2020 Media AOY Bronze: UM proves its worth

To help clients address COVID challenges, the shop expanded its consulting service and developed new forecasting tools.

UM - Group Photo

This story originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of strategy.

Like everyone else, UM was blindsided by the pandemic. But unlike some, the agency had already begun looking at changes to its structure and process prior to the crisis. As a result, its phones have been ringing off the hook with calls from clients this year.

“We had been on the journey to drive greater efficiency and agility into our structure and process well before COVID hit,” says Shelley Smit, UM president.

For example, to help clients address the rapid change around them, Smit says the agency expanded the scope of its consulting services. Consulting is a part of UM’s core offering and covers many aspects of a client’s business – from growing brand health to creating digital roadmaps and building data strategies to market mix modeling, she says.

“In a recent example, we successfully designed and facilitated a three-year growth plan workshop for a client, which involved senior stakeholders from various disciplines across their business,” she says.

UM also retooled its planning approach to be able to build better plans for sustained growth, which it calls “full funnel forensics.” Canadian marketplace data has now been integrated directly into its planning system on a category level to optimize plans for different client business goals versus just campaign metrics.

Thought leadership and communication have always been important in building strong client relationships, says Smit, and the impacts of the pandemic accelerated its efforts to a greater extent. For instance, UM created what it calls “The Moment” – a dynamic, weekly client update of business news, insights, and timely innovations to fuel smarter decision making.

The newsletter is customized for each client and contains both broad industry updates as well as agency POVs on marketplace trends. Smit explains that “This Moment” initially ran as a pilot prior to the lockdown and has since been expanded.

New talent was also hired and new “power roles” were created in marketing consulting, investment optimization, e-commerce and retail strategy, advanced analytics, modeling, and data management, plus the expansion of its decision sciences team. UM also created a Canadian IPG Media Lab, which identifies innovations and emerging trends.

To understand the impact of COVID at all responding, recovering, stages – resuming – UM developed forecasting tools to inform future activity in both the short and long term. That’s in addition to a business accelerator that helps clients analyze their current business state and, through a deep-dive, workshop-led process, identifies growth opportunities and ways to drive incremental growth.

“While the UM team has done a tremendous job working remotely by staying committed, focused and productive – we really do miss being together – their commitment to clients and culture throughout this challenging time has been nothing short of amazing,” says Smit.

New key business: SkipTheDishes; Ulta Beauty; Voila by Sobeys; Giant Tiger; Air Canada; Behr Paints; Emirates.

New hires: Petra Moy, head of agency development; Tushar Subramaniam, senior director of analytics; Mustafa Attar, VP, data, tech; Leanne Burnett-Wood, VP investments.

Staff: 253

To see the agency’s winning cases, visit the AOY website