The Agency A List: Zulu Alpha Kilo

A decade of momentum has the independent shop in full stride

Zulu injected new life into the 33-year-old Roll Up The Rim to Win contest with a mockumentary video series, “Roll Up Legends.” Treating the game as a sport, “The Injury” chronicles a former Roll Up champ in rehab after breaking his thumbs opening a pickle jar.

When Zak Mroueh walked away as partner and chief creative officer of a successful agency in 2008, he wanted to create a different experience for clients and staff. He wasn’t interested in agency business as usual.

Built on a set of core values (no spec pitches, a culture of creativity, focus on quality versus chasing growth), Zulu has always gone against the grain. Now after years of bucking industry convention, Mroueh feels the Toronto-based 120-person agency is hitting its full stride.

It didn’t happen overnight.

The momentum that Zulu is experiencing follows a decade of small but important decisions, which are now paying dividends for its talent and a client roster that includes Avrio Health, Bell, CAMH, Cineplex, Consonant Skincare, HomeEquity Bank, Interac, ParticipACTION, RGC, Tim Hortons, Uber and Whirlpool.

Zulu’s campaign for the Coalition for Gun Control placed 10,000 bullets inside outdoor installations across the city. The integrated campaign drove to TriggerChange.ca, where Canadians could support legislation for a national handgun and assault weapon ban. It received CBC and CTV national news coverage.

Zulu’s campaign for the Coalition for Gun Control placed 10,000 bullets inside outdoor installations. The campaign received national news coverage and drove to TriggerChange.ca, where Canadians could support legislation for a handgun and assault weapon ban.

One of Zulu’s newest clients is Subaru Canada. In selecting Zulu as its AOR, Subaru Canada’s VP marketing & product management Ted Lalka says: “We were impressed with Zulu’s work for big brands with impressive results. They had a strong point of view and belief system that struck a chord with us.”

Zulu has been a values-driven creative company from the start. “We challenged the status quo, not to be different for the sake of it, but because we were steadfast in our beliefs and values,” says Mroueh.

“Decisions we made early on limited our growth, but it laid the foundation for the agency we are today.”

Amidst the political tension of 2018, Zulu proposed the launch of a beer to ‘Remember’ the ideals of a rock legend. The agency developed the name, package design, coasters and posters that were hand-stained with actual Remember IIPA beer. It became NYC SingleCut Beersmiths’ fastest seller and best reviewed beer ever.

Amidst the political tension of 2018, Zulu proposed the launch of a beer to ‘Remember’ the ideals of a rock legend. The agency developed the name, package design, coasters and posters that were hand-stained with actual Remember beer. It became NYC SingleCut Beersmiths’ fastest seller and best reviewed beer ever.

Pivotal client wins, an impressive body of work, a vibrant agency culture and tangible industry changes are the spoils of these long-term investments.

In the past year, the agency has attracted a lot of press attention. Forbes named Zulu one of North America’s 25 Best Small Companies, the first agency ever recognized in the feature, and included Zulu in its top 100 innovators issue. And for the second year in a row, Maclean’s named Zulu to its Canada’s Best Managed Companies list compiled by Deloitte.

After eight years of not participating in spec pitches, Mroueh says better-run pitches are now happening across the industry.

“Peers told us this policy wasn’t sustainable,” reflects Zulu president Mike Sutton. But client response has fueled the opposite outcome. Existing Zulu clients appreciated that their agency’s focus was on their business challenges versus pitching potential clients. “Many potential clients have removed spec work from their RFPs to accommodate our position.

We’re noticing a major shift in the RFP process industry wide,” says Sutton.

The decision to “Say No to Spec” benefits Zulu’s clients in other ways. “Instead of doing spec, we encourage proactive creativity on their business,” adds Mroueh. “We believe in coming back with what’s required plus something unexpected.”

This approach led to “The Away Game” film for Tim Hortons. It features Tim Hortons, along with NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon, hosting Kenya’s only hockey team, which had never played against another team. “Zulu came back to us with the tactical work that we’d briefed them on, but they also presented an amazing activation that we fell in love with instantly,” says Tim Hortons Global CMO Axel Schwan.

In the “Roll Up Legends” series which spoofs Canadian’s obsession with the contest, “The Rivals” portrays two office workers in a head-to-head prize battle.

In the “Roll Up Legends” series which spoofs Canadian’s obsession with the contest, “The Rivals” portrays two office workers in a head-to-head prize battle.

The agency also helped the brand launch the Timmies Minis kid’s pack, the Tims Rewards loyalty program and turned the Roll Up The Rim to Win contest on its head, treating it like a professional sport that Canadians train for all year long. The agency launched a series of online mockumentary-style videos and a digital app that allowed consumers to use a thumb treadmill on their phone to prepare for Roll Up season.

Having just celebrated 10 years, Zulu heads into its 11th with a thriving culture and unwavering commitment to creativity. “When many in the industry are shrinking creative resources and trying to morph into consulting firms, we are doubling down on creativity,” says Sutton.

Mroueh adds the agency is encouraged to have a fearless mentality and inspire its clients to move beyond their comfort zone. “Delivering a breakthrough creative product and real results for our clients is our obsession. Too many agencies lose sight of this,” he says. “Building fancy presentation decks and pleasing holding company shareholders isn’t why clients choose an agency. Clients need creativity to solve real business problems.”

CONTACT:

Mike Sutton

President 

mike@zulualphakilo.com