Remembering a marketing maverick

Capital C's Tony Chapman pays tribute to legendary marketer Roger Baranowski.

On June 4, 2010, hundreds of people, many titans of the advertising and marketing industry, came out to say their goodbyes to Roger Baranowski, a wonderful leader and mentor who not only believed that anything was possible, he did everything in his power to make it probable.
Roger was a wonderful character in an industry sadly devoid of characters. He was like someone you would fall in love with in a John Irving novel – not the one searching for a spotlight, but the understated one who, as the plot unfolds, you find holding the cards and having a hell of a time playing them.
Roger fought ALS, an un-fightable disease, with courage, humour and conviction. His legacy continues with the love of his life, his wife Kathy, their two remarkable sons, Zach and Josh, and everyone who had the honour of working with him.
I was one of them – I have been walking the halls of Pepsi for 28 years and I started working with Roger in 1983. I saw him fast track to VP of marketing, and then move on to become the president of Hallmark Canada for eight years. Most recently, he was a teacher at Toronto’s Centennial College and an intelligence gatherer for Capital C.
I have always measured an individual by their head (how they think), their heart (how they feel) and their hands (how they act). Most of us are blessed in one area, some two, but very few, the extraordinary ones, have all three.
That was Roger’s genetic code – to think, feel and act in an extraordinary manner. He had a wild brain that could see the moving parts of the most complex marketplace and then find opportunity. He was one of those rare left- and right-brain people, strategically minded, creatively oriented.
He was curious, a student of history, and he used the patterns he saw there to guide his team on the next stage in whatever journey they were on.
He also had an amazing heart. So many business people reach for a machete to solve their problems – cut manufacturing, reduce overhead, bully people into more productivity. Not Roger. He was a protector of people. At Hallmark he fought to keep manufacturing in Canada, to resist the “lift and adapt” invasion. He was the first to accept blame for any mistake and the first to put an employee on a pedestal for great work, even if much of the thinking came from him. He trusted his partners and was immensely loyal. 
I witnessed a great demonstration of his heart in 1992. I had to drive home for the last time from Communique, an agency I had created and built since 1980. It was a wonderful agency but that day I told my wife and our two small kids that there was no severance, benefits or any value for the 12 years. It was my fault we had sold out to an international agency that had gone bankrupt.
I got fired enough as a kid to know that being an employee wasn’t on the agenda. The next day, Roger found me and said he had a $50,000 project for me, and could I bring an invoice so he could pay me immediately, as he felt I could use some cash flow. (I am not the only one he helped in this way through his career.)
In terms of his ability to do – well, Roger was a shit disturber. A contrarian. He would think nothing of painting the Diet Coke logo on a building about to be demolished, filming it and then sending it over to the Red Guys with a chuckle. He repurposed an entire Via train and sent it across Canada delivering Diet Pepsi.
With our agency he printed Pop Life, at the time the largest teen magazine in Canada, and invented new products for Hallmark that captured the imagination of the press and the pocketbook of the consumer. We even had 20 guys watch an endless stream of Love Story to teach them about romance and to win a TV.
I thought it was the world’s dumbest idea until national networks covered the event through the night.
In his final two years on the planet, he taught a marketing class and the kids there quickly got past his disabilities to fall in love with his abilities, his passion for marketing, his talent for weaving any strategy into a story and inviting you along for a ride.
The world will miss Roger Baranowski, a wonderful father and husband, a beautiful friend who could tell stories like no other, someone who believed in people and had an ability to inspire them to do the impossible.
Roger, you put a dent in the universe.

Tony Chapman is CEO of Toronto-based indie Capital C. Illustration by Bennett Klein, partner
and CD at Capital C.

In addition to being an avid fisherman and an all round good sport, Baranowski was Pepsi group marketing director during the Cola Wars (1982-1993). He went on to become VP of DDB Needham (1993-1997) and president of Hallmark Cards (1997-2005), before teaching at Centennial College (2008-2009). After a courageous three-year battle with ALS, his journey ended May 27, surrounded by family and friends.