2020 Media AOY Gold: Touche! is still all about creativity

The agency's focus has given clients innovative solutions to specific problems.

Touche! - Group Photo

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

Karine Courtemanche and the leadership team at Touché! have never been shy about their quest for award show glory. It’s not just about the bragging rights, says the CEO. It’s about pushing innovation and showcasing your best work on the best possible platforms. The awards stage – both at home and internationally – is where the bar is set.

When strategy caught up with Touché! in October, the Canadian shop had just been named Agency of the Year at the 2020 M&M Global Awards during the annual Festival of Media – now it can add strategy’s Gold Media AOY trophy to its mantle. The two major wins come at a time when most agencies have had to be selective about what award shows they enter, if at all. But that’s not been the case for Touché!, says Courtemanche.

“When we won at M&M, we sent an email to all of our clients saying that it might seem trivial to talk about winning awards at a time when people are struggling,” she says. “[But] it was especially important this year for us to keep our focus on innovation and creativity. Why would we scale back on it during the times when we probably need it the most? This is when our clients need us to be really creative in the way we go to market.”

As planning and brand stewardship become more complicated, Courtemanche says Touché! has been able to balance those changing needs – and calm client anxieties – with solutions for business-specific problems.

Take, for example, one of its biggest retail accounts, Canadian Tire. Marilyne Alie, AVP of strategy, says one of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic was that store closures were different from province to province. In Ontario, she says, virtually everything was shut down, which was very different from places like Alberta or British Columbia. “We had to constantly adjust [media], because the intensity of the pandemic wasn’t just evolving, it was different everywhere.”

A similarly quick-adapting mindset was required for another one of Touché!’s accounts – Lysol producer Reckitt-Benckiser, which the agency picked up this year. “At the beginning, we saw Lysol fly off the shelves. So we not only took into consideration what stores were open, but also added in product availability,” says Alie.

The solution for both was not a particularly sexy approach, but a hard-working one. It meant a media strategy of moving most product- and sale-based ads to platforms such as digital and social, where swaps could be made easily and quickly. Big national media (like TV and radio) became a destination for brand-building and message-led campaigns, but not ones that put the spotlight on any particular SKU.

But despite the pragmatic focus, the agency still found ways to play in its favourite space: media creativity. Marc-Antoine Grenier, AVP and group director, says in the case of one of the agency’s biggest clients, BRP, this meant a pivot beyond media planning. The company couldn’t sell whole units – like snowmobiles – because of closures at consumer-facing dealerships and factories. But, says Grenier, “they could sell parts to associations and dealers.” So the agency created a content-focused campaign, “Garage Therapy,” which focused on the DIY aspect of owning the products. “We showcased things like how to change the oil, how to change the windshield. It’s great because people were looking for this type of content. For BRP, it didn’t cost them much.”

There’s good education in crisis, says Courtemanche. It causes one to take a pulse check, to figure out what works and double down. In some cases, for Touché!, it meant discovering what was truly part of its DNA. For the last four years, the agency has been on a mission to pivot clients toward more Canada-specific media investment. The pandemic has only exacerbated the urgency in those conversations, says Courtemanche.

“When our clients were asking to cancel ads or pull them away, we had healthy conversations where we said if they really had to cancel, then yes, they could. But if they had a cause, maybe they could use that money to promote it.” She says Canadian Tire is the best example of that, using its TV buys to promote its response fund for COVID relief efforts. “They really set the example.”

New key business: Canada Post; Reckitt Benkiser; Diageo; Fondaction; Harnois; BonLook; Exceldor; Quebec Environment Ministry.

New hires: Terry Horton, VP of strategy; Terra Sharek, Michele Duschesneau and Caroline Archambault, group account directors; Melissa Giorgio, associate director of strategy; Karina Black, Chris Diakos, Caroline Marin and Antoine Leroy, supervisors of digital and strategy.

Staff: 262

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