Agency A-List – Anomaly’s unique strategy

The Toronto shop is different. And that's its key appeal.

Anomaly Anomaly is, well, an anomaly in the Canadian ad industry. Despite its success, its philosophy is “stay humble, stay hungry.” As a result, the Toronto-based agency doesn’t really want to talk about the innovative work it’s done (even though it created the forever-talked about “Budweiser Red Lights”). It doesn’t want to talk very much about its impressive client list, its new in-house production studio and innovation lab or the fact that it won more CASSIES this year than any other agency in Canada. Instead, what Franke Rodriguez, partner and CEO at the agency, really wants to talk about is its business model. The reason, he says, is simple: in a world where every agency says it’s different, Anomaly really is and always has been. It’s not just that the shop likes to invite clients to have meetings around one of its two in-house bars (conversation flows smoother, he says). One of the first ways it makes sure its clients know that it’s different is by throwing away the traditional time-sheets.

In a world where every agency says it’s different, Anomaly really is and always has been.

Since its inception globally 12 years ago, the shop has created tailor-made compensation models for each individual client. The only things in common across all, it doesn’t ever bill for time, and performance is almost always built into the model: if a campaign delivers exceptional results, the agency gets paid more (and the reverse is also true). Today, upwards of 20% of the agency’s revenue is tied up in the performance of its work, he says. “It allows us to have more honest conversations. If we’re disagreeing with a client, they at least know we’re pushing for the right reasons: because we believe it will work for their business. It’s never for our own self-interest, like recognition, awards or gratuitous creativity.” This means agency staff are free to spend their time coming up with the best creative solutions possible – there’s no requirement to limit time spent based on a client’s budget. The thought of telling someone that they only have a few hours to spend on a brief because the client has a small budget, or, even worse, drawing out the creative development process in order to bill more, is ludicrous, says Rodriguez.

FROM LEFT: Anomaly has two in-house bars, where Rodriguez says some of its best thinking and most productive client meetings happen; Rodriguez is incredibly proud of the client list Anomaly has built here in Canada, which includes Budweiser, Nike, Hershey, and spotify. “We want to be compensated based on the value of our ideas, with healthy upside based on how well they work,” he says. “We’re always looking for the best friggin’ answer to any brief – no matter how much, or how little, time it takes.” Anomaly’s employees are also quite different. To get a wide range of insight, the shop hires people with very diverse backgrounds (nationalities, age, and industries). While it still values people with traditional agency backgrounds (partners and ECDs Pete Breton and Dave Douglass, for example, have a long history at creative shops), increasingly employees aren’t from the Canadian ad industry. A U.S. expat himself, he’s partial to people with global experience (about 15 to 20% of its staff are international – Rodriguez jokes Anomaly spends a small fortune on immigration lawyers). What’s more, he likes hiring people outside the advertising norm – clients, publishers, photographers and entrepreneurs. One employee, Bryan Espiritu, built up a cult clothing brand (The Legends League) from scratch where fans wait for upwards of 24 hours in the Canadian elements when pop-ups are announced). Espiritu now brings that talent to Anomaly on clients like Nike and Spotify. At the same time, Rodriguez says, he serves as a killer bullshit meter for any work the shop does.

FROM LEFT: Without the time-sheet model, employees are encouraged to spend time in the Anomaly Innovation Lab where they get to play with 3D scanners, 3D printers, VR gadgets, tools and tech; This year, it has expanded again, investing in a 10,000-plus square-foot space focused on its in-house production capabilities, which features a full shooting studio for photo and video; The new space also features three editing suites and one sound recording suite, so it can move more quickly and maintain more creative control on certain projects. The only other thing Rodriguez wants to talk about is the company’s intellectual property ventures. Globally, the shop has held stakes in brands like EOS and culinary brand Avec Eric (which the agency has won a TV Emmy for), while here in Canada, it has invested early in gaming and e-sports company WorldGaming, which owns patented software that allows asynchronous, real-time video-game tournaments as well as a wagering platform between friends over casual video game matches. Since it first invested in the program (offering up marketing services in exchange for equity), Cineplex acquired 80% of the company and together, they’ve launched a national gaming tournament which plays out in 25 theatres across Canada. “Now, we can go to clients and say ‘Hey, we can help you reach your audience in new ways,’” he says. “‘You’re constantly trying to resonate with young, engaged millennials. Well, guess who’s playing video games these days?’” And WorldGaming is just one of a few IP ventures it is currently working on. At the end of the day, everything Anomaly does is about driving its positioning and delivering results for its clients, Rodriguez says. And what he likes to to talk about most is how Anomaly has always been willing to put its money where its mouth is.

The Agency A List stories originally ran in the June Cannes issue.