2021 PR Silver: Middle Child refuses to be ignored

The firm has made its mission to identify trends and hack culture, one conversation at a time.

Agency Group Photo - The Colony Project

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

Culture hacking is how Middle Child (née The Colony Project) managing director Amanda Shuchat likes to describe her agency’s philosophy. It’s about understanding cultural conversations and being able to insert clients into them in a meaningful way.

Shuchat says Middle Child works to ID trends as they’re emerging – collecting insights that come from a cocktail of research, daily news and social listening, trend updates, collaborative brainstorms and dialogue directly with key audiences.

And while that might sound like table stakes for a PR agency today, pulling it off has taken a remarkable amount of skill and insight over the last 18 months – considering the global pandemic and a culture cognizant of social injustice now more than ever.

“There are different sensitivities than there were before,” says Shuchat, “and we need to be especially thoughtful in our counsel and what we’re doing to really make clients relevant.”

In fact, the agency now often consults with clients on what not to do as much what to do.

“A client will come to us and say, ‘This is a big, sensitive issue – we want to put out a statement about this. We want to do a campaign or social post.’ And, a lot of times our counsel will be: ‘Don’t do it unless you’re willing to make a long-term meaningful investment.”

Take Sephora. For years, the retailer has invested in speaking to multicultural audiences. Last year, its “We Belong to Something Beautiful” campaign took it a step further by challenging racial bias in the beauty industry.

Working with the PR firm, Sephora created authentic conversations around Diwali, Lunar New Year and the first-ever Indigenous Awareness Month campaign by working with people from those different communities. For the latter, for example, the team exclusively employed Indigenous talent to tackle production, wardrobe, styling, music and photography.

“People want to engage with brands that share the same values they do,” says Shuchat. “So you have to understand the bigger message and issues people care about – and that’s what’s going to help them relate to brands.”

In a time of so much change, she says, it comes down to humility and honesty – and owning your miss-steps. That’s a big part of why The Colony Project rebranded to become Middle Child.

An extension of sister agency Citizen, the Colony moniker spoke to an ideal of one working towards the good of many, which worked when it launched in 2016 but not now. Images of colonialism no longer create the positive associations the agency is looking for.

“So, we needed to move on from that brand. It doesn’t serve us anymore. It’s not who we are and it’s not giving out the right message. So let’s introduce something new,” says Shuchat. “The middle child is known as being curious, imaginative and full of wonder. Often, this child is misbehaved and ignored. But we are the middle child who refuses to be ignored.”

Over the last year alone, Middle Child has won a host of new clients, including Diageo, Coca-Cola Bottling, DHL, Ilia, Youth to the People and Evereden. And as it continues to grow and evolve, Shuchat says her 25-person team (split between Toronto and Montreal offices) aims to live up to the curious nature its new moniker suggests.

“We’re looking to identify trends as they’re emerging,” she says, “to find those gems of cultural conversations that we can insert our brands into in meaningful and authentic ways. It’s not just about where the data is coming from, but rather the lens we apply it to.

“We want ideas that have voltage or stopping power – ideas that are executable in time to take advantage of a trend. Often, we need to act within 72 hours to remain relevant, so agility is key.”

New business
Diageo, Coca-Cola Bottling, Ilia, Youth to the People, DHL, Evereden

New Hires
Kendall Pereira, Natalie Legault, Shannon Harrington

Office
Toronto

Staff
25

PR AOY cases

Kraft Dinner

1. To introduce KD Flavour Boosts, Middle Child launched a national media campaign that played on the absurdity of the new Candy and Pumpkin Spice KD flavours on Valentine’s Day and in the Fall. To get consumers excited for the Pumpkin Spice launch, the shop announced a waitlist, encouraging Canadians to be one of the first to get their hands on the limited-edition drop. And for the Candy flavour launch, the agency shared heart-shaped boxes with media and influencers. Within 24 hours of each campaign launch, KD Boost was trending across news outlets in Canada and the U.S.

makeup

2. For Sephora, the firm helped the retailer ensure authentic representation in its communications, partnering with collaborators within South Asian, East Asian, and Indigenous communities in celebration of Diwali, Lunar New Year and National Indigenous History Month.

Brats

3. The Montreal Children’s Hospital wanted to remind parents (in a non-patronizing way) how lucky they are to have bratty kids – because a healthy child is a mischievous one. So the hospital celebrated kids’ brattiness in a spot, which Middle Child supported with PR outreach that targeted Francophones in La Presse, as well as other news, health and lifestyle media, with a mailer distributed to influencers.