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The boys are back - with or without D'Arcy


D'Arcy may be gone but Bensimon Byrne remains.

Since international advertising holding company Publicis Groupe SA acquired Bcom3 and dissolved the D'Arcy brand in October, insiders have speculated on the future of the Toronto shop. But president Jack Bensimon wants to put to rest the rumour that his agency is defunct along with D'Arcy.

Asked if he's going out of business, Bensimon says: "That's the furthest thing from the truth. D'Arcy's closure has had little or no impact on our day-to-day operations. For us, business as usual really means business as usual."

More than that, while other offices have been hard hit by the economic downturn, Bensimon says his agency's focus on domestic clients has allowed it to flourish. The majority of its revenue - more than 70% - comes from Canadian clients with only 30% a result of the relationship with D'Arcy.

"We've grown our business on the backs of our current clients," adds managing director Carol Fox, "and we've grown the clients that we have." Fox notes that in particular, Bensimon has increased its business with Molson and Scotiabank over the last few years. In fact, since being acquired by D'Arcy in 1997, Bensimon has increased its overall business by 114% and doubled the number of its employees.

But while dropping the D'Arcy connection may not spell disaster for the agency, it's still a harbinger of change. For starters, the agency has dropped the D'Arcy from its name, returning to the moniker it started with in 1993.

As well, Bensimon says there are now several different scenarios the agency could pursue: operating completely independently, linking up with another branch of the Publicis network in Canada, or linking up with one of Publicis' independent brand names, to name a few. But the crew is not in any hurry to resolve the situation, nor are they yet leaning towards any one option. "Our primary concern is what makes the most sense for our Canadian clients."

When it comes to the agency's creative output, again Bensimon puts his clients first. In particular, he emphasizes that the agency has a wide pool of talent that can produce advertising that meets a wide variety of business needs.

"One of the things that's very important to me is that our reel be reflective of our clients' brands, and not any kind of agency style," he says. "We dig for the truth about how consumers feel about our brands and how they behave towards our brands. You have to strip away a lot and figure out what motivates somebody to buy Molson Canadian and what would motivate them to buy more Molson."

Bensimon cites the agency's work for the Canadian Football League as an example of a campaign that uses a particularly Canadian human truth to resonate with consumers.

"There's a truth about Canada and the fragmented nature of our country that lends itself to the rivalries that exist in professional sport and are exacerbated by the CFL. Toronto and Hamilton hate each other; Calgary and Edmonton hate each other. You have to find those truths in order to be able to develop the kind of work that's going to both be relevant to the target audience and lead to the creative team having the opportunity to create something that's really going to break through."

Adds Glen Hunt, VP group CD, "It can't just be entertaining. You have to get people to act and hopefully open up their wallet. Humour is one of those things that sticks with you, that you'll talk with your friends about. Once you've got that, it's the best advertising you can get: word of mouth."

A recent Silver award in the financial services category at the 2002 Cassies proves that the agency knows what it's doing. Last year's Cassies also brought home the Grand Prix, and the team won Best of Show at the Bessies for two years in a row.

A recent move into a stripped-out and refurbished warehouse space on Wellington St. in downtown Toronto is designed to keep that creativity flowing. In fact, the new open-concept space is already creating a buzz in the architectural community. The goal of the space, says Fox, who was largely in charge of the project, was to "build the place that reflects not just who you are today, butÉhopefully reflects who you want to be tomorrow."

Adds Bensimon, "Carol has built us the environment that fits the agency we've always aspired to be. Everything is geared toward the energy level, the collaborative style of working that we have. It's an environment in which great creativity can happen."

What the boys of Bensimon Byrne do in their spare time:

This summer, the guys at Bensimon held a weight loss contest. Says managing director Carol Fox, "It wasn't a contest, it was a war." In four weeks, the guys lost a total of 125 lbs. between them. "It became an agency event," says Bensimon. "There was some wagering and the final weigh-in." The winner? Glen Hunt, who lost 36 lbs. The so-called loser, chief creative officer Peter Byrne, lost the least - 17 lbs. - but actually won the prize: a chocolate cake. The catch was that he had to eat the whole cake in front of the entire agency with no fork and knife. "I loved being humiliated in front of the agency," says Byrne. "[But] they were good sports and they let me off the hook. I took a couple of bites of the cake and they said, 'Why don't we share the whole thing!?'"

Jack Bensimon, on measuring up to "The Rant":

"When you do a single ad that is unprecedented in terms of its popular cultural reaction, you kind of want to leave it out there as something to aspire to. We still show it at the top of our reel in as many presentations as possible. It's a calling card; it's something we're extremely proud of. Two years ago, just following "The Rant," we didn't have four other campaigns that were really as strong. Now the question of following up "The Rant" is laid to rest by the evidence that we've arrived at the place we have in this competition."