Taxi Advertising & Design
Everyone loves a winner. Well, almost everyone.
When it comes to clients, most agencies would give anything for the opportunity to work with a category leader. And why not?
It usually means a bigger budget, more prestige and the satisfaction of operating from a position of strength.
The folks at TAXI Advertising & Design, however, have always had an affinity for the underdog.
"We're not looking for number ones," says Paul Lavoie, president and creative director, advertising, for the Toronto-based agency, which claims billings of approximately $70 million. "We're looking for number threes, fours and fives. They are the ones that feel more comfortable here. They tend to be open to edgier, more risk-taking work that gets noticed."
They are, in short, a lot like TAXI itself. "We've always seen ourselves as a bit of a challenger," says Lavoie, who co-founded the agency in 1992 after defecting from Cossette Communication-Marketing in Montreal. "It's very important for us to present an alternative solution, to stay hungry and youthful and bring fresh thinking to the marketplace."
TAXI's success in this regard is evidenced by its second-place finish in this year's Agency of the Year competition, on the strength of work for clients Town Shoes, Covenant House, Molson Responsible Use, University of Toronto and The Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival.
Heather Fraser, TAXI's vice-president and general manager, strategic planning, says the past year has brought positive developments on just about every front.
For starters, the agency picked up several notable pieces of new business, including Town Shoes and the Rickard's Red and Responsible Use accounts from Molson Breweries. It also got itself in the running for a couple of highly coveted accounts: Pfizer Canada's Viagra assignment, and BMW Canada's Mini Cooper relaunch. And it established an interactive group that has succeeded in signing up a number of dot-com clients - among them Borderfree.com.
All that, and it managed to add new lustre to an already enviable creative reputation by taking home awards from the Cannes International Advertising Festival (for Covenant House) and the London International Advertising Awards (for Salon Selectives).
With the continued expansion of its core advertising and design business, plus the addition of a new interactive group, TAXI has made more than 20 new hires this year, bringing its staff complement up to 60. While the agency is eager to continue this kind of growth, Lavoie says it's also important not to stray from the values that have brought them this far.
Among other things, that means being selective in the pursuit of new business. Rather than go after every account that's up for grabs, TAXI prefers to seek out those clients who share a similar philosophical outlook.
"There's a clear decision to try to maintain our integrity by working with people who have the same chemistry and energy that we have," Lavoie says.
TAXI positions itself in the marketplace as a specialist in "brand creation and rejuvenation." Because the agency doesn't have a lot of hierarchy, or maintain carefully patrolled borders between departments, Fraser says it has the ability to think holistically about brands, and develop creative solutions that encompass more than just traditional advertising.
Whenever discussion turns to TAXI's strength as a branding agency, the name of Clearnet Communications is sure to be mentioned. TAXI’s distinctive nature-themed advertising - which has featured insects, tree frogs and, most recently, a disco-dancing duck - is widely credited with helping the digital wireless firm establish a strong identity in a crowded marketplace.
When Telus moved to acquire Clearnet in August, Lavoie says TAXI saw the $6.6-billion price tag as something of a tribute to its handiwork. It remains to be seen, however, what the sale will mean for the agency in business terms, since Telus has indicated its intent to reduce the profile of the Clearnet brand.
At a time when just about every Canadian agency of any size is part of a multinational network, TAXI's autonomous status has begun to seem a little unusual. In September, Toronto-based Vickers & Benson became the latest Canadian shop to give up independence, when it sold out to French conglomerate Havas Advertising. Will TAXI be next?
Lavoie is deliberately noncommittal on this point. "I think we'd have to evaluate that when the situation arose. We have a preference for being in control, because it means that we can maintain the kind of culture we want at TAXI. But I don't want to get into the situation where you say one thing, and then circumstances change."
Whatever happens, he’s hopeful that the agency will always hang onto the "maverick" spirit that leads to great work. "We do try to attract people who are a little more fearless," Lavoie says. "One of the things we tell the creative department is, 'Either do it really well, or do it really badly. But never stay in the middle.'"
Molson Responsible Use
The Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival
The University of Toronto