The Agency A List – North Strategic: The connection agency

How do you become a creative powerhouse and award-winning PR firm in four short years? Just ask North Strategic.

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How does a four year-old PR firm win strategy magazine’s inaugural 2014 PR Agency of the Year award? Or pick up the Holmes Report 2015 SABRE Award for Canadian PR Agency of the Year? Or Canadian Business’ Small Business of the Year?

By not being a traditional PR agency, that’s how.

Founded in 2011 by Mia Pearson and Justin Creally, the duo have since grown the shop to more than 50 employees across four offices, working with some of Canada’s biggest companies, including Canadian Tire, Cadillac Fairview and Samsung.

Pearson says they founded North with the vision of offering fully integrated PR and influencer strategy, rooted in consumer insight and fuelled by a desire to break creative ground to help build brands and drive sales, moving away from transactional media relations programs, which is becoming more crucial in this super fragmented, yet content-obsessed media space. “Creativity is built into our DNA,” adds Creally. “At North, we’re proud of the role we play in continually bringing big ideas to the table – ideas that are often selected as the creative foundation for entire integrated campaigns.”

Creally points to a campaign for Canadian Tire as a prime example of this fully integrated campaign approach.

The brand tasked the agency and its digital content creator community Notch Video (founded in 2012, as a marketplace of more than 800 creators, producers and editors who are made available to clients) to create content for the retailer’s “Tested for life in Canada” platform. Notch is producing more than 500 videos of real Canadians across the country providing unscripted, authentic user reviews of products in the Tested program.

North also developed a PR program that saw the retailer go to Terrace, British Columbia, one of the rainiest cities in Canada, to hand out more than 1,000 wiper blades to locals, as part of a more traditional PR push.

“Brands are, more and more, coming to us and saying ‘I’m not going on TV,’” he says. “They’re saying ‘I want more content, that’s less expensive to produce and is always on.’ And the North/Notch model is set up to deliver that.”

The agency also introduced a new millennial- and Generation Z-focused arm of the company, North Navigate, which helps brands determine the best approach to reach the coveted target demographics. The new venture launched in partnership with youth mentorship company Ten Thousand Coffees, comes as a result of the success of Notch and was conceived to address a consistent demand from clients looking to figure out how to talk to young adults.

This partnership will allow senior marketers at brands to talk one-on-one with key influencers in the Gen Y and Gen Z demographics, while the scope of the community’s 20,000 members will allow brands to segment out niches within the audience, such as entrepreneurs or early tech adopters.

“Connections are the new currency,” says Pearson. “Brands want to engage millennials and Gen Z consumers, but need to stop guessing or using outdated research. We see value in bringing CMOs and marketing teams together with young professionals to create strategic conversations, insights and ideation.”

One of the key drivers for the agency’s success is the deep relationships staffers have with its clientele.

“We love building high-growth, disruptive companies,” Creally says. “And we’re lucky that our clients are willing to take risks, and are some of the first to try new things.”

Creally points to work done for Sport Chek, in which the company did away with a traditional print flyer in favour of digitizing the content on Facebook. The same store sales saw a 12% year-over-year increase, while Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg called out the execution in an investor call, highlighting it as a successful way of experimenting with the platform.

And social media work will continue to be a high-growth area for the agency, Pearson adds, with the last couple of account wins coming as a direct result of the agency’s expertise in the space.

Successful campaigns, be it traditional advertising, social or PR, are newsworthy and inherently shareable, she says. As a PR firm, it’s got the expertise in what makes things newsworthy, and as for the social part, she says “North was built to be social by design.”

And that’s a strategic foundation for the years to come.

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Contact:

Justin Creally
Co-founder
justin.creally@northstrategic.com

The stories in this updated profile portfolio originally ran in the June Cannes issue Agency A List feature.