The Indie List: Church+State

Applying a coup d'etat mentality to brand growth
The Church+State team

The Church+State team

When church+state was first established, the focus wasn’t on advertising, per se. The independent shop was designed to help clients win the battle for their consumers’ time through content marketing.

These days, suiting up for that battle looks a bit different as the agency evolves with clients’ needs. Still approaching its business through the context of the blurred lines between content and advertising, Church+State has experienced considerable growth, in areas both established and new.

In the past year, the agency continued work for clients such as Walmart, Microsoft, AB World Foods, Acklands Grainger, Manulife and Arthritis Society, though the work for those clients has grown. For instance, its digital and social mandate for Walmart has evolved to include new business lines, such as online grocery, and Church+State has expanded to AOR status for Arthritis Society.

It has also won new assignments from Centennial College, DUUO Insurance, Farm Credit Canada, Sovereign General Insurance, and US-based Property Manager Asset Living. The shop is also rolling out a comprehensive strategy for home builders association BILD’s Home Show business that includes not only new branding and advertising, but also wayfinding, and on-site activations.

“The consumer trade show business, as a category, has been in steady decline so we worked with BILD for over six months to develop a transformational brand strategy,” says chief strategy officer Daniel Langer-Hack. “We looked at what a home means for people in 21st-century Toronto and helped them re-evaluate their customer experience model from the ground up.”

The expanding nature of these assignments has caused the agency to take a look at its own model to identify what pieces could help them better serve clients and what new opportunities were arising. It took an equity stake in production studio and frequent collaborator Airfoil Media, bringing them in house and cementing the agency’s full-service production capabilities.

Langer-Hack says the strategic partnership came as the agency looked for ways to offer clients services that directly enhance their core competencies or are complementary but could act as an extension of their business. “This is now a core part of our offering,” he says. “It’s completely seamless and clients benefit from having it function as a direct extension of our team.”

Agency CEO Robin Whalen says this acquisition is being viewed as a blueprint for future partnerships. “On the one hand our strategy comes from looking at areas we would like to expand but we also look to ensure we are prepared to offer our clients the services that they need on an ongoing basis. This helps us stay close to their needs and execute programs with the same internal C+S team that is most familiar with their business.”

Church+State worked with BILD – the home builders industry association – to help its home show business better reflect what a home means in 21st century Toronto.

Church+State worked with BILD – the home builders industry association – to help its home show business better reflect what a home means in 21st century Toronto.

Identifying gaps in services fuelled other innovations, too. The agency is delving into podcasting with the launch of The Coup, a podcast that explores business disruption through the lens of political coups d’etat. “This is a proof of concept for what the podcast division is capable of and demonstrates what brands can endeavour to do in the space,” says Langer-Hack. “We know we can deliver at a level of production value on par with top-notch podcast content.”

And it recently launched Unison, which offers brand strategy and design to help clients who are looking to define and develop their own personal brands. The service streamlines the process used for organizational brands so that it’s accessible and affordable to individuals. One of its first projects was with Michele Romanow, of CBC’s Dragon’s Den fame and co-founder of Clearbanc, a venture capital firm.

“We talk a lot about the agency of the future but not a lot of people talk about the client of the future. More individuals are using their skills as the foundation of their own personal enterprise and need strong branding the way organizations do,” says Whalen. “We’re looking to fill that niche.”

Robin Whalen
President & CEO