"We say what we think, and the true winners are our clients," says Paul Lavoie, president and co-founder of Taxi. Since its launch in 1992, the Toronto agency has been regarded as a freethinking establishment that sticks to its principles, but never before have these principles been put to the test as they have over the last few months.
BY LUCY SADDLETON
Lavoie felt that he was standing up for what the agency represents when he made the decision to step down as chairman of the Marketing Awards, following the commotion over Taxi’s controversial ad pushing the awards in the Oct. 22 issue of Marketing. Cameron Gardner, the magazine’s publisher, was dismissed just days after the ad ran.
"I made the decision to stand up against censorship," says Lavoie. "Advertisers are not known for having the strongest backbones, but in my opinion, a creative award show that censors itself is not an award show. People should stand up for what they believe in, to grab people’s attention and make stronger messages."
These principles are part of an overall philosophy which makes the agency what it is today, says Lavoie. "We hire courageous people who speak their minds and try new things," he says. "At the end of the day, no one will remember who won the award show but they’ll all remember what we stood for."
In the past 12 months, 29 new staff members have joined the team, bringing the total staff to 73. Significant new additions include planner and designer Will Novosedlik, and writers Jane Murray, Michael Mayes and Lance Martin. However, Taxi has been careful to avoid the pitfalls associated with growing too quickly.
"There is often a danger in growing too fast," says managing partner and planning director Heather Fraser. "If you get lost in politics and bureaucracy, you’ll probably find that everything falls apart. We’ve always been careful to focus on the work, and building our clients’ business."
To ensure that growth doesn’t result in a loss of quality, Lavoie believes in taking the time to cherry-pick the most suitable staff. "We are looking for three key things: enthusiasm, intelligence and courage," he says. "Individuality often gets repressed in big agencies, where everyone just works as part of a big machine, but we encourage it."
Taxi has also won a number of new accounts in the past 12 months, which taken together, have built the business by 30%. New clients include Krispy Kreme, BMW Canada’s Mini Cooper, Corel, Milestone Radio (Flow 93.5), Williams Sonoma and Astral’s Movie Network.
These accounts, together with longstanding business from Telus, Town Shoes, Covenant House, University of Toronto and Molson Responsible Use, to name but a few, have given Taxi the opportunity to develop and expand its creative abilities, as it approaches its tenth year. Lavoie boasts that no significant business has been lost in the past year, although two of the agency’s dot-com clients went bust (Borderfree.com and Astound.com), and Taxi lost Chapters when it merged with Indigo last March.
Competitions including the British Design & Art Direction awards (for Molson), the Applied Arts awards (Milestone, ABC Canada and others) and the Advertising & Design Club of Canada awards (Milestone and others) have added to the awards chest.
The agency now commands billings of approximately $70 million annually, although as Fraser points out, Taxi cannot really be judged on media billings as it works on a fee basis and gets involved in every aspect of a campaign, from the packaging to the interactive components.
Over the past 10 years the agency has been through some dramatic changes of direction. "For the longest time we were known as an undisciplined creative boutique," says Fraser. "We are now a lot more disciplined than people think. We’ve earned a reputation for having a strong foundation of strategic thinking and offering more than just advertising."
Creative director Zak Mroueh agrees, pointing to recent work as an example of the agency’s versatility. "There was nothing sexy or suggestive about the campaign we did for Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn," he points out. "That was just about smart work, to build a brand image."
CD (design) and co-founder Jane Hope says that working on the new Corel account also gave the creative minds at Taxi a prime opportunity to put their brand-building expertise to work. That project involved rebranding Corel’s flagship product, redesigning its packaging and creating the print campaign for a relaunch in September.
Fraser expands: "A lot of people don’t realize how much work we’ve done in branding. We take a brand and create something, like we did with Clearnet [with the ads featuring bugs, lizards and frogs], or else we take a brand that’s weak and give it a facelift. In all the businesses we touch, we affect all areas of marketing."
And for the year ahead? Mroueh would like to see the agency achieving more international recognition. "Never mind being the best in Canada. We want to be the best in the world," he says. "You have to strive to be the best - as soon as you become complacent it will all turn to nothing."
The CampaignsABC Canada
Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival
| Agency of the Year |
| Gold: Palmer Jarvis DDB Silver: Ammirati Puris Bronze: Taxi |
| Honourable Mention: BBDO Canada |
| Finalists: J. Walter Thompson Ogilvy & Mather |
| Best Media Operation |
| Gold: M2 Universal Silver: Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell Bronze: Starcom Worldwide |
| Best Media Director: Hugh Dow, M2 Universal |
| Judges: Creative Strategic |
| How do you get to be Agency of the Year, Best Media Operation, and Best Media Director |
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