken

and bald).

Spring 1996

Taxi wins Clearnet

The new cellphone brand is a major coup for the agency. After a successful pitch, Taxi creates an initial campaign for the Clearnet Mike Network. Then, in 1998 Taxi debuts the now-ubiquitous spokescritter campaign for Telus. The mobile company’s CEO allegedly makes the comment that he paid ‘one million dollars for a duck.’ In fact, he pays the sum for what will soon become one of the most recognized brands in Canada.

Fall 1998

Rob Guenette meets Taxi

Jane Hope and future Taxi Toronto president Rob Guenette meet at an awards show. Guenette eventually meets Lavoie and they too hit it off. Soon after he becomes a client for Taxi, while working at Unilever and then Molson. Lavoie et al love Guenette’s dynamic personality and penchant for great creative. Guenette is equally impressed: ‘My overall impression was that if I took a piece of business to Taxi, they would provide me with something fresh, something different, something unconventional. That’s exactly what I got.’ In 2004, Guenette would replace Lavoie as Taxi’s Toronto president and soon after become featured on strategy’s first magazine issue cover.

Spring 1999

Zak Mroueh: Bent on global domination

The decision to let another creative leader into Taxi was a big one for Taxi Toronto. But the agency knew it had found the right fit in Mroueh. One thing that impressed was the CD’s global vision – Mroueh’s catchphrase is: ‘I want to be the number two agency in Canada and the number one agency in the world’ – as well as his pursuit of excellence. That pursuit continues to push the shop’s creative endeavours. Says Mroueh: ‘I’ll be honest – I’m never happy with anything we’ve done. I always want it to be stronger, and I think that kind of attitude is what makes us good.’

Winter 2000

Mini: Who parked this here?

When Taxi wins the Mini account, the agency drivers decide it’s important to become as intimate as possible with the brand. So an actual Mini is placed in the Toronto boardroom at the shop for four months, giving its crew a chance to get to know every detail and anticipate every conceivable consumer response. (To get it in, the Mini had to be lifted 15 feet above the ground by a truck crane, then swung inside.) Apparently, the back seat was a hit at parties. Perhaps this was inspiration for the ‘Threesome’ ad?

Fall 2001

Steve Mykolyn energizes design

Steve Mykolyn joins Taxi Toronto from Organic. Unfortunately, he misses his first day of work because he’s late returning from a road trip to some far-off art festival. Nonetheless, thanks to stellar work for Addition Elle, BMW’s Mini and the LCBO, Mykolyn, CD of design and interactive, helps bolster Taxi’s rep.

Controversy

Also, in 2001, controversy occurs over an audacious campaign that Taxi creates for the Marketing Awards. One print ad in particular, which equates award shows with trying to orally please a woman, causes an uproar. In fact, Marketing magazine’s publisher Cam Gardner is dismissed days after the ad appears in the publication. Paul Lavoie, who is chairman of the award show at the time, resigns in defense of that work. Taxi still wins the magazine’s Agency of the Year nod.

Fall 2002

Taxi drives off with Gold at AOY

This would be the first of four consecutive strategy Agency of the Year golds for Taxi. Zak Mroueh is also named top CD in strategy’s Creative Report Card listing for the first of three times, for helping his team rake in D&AD awards, Cannes Lions and One Show Pencils. Not to be outdone, CFO Ron Wilson sharpens his own pencil to help Taxi earn the first of five consecutive listings among Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies awards, a program sponsored by Deloitte

and Queen’s School of Business, among others.

Spring 2003

Taxi launches Chocolat

Chocolat, Taxi’s branded content division, is unveiled. In the next four years, its work will include two documentary series for Nike USA, a primetime soap opera for the CBC, a reality show for Viacom USA, and documentaries on train travel for RailEurope. Hoping to spur more success, Chocolat recently signed with the William Morris Agency for representation.

That same season Taxi is featured in the venerable Communication Arts magazine. In the minds of Taxi’s leadership, it’s validation of their less-is-more experiment. It includes images from a World’s Biggest Bookstore campaign denoting its status as a Toronto landmark, albeit an old-school one that eschews retail trends (like comfortable chairs); plus premium ski maker Volant and Mini, which both honours and treads over its British heritage.

Fall 2004

NY or bust

Lavoie and Hope leave for New York and find a home for Taxi in a Fifth Avenue penthouse. In Canada, Rob Guenette and Daniel Rabinowicz are left in charge of Taxi Toronto and Taxi Montreal respectively. Lavoie pretty much leaves them alone. ‘When Paul gives you the keys to the agency, he really gives you the keys,’ explains Guenette. ‘The amount of autonomy and freedom I received from Paul was overwhelming.’

Lavoie soon realizes he did the right thing when business in Canada doubles. The agency picks up a slew of new Canadian accounts, including WestJet, Canadian Tire and McCain.

Fall 2006

Taxi 2: It’s spreading

Jay Chiat asked: ‘How big can you get before you get bad?’ but he never answered the question. So Hope and Lavoie search for an answer and soon learn that nomadic tribes saw that beyond 150 tribesmen, factions developed. Meanwhile, the U.S. military discovered that in units larger than 150, leadership became less effective. So the duo decides 150 is the magic number. Thus, after Taxi Toronto hits 150, Taxi 2 is created as a second Toronto office. Jeremy Gayton, formerly director of client service, and Lance Martin, former associate CD, become GM and CD of the new office, which serves clients such as Mini, Fresca, and Jack Astor’s. Explains Guenette: ‘Now that we have Taxi 2, our capacity is 300, and once Taxi 2 is 150, I’ll open Taxi 3. But instead of having 450 people in an office tower, we’re going to have pods of 150 people so that our culture is preserved. The way we’re doing it, we’re taking our very best people from the bench. So it’s like cloning Taxi, only smaller.’

A Calgary office was opened in 2006 as well.

2007

What’s next?

With the 2007 opening of a Vancouver arm, Taxi now has six offices. In the Gunn Report worldwide agency ranking, Taxi is named the 14th most awarded agency, but also the 19th most awarded network. Not good enough for Mroueh: ‘I want this agency to be the best creative shop in the world. So technically we haven’t succeeded, and there’s lots of work still to do.’ Where will the fare take them now?