PS&Co. is striking out independently, with purpose

Formed out of a restructuring of DDB's Vancouver office, the agency envisions its model as "an evolving blueprint."


PS&Co. leadership, from left to right: Frank Palmer, chairman of PS&Co.; Patty Jones, president of PS DDB; Bob Stamnes, CEO of PS&Co.

About a year and a half ago, Bob Stamnes and Frank Palmer started to conceive a new communications entity that would be built around partnerships, rather than acquisition.

“Frank and I have enjoyed a long relationship with a lot of companies and CEOs in Canada, and we really felt there was an opportunity to leverage those relationships and the trust we’ve built up over the years,” explains Stamnes.

With that goal in mind, Palmer and Stamnes laid the groundwork to launch PS&Co. – and then, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a restructuring at DDB Canada.

Palmer came out of retirement, and he and Stamnes took senior roles as chairman and CEO, respectively, of the newly-formed Palmer Stamnes DDB, which had formerly been the multinational’s Vancouver office.

Though it still carries the multinational’s name, PS DDB is an independent, full-service advertising communications agency that sits at the heart of PS&Co, Palmer and Stamnes’ local holding company.

Though DDB doesn’t hold a percentage stake the agency – which has yet to decide whether or not it will keep the multinational’s initials in its name – PS&Co. has a “strong, working partnership” with DDB that gives it “the best of two worlds,” Palmer explains: the freedom and flexibility of an independent, while still maintaining access to DDB facilities and resources, as well as occasionally contributing to work for national DDB clients.

“We’re a startup that, a year later, happens to have some unbelievable clients and some great staff,” adds Stamnes. “We’re very fortunate that the DDB opportunity presented itself, because that enhanced what Frank and I had envisioned.”

The business is built around partnerships, as Palmer and Stamnes planned. In addition to PS DDB, PS&Co also includes design consultancy PS Brand, data-driven agency PS Digital & Data and values-based food company accelerator Ethical Food Group. It currently employs a total of 36 people, according to Patty Jones, president at PS DDB.

That headcount includes the hiring of Katie Ainsworth as its creative director last fall, with more recent hires including ACD Elizabeth Whalen and back-end developer Braden Sawatsky.

Along with other benefits, PS&Co.’s independence allows it to pursue more social purpose work, which has included pro bono work for the March of Dimes and Alzheimer’s Society, a sponsorship of a group in Vancouver called Brands for Better, an anti-racism campaign for the B.C. government and work for Telus’ Pollinator Fund for Good. Social purpose is an area of focus for Stamnes, who has also served for more than three decades as CEO of Elevator Strategy, Advertising & Design, a purpose-driven marketing and communications company.

PS&Co. aims to have strong working relationships with its clients, as well.

“What we want is to have an open and trusting relationship where we can really share where we’re going and it’s based on total commitment and trust in each other,” explains Palmer. “The clients get the best work when they have that kind of relationship. They get much more than they paid for.”

To demonstrate what such a relationship looks like, Stamnes points to a partnership between PS Digital & Data and Canucks Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Vancouver Canucks.

“The Canucks, like every sports team in North America when hit by the pandemic, needed to reduce costs. We were able to take their team in-house here and still provide the (digital and data) service back to the Canucks,” he says. “That team has now partnered with us as our data division, and we’re doing a lot of work in pro sports in North America, not only with the Canucks but a number of other professional sports teams.”

The Canucks partnership also highlights another key part of the company’s model, Jones says.

“We’re a small organization, but we’ve specifically created areas of expertise. We don’t want to be an agency that’s a general practitioner across communications. We want to have these small, dedicated teams of experts in areas of communication, consultation and other things we do,” she says.

But the core of the PS&Co. model is that it must remain agile.

“We’re an evolving blueprint that will always continue to change,” says Palmer. “What we’re working on is a constant work in progress. It’s a changing model, and it’s never going to be fixed, because if it is, it gets old.”