The Indie List: Proof Strategies

Where culture comes first
The company that plays together stays together. Seen here are Bruce MacLellan (centre front) and his team enjoying the great Canadian outdoors together.

The company that plays together stays together. Seen here are Bruce MacLellan (centre front) and his team enjoying the great Canadian outdoors together.

In this business, the path from start-up to exit is well worn. An agency enters the market as a scrappy independent, bootstraps its way to some initial success, grows the business and then sells to a global network. It may take ten years, it may take twenty. But that’s the pattern.

Proof Strategies, however, remains firmly and happily independent. It started in 1994 leveraging the brand of research stalwart Environics, building the business over a period of 22 years, and rebranding as Proof Strategies in 2016. Now the largest wholly Canadian-owned PR and communications agency, the Proof organization has 200 team members across offices in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Washington.

According to founding CEO Bruce MacLellan, one of the best parts of this business is the challenge of change and how to stay ahead of it. “What we did in 1994 was very different from 2004 and 2014 will be different again in 2024,” says MacLellan. “One of the advantages of being independent is being able to pivot quickly and make investments in the future. We can be nimble but are also large enough to have deep enough pockets to invest in change.”

For audiobook brand Audible, Proof Strategies helped promote the creators and performers used in its new slate of Canadian content.

For audiobook brand Audible, Proof Strategies helped promote the creators and performers used in its new slate of Canadian content.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Proof’s commitment to ‘ask better questions’. The firm wants to be known as a cerebral partner who challenges thinking and brings forward new perspectives on how to solve business problems. Only then will it look at the communications tools best suited to solve them.Its offer has moved beyond traditional PR to include things like influencer marketing, paid media, stakeholder relations, government relations, digital campaigns, social media, online community management, and all the metrics that go with it.

Proof has built that skill set by serving a very impressive list of clients such as Google, Loblaws, Shoppers Drug Mart, Netflix, eBay, Dell, Shopify, Audible, Kraft Heinz, Home Depot, Airbus and VISA.

Proof launched "Project Pantry" for Kraft Heinz on World Food Day. The program invited Canadians to join in the fight against food insecurity by purchasing a Kraft product at any grocery store, thereby triggering a matching donation from the brand to Food Banks Canada.

Proof launched “Project Pantry” for Kraft Heinz on World Food Day. The program invited Canadians to join in the fight against food insecurity by purchasing a Kraft product at any grocery store, thereby triggering a matching donation from the brand to Food Banks Canada.

So far in 2020, it’s won 71% of its new business pitches, including Bayer, Webber Naturals, Purina Pro Plan LiveClear  and Grape Growers of Ontario.

New programs this year include helping ParticipACTION launch report cards on physical activity in Canada, and providing guidance on how Canadians can add more regular exercise to their day, all adapted for the pandemic. For Kraft Heinz, Proof launched ‘Project Pantry’, encouraging shoppers to stock up on Kraft products, and thereby trigger in-kind donations from the brand to food banks. For audiobook brand Audible, the agency helped promote the creators and performers featured in its new slate of Canadian content.

 

In May of this year Proof launched TrustLab, a research consultancy focused on helping companies understand and build trust. After five years of running its annual CanTrust Index, which measures the levels of trust that Canadians have in their institutions, organizations and leaders, it became obvious that building trust in business is becoming one of the most defining challenges of our time, especially among younger cohorts. Observing that trust in CEOs has reduced from 55% in 2018 to 38%, TrustLab is using proprietary data from the CanTrust Index to provide evidence-based insights that companies can use to address this widening gap.

If one of the dimensions of trust in business is between employees and their leaders, Proof seems to have achieved it. It won the Great Places to Work award in 2020, placing highest among the listed PR firms. Says MacLellan, “When we started I was determined that we would be known as a great place to work. This year we scored high on dimensions of inclusion, mental wellness, women and youth. If you think about the agency world, we nailed all the sweet spots. It’s third-party validation that we are achieving our mission and I believe culture and people are a big part of our success.”

For the past five years, Proof Strategies has been running its CanTrust Index, which measures the levels of trust that Canadians have in their institutions, organizations and leaders.

For the past five years, Proof Strategies has been running its CanTrust Index, which measures the levels of trust that Canadians have in their institutions, organizations and leaders.

He’s not the only one who feels this way. When strategy spoke to MacLellan, he had just met with a new recruit. “In addition to being new to us, he’s a new Canadian. And he said to me, ‘I’d heard about how nice Canadians are before I came here, but your people are like Canadians on steroids’.”

MacLellan describes his approach as prioritizing people and wellness while still being committed to strategic, creative and service excellence. “I see no reason why an agency can’t be a great place to work and do great work at the same time.

 

CONTACT:
Josh Cobden
Executive vice president & general manager
communicate@getproof.com