2021 AOY Bronze: Ogilvy reaches beyond its borders

By putting the right talent in place and embracing "borderless creativity," the agency is closer to achieving its goals.

Agency Group Photo - Ogilvy

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of strategy.

John Killam grew up in networks. But Ogilvy’s Canadian CEO, who helped lead shops like Red Magnet and OMD Canada before being hired at the agency in 2019, says he’s never been in one that is “so completely dialed in at the global level as Ogilvy.”

The organization has embraced what it’s calling “borderless creativity,” says Killam, the ability to “bring brainpower from any place, be it one city or the next – like [our Toronto office] working with one of our other two offices in Canada – or working across the border with the U.S. or with our colleagues in Europe.”

While the agency has long had access to the network’s cross-market talent, Killam says the pandemic has “poured gas on it, because we’re bringing global people to meetings all the time.”

The model has strengthened Ogilvy’s offering in Canada and has opened new opportunities for the shop to shine globally, adds CCO Megan Farquhar, who was hired from Leo Burnett Chicago in January 2021.

“It’s giving us a chance to show the rest of the world what Canadian talent is capable of,” she says. “As other offices also deal with ‘The Great Resignation’ and there are times when they need some extra firepower, we’re seen as a gem in the network.”

To play that larger leadership role within the network, Ogilvy has been adding depth to different disciplines.

Under chief strategy officer Tom Kenny, who joined in late 2019, it has built a more robust strategy team, which has been “crucial to changing the kinds of conversations we’re having with our clients,” Killam says.

Then there’s PR, an area Killam admits Ogilvy has struggled with in the past. Upping its earned media game will help clients demonstrate their brand purpose authentically by opening a window into what the company does the behind the scenes, he says.

At the global level, the agency is investing in PR under Julianna Richter, global CEO of the division, with the recent appointments of its first global CCO and global CSO in June. In Canada, the recent hiring of Erin Jacobson as head of digital and advocacy for North America and of Katie Skinner as PR account director round out the offering.

With the right talent in place, Ogilvy is now fine-tuning its approach. One of Killam’s priorities as CEO has been to grow Ogilvy’s roster of Canadian clients, and committing to “borderless creativity” has been key to realizing that goal.

For example, work for Aldo is shared between the Toronto and Montreal offices, but Ogilvy also represents the brand globally. It takes a similar approach to Invest in Canada, a government organization that promotes and attracts foreign direct investment into the country. The work is shared between Montreal and Toronto, but also informed by boots on the ground in Europe and Asia, Killam says, so that it can put “local cultural connections to work” promoting Canada overseas.

Farquhar adds that collaboration was central to Ogilvy winning Canada creative AOR duties with TD. It worked with fellow WPP shop David in Miami – which will serve as U.S. AOR – on the pitch. “To know that they had our back and we had theirs – we went in like an unstoppable force, and the work showed it.”

WWP’s Canadian agencies will soon move into a campus on Toronto’s waterfront, providing more opps for Ogilvy to work with teams across the network. While great care will be put into ensuring the agencies respect client boundaries and remain differentiated, leaders will be able to come together in person and solve “department head-level programs,” notes Farquhar.

“You always worry about agencies who are rebuilding,” she says. “[But] we’re on a path. We have our plans; we have our opportunities…. We’re already on that road and making work that’s getting attention.”

New business
Aldo, Koho, Invest in Canada, Air Miles, Dove Men+Care, Absolut Vodka, Scarborough Health Network, Tata Consulting Services, Amazon, Polar Asset Management, Baycrest Health and Sciences

New hires
Meg Farquhar, Anchie Contractor, Kyle Fiore, Ines De Ninnes, Tanvi Swar, Katie Skinner, Jerry Jarosinski, Maddy Berry

Montreal, Toronto


AOY cases

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1. America has not been beautiful for some time, but Dove wanted to show that there’s hope for a brighter future. So, working with a team of six African American photographers, Ogilvy created a film that showed both the anger, the pain and the beauty of the fight for social justice currently happening in the streets of America.

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2. To grow its brand with a younger audience, Pizza Hut worked with Ogilvy to create a limited edition 1 byte digital pizza and then sell them on an NFT auction site for the cost of a single bite of an actual pizza (0.0001 Etherium, or 22 cents).

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3. To help Hellmanns in its fight against food waste, the agency targeted the biggest culprits: millennials. The team designed the first-ever branded island on Animal Crossing and highlighted the virtual food waste that was happening on the platform. It asked players to bring their spoiled food to Hellmann’s island, with the brand then donating real meals to an actual food bank.

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4. Ogilvy showed Koho as a financial solution for a new world by taking viewers on a tour of “The Museum of BS” – an old bank with staid furniture and outdated websites.

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5. To keep the secret to how Caramilk gets the caramel into the bar, Ogilvy replaced websites claiming to have the answer with its own playfully misleading pages.