The Indie List: Church+State

The Toronto agency's approach to out-of-the-ordinary thinking
Microsoft wanted to show off its latest Surface model, so Church+State made eight six second vids that each focused on a single feature against a catchy beat

Microsoft wanted to show off its latest Surface model, so Church+State made eight six second vids that each focused on a single feature against a catchy beat

Church+State doesn’t typically take part in RFPs. You might think this really limits the small, independent agency’s prospects, but the exact opposite is true. In the last year alone, it picked up six new clients across a range of categories.

“Sometimes you just can’t communicate what you do best with a presentation deck,”says Robin Whalen, the Toronto agency’s president. “We believe the connections matter as much, if not more, than a presentation of creds and case studies”

Such connections have led Church+State to forge partnerships with the Hill Street Beverage Company, Manulife, Beauty Supply Outlet, Imagine Canada, Aldo and Bell Media… all within the last year. Oh, and a little retailer called Walmart Canada.

“The clients we attract are looking for a different kind of solution from an agency that gets more invested in the work and process,” Whalen says.

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The Agency’s work for the Arthritis Society raised awareness of the disease and got people moving to participate in its annual fundraising walk.

Founded in 2011 when content marketing was emerging as a new approach to audience engagement, Church+State has evolved beyond those content roots. Thanks to a strong strategic offering under EVP, strategy Daniel Langer-Hack, the agency is truly full service.

For example, it’s developed both the brand positioning and launch campaign for Bell Media’s new b2b tool called SAM – short for strategic audience management tool – which is set to launch in January 2019.

The agency’s out-of-the-ordinary approach also attracts businesses that are themselves looking to be something out of the ordinary. Hill Street Beverage Company, for example, makes alcohol-free wine and beer and is set to launch a line of cannabis-infused products in the new year. Church+State has been integral in developing the strategy and brand positioning for these new products. That’s no easy task, given the gold-rush vibe of Canada’s new cannabis market.

“We see a lot of acceleration here,” Whalen says. “Even leaving the exciting cannabis products aside, our strategy shows us that the alcohol-free market is growing because health and wellness is becoming a bigger issue.”

This is not to say, however, that Church+State has left content creation behind altogether.

It boasts a strong integrated team under VP, creative director Lionel Wong comprised of multi-talented creators who can just as easily do web design as walk into the agency’s studio to produce video content.

Whalen says building a team this way means they can oversee an idea from initial strategy all the way through production. That’s been evident in its work for Blue Dragon and Pataks, AB World Foods brands that markets authentic Asian and Indian fare. Serving as the brand’s AOR, Church+State collaborated to build their brand beliefs, creative platforms, brand strategies and now oversees all of its creative executions from tv to print to video and social.

And content will play a big part of the agency’s future as well. Walmart Canada has tapped Church+State to produce always-on content for all its social channels. The partnership represents the best of what the agency is capable of: big, effective ideas that solve business problems and engage audiences.

CS1a“Everyone here over-indexes on passion for this business, because we want to find those clients that love what we love, that do what we do,” says Whalen. “That’s how we can remain nimble but still provide as much as we do.”

That “no RFP” approach seemed to bring nothing but success in 2018. And there’s no reason to think 2019 will be any different.


Robin Whalen

President, Partner