Creative Report Card: Fighting tooth and nail for big ideas

The top art director, Rethink's Joel Holtby, and top copywriter, Saatchi's Matt Antonello, dish on what brought them to the top this year.

This story appears in the February/March issue of strategy.


When Joel Holtby arrived at Rethink, having just left his post at Grip in 2012, he asked his boss and creative director Aaron Starkman, “So, now that I’m here, what are your expectations of me?” His response was to see Holtby land on the CRC’s top 10 list of art directors in Canada. A couple of months later, he came in at #7, mostly for his involvement with Kokanee’s “The Movie Out Here” campaign.

And now, after being challenged again by Starkman to make it into the top five, he jumps to the #1 position for his work on the Molson Beer Fridge (which he and his partner, #2 copywriter Mike Dubrick, came up with the idea for).

But he didn’t become the top art director in the country as a result of one killer campaign – he helped bring in hardware for many other big ideas, such as “Luge” for the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion (CIDI) and the “Memory Project” for Historica Canada. The former project won awards at shows like One Show and Communication Arts, and tackled the hot button topic of gay rights in Sochi during the Winter Olympics, while the latter picked up trophies at shows including ADCC and Applied Arts, and used Snapchat to show how stories of World War veterans are disappearing in the minds of millennials.

When asked how he gets his creative juices flowing, Holtby says, “I try to keep myself up to date with what’s going on in the world, because great ideas like ‘Luge’ come out of [knowing current affairs]. It’s understanding what’s going on politically and [globally] that can give way to ideas.”

Also, he says, “Mike and I have this attitude of never letting a project or an idea die if it’s worth fighting for…Beer Fridge almost died every day. I would say a lot of the work that’s been successful, whether its awards or results, have had massive mountains to climb.”


Matt Antonello will admit he can’t sit still. He and his creative partner Joel Arbez, who landed at #9 on the art directors list, are always “shaking the trees, trying to find new opportunities…instead of waiting for the briefs to come in.”

He learned this skill early on in his advertising career, but only really fine-tuned the ability to sniff out work when he was a freelancer. Just before moving to Saatchi & Saatchi in 2013, he helped create copy for the Molson Beer Fridge campaign on a freelance basis, which helped him build a strong CRC score.

But he also won a stack of awards while at Saatchi, specifically for work that poked fun at songs from the ’70s and ’80s that tended to sound a little, well, gay. The ads for Proud FM presented images of characters inspired by lyrics from actual songs, with the tagline, “It all sounds gay if you listen hard enough.” He also crafted copy for what he likes to call “smart fart ads” for Gas-X, accompanying whoopie cushion images of gas-inducing food, like cabbage and turkey.

If it wasn’t for his restless nature, he might not have been given the opportunity to create the ads that picked up a stack of awards at shows from ADCC to Applied Arts. “I guess you could describe [Arbez and I] as restless in our pursuit. We’re always knocking on doors with a proposition, saying, ‘This current client hasn’t done anything in a while.’” And it appears to be working. The agency (thanks in part to the duo’s work) had one of its best years on the awards circuit in its 30-year history in Canada, he says.

View the full interactive Creative Report Card here.