The Agency A List: Initiative

When media is the message
This Cannes Grand Prix-winning campaign, done in partnership with FCB/six, turned a racial slur into a call to action for Black & Abroad, which is focused on curating travel experiences for Black tourists.

This Cannes Grand Prix-winning campaign, done in partnership with FCB/six, turned a racial slur into a call to action for Black & Abroad, which is focused on curating travel experiences
for Black tourists.

You have to love a company that lives up to its own hype. This is Initiative’s second year on the A List, when president Helen Galanis promised 2019 would be ‘a trailblazing year’.

The team delivered. In terms of recognition, Initiative won Cannes Lions for the Go Back to Africa campaign done in partnership with FCB/six. Galanis says that set off a series of wins from Media Agency of the Year and Media Leader of the Year to Best in Show at the MIAs, “we definitely exceeded our own expectations for recognition and impact.”

Initiative, which has over 200 staffers at offices in Toronto and Montreal, handles media on major brands including RBC, Amazon, CBC, Destination Canada, LEGO, Travel Alberta and Wendy’s. One of the things Galanis sees as key to their success, is leveraging an understanding of culture to build relevance for these brands. As an example she cites work they’ve done for Baskin Robbins.

Initiative used TikTok and Snap to help extend Baskin Robbin's "Scoops Ahoy Ice Cream Parlor" activation. Over 13,000 user generated TikTok videos were created involving the brand.

Initiative used TikTok and Snap to help extend Baskin Robbin’s “Scoops Ahoy Ice Cream Parlor” activation. Over 13,000 user-generated TikTok videos were created involving the brand.

The brand had a partnership with Netflix’s Season 3 of Stranger Things. To amplify that, Nish Shah, head of strategy at Initiative, says they looked to amplify the Baskin Robbins store at Toronto’s Woodbine Mall that was turned into a replica of the Scoops Ahoy store in Stranger Things.

As it was only one location, Shah says they relied on influencers to scale it. Building on cultural cues, Shah describes a challenge on TikTok where customers would order an ice cream cone and try to eat it upside down. “It sounds ridiculous but it was a behaviour we had seen on TikTok.” Last but not least, a Snapchat AR lens allowed customers  to interact with the Stranger Things theme and characters.

The TikTok tactic worked like a charm, generating over 13,000 video postings, and Galanis says the agency’s focus on partnering with media companies played a role in the success. “This challenge predated TikTok having any footprint in Canada so we engaged the US team to get a jump on the market. It was proof of our belief in moving ideas on the basis of cultural relevance and not being limited by opportunities normally available.”

Instead of traditional TV spots, Vacations of the Brave aired as an eight-episode realityTV miniseries on Amazon Prime targeting US audiences unfamiliar with Canada. Its storytelling power was amplified by using the content from the series across different platforms within and outside of the Amazon ecosystem.

Instead of traditional TV spots, Vacations of the Brave aired as an eight-episode realityTV miniseries on Amazon Prime targeting US audiences unfamiliar with Canada. Its storytelling power was amplified by using the content from the series across different platforms within and outside of the Amazon ecosystem.

One of the other promises Galanis made last year was to focus on ad avoidance. An example of that paying off is Vacations of the Brave, a video series for Destination Canada done in partnership with Ogilvy. The brand content program was the first of its kind to be available on Prime Video globally.

The eight-episode series targets US audiences unfamiliar with Canada, and focuses on interesting American travellers in an engaging reality TV storytelling style that deviates from the tourism norm.

Initiative developed the "Dairy Bar", a content series featuring different dairy based cocktails to show the many delicious ways to use milk.

Initiative developed the “Dairy Bar”, a content series featuring different dairy-based cocktails to show the many delicious ways to use milk.

Galanis says the Prime calibre content allowed them to reach consumers in ways no other media agency has yet unlocked. Shah adds that the view-through rates were great, “but what’s interesting is watching how it travels across different platforms.”

By extending it across YouTube and other places in the Amazon ecosystem it had life beyond a mini-series on Prime. Galanis explains that this was not advertising at all in the traditional sense. “It competes with content that consumers are choosing to watch. It’s not just an interruption. Ad avoidance is a real consumer behaviour and we can’t change that, so we look for ways to get around it.”

So does that make Initiative a media agency or a content agency? Or both? Shah believes it’s more a case of “pushing the work to fnd interesting stories to tell, and client partners who are open to doing things because of trust we’ve built.”

To build deeper relationships with the media industry, Initiative held their first "Reverse Upfront" event by hosting over 140 sales side partners to share insights, trends and strategic challenges. The key takeaways from the event were provided to each attendee in the format of a record.

To build deeper relationships with the media industry, Initiative held their first “Reverse Upfront” event by hosting over 140 sales side partners to share insights, trends and strategic challenges. The key takeaways from the event were provided to each attendee in the format of a record.

He also ascribes the evolution to great partnerships with creative agencies. “We want to be the media agency that creatives want to work with, because we are going to push the work.”

Up until now Initiative has been focused on making the work best in class. Now Galanis says it’s about attracting and keeping the best talent. “If we can continue to nurture this talent base and make it the happiest, best trained team in the industry, that will result in the happiest clients and the best work.”

CONTACT:
Helen Galanis
President
Helen.Galanis@initiative.com