DAOY Bronze: Proximity goes big on data

How the agency is structuring itself to deal with a numbers-heavy future.

Proximity group photoThis story appears in the November 2014 issue of strategy.

Proximity is going through an evolution of sorts.

In a year that saw some high-profile turnover – including the arrival and subsequent departure of yet-to-be-replaced president Tyler Turnbull and SVP/ECD Jon Finkelstein – the agency’s goal is to hone in on a clear identity. Much like people who go through a string of breakups, it’s figuring out what it wants. And what it wants is all about data.

“As Proximity has evolved and become a clearer player in the marketplace, we wanted to make sure that it did two things really well,” says Gerry Frascione, chairman of BBDO Group Canada. “One is using data [and the other is] merging data with creativity.”

Dubbing the agency’s new focus as creating “intelligent experiences,” Frascione explains it is staffing up to meet the needs of a new reality. It hired Rosie Gentile as VP integrated strategy and insights in January 2013, who leads that side of the business, working with senior data analyst Curtis Rushing, and is looking to hire more people who share the data-creativity hybrid vision.

Jeff Sangster, SVP technology, notes a big change along with this new vision is that technology and data are involved at the onset of idea generation, as opposed to being brought in once the creative idea is formed.

“That’s pretty new, I think, in the space,” he says. “Usually it’s ‘Can you guys figure out how to build this great creative experience that we developed?’ Now it’s helping define it and understand how data fits all the way through.”

CampbellsAn example of how the agency considers data and tech at the beginning, says Sangster, is Campbell’s “Hack the Kitchen” program, which resulted in the “Plate of Mind” app (one of its winning DAOY cases).

“We had this great recipe API (application programming interface), and the whole idea was, how do we get people using this? And what should people build off of it? So we thought, ‘Why not create a hack?’”

The North American program evolved into a competition and partnership with Google and BuzzFeed that challenged app developers to answer the question, “What should I make for dinner tonight?” The only requirement was it had to use the Campbell’s Kitchen API, and its database of more than 3,500 recipes.

From 148 teams, six finalists were selected to present at the Google headquarters in New York to a panel of judges. The winning app, which launched in May and has had thousands of downloads, was “Plate of Mind,” which suggests recipes based on moods, like Songza for food. The more a person uses the app, the more it gets to know their moods, making meal suggestions based on stored user preference data and a real-time suggestion engine.

Frascione says this data-first approach, while well-received by clients so far (eager to get in on the big data game), varies greatly from client to client.

“We’ve had clients with no usable data in the beginning, and we had an early phase of collecting something relevant, so it’s more iterations in that case, it’s not data, discovery, experience, the end,” explains Sangster. “It’s more…do an iteration, solidify that, find out what worked, what didn’t, rinse and repeat. It’s long-running engagements rather than campaigns. Campaigns are part of it a lot of the time, but they’re supporting the overall data evolution.”

And while some might worry that when data informs creative, creativity could be impeded, SVP/CD Scott Pinkney believes the new approach is necessary to engage today’s multi-screen, multi-platform consumer.

“Right now, it’s so hard to connect with consumers, depending on where they are in the ecosystem,” he says. “So the more understanding we have of how they engage with that product or service, the easier it is for me to find a way to reach them.”

“I think as we go forward into 2015 with the growth of new clients, we need to invest in the right [staff]resources,” says Frascione, noting recent wins including Queen’s School of Business, an expanded Mercedes-Benz partnership and another significant win he was unable to reveal at press time. “The second priority is making sure we are best in breed at data and investing in the right resources to provide us with the analytics, measurement and optimization competencies required to bring this new positioning to life. And then the last thing is the new president. We cast a very wide net both here and around the world. We will search the globe for the individual who has the right combination of a passion for data combined with a passion for creativity. It’s a unique blend of skill sets.”

New business

Queen’s School of Business, Barilla, OLG, HP, Mercedes-Benz (digital/CRM), RBC (expanded business)

Key hires

Adrienne Anneau, ACD; Tania Forsyth, senior AD; Henry Goodman, account executive; Megan Hardisty, group account director; Ian Martin, senior AD; Rene Rouleau, CD; Kareen Sarhane, integrated strategist




WeAreWinter1. “#WeAreWinter” for the Canadian Olympic Committee was the largest social campaign in Olympic history.

2. The “Dog GIF Party Maker” for dog treat co. Misfits let pup lovers make their own dancing dog GIFs.

3. Campbell Soup Company asked developers to “Hack the Kitchen” to create an app, the winner being “Plate of Mind,” which suggests recipes based on moods.

Click here to read the full cases.