'Execution is the easy part'
BY SARA MINOGUE
Taxi was first invited to Strategy's Agency of the Year competition at the end of its very first year of business in 1992. Founders Jane Hope and Paul Lavoie were amused to learn they were to submit five campaigns. They only had five campaigns, but they managed to come second. This year, the agency's top five winning campaigns are a testament to the high standards the agency has maintained from day one.
Says Lavoie, "Every agency can do a good campaign, but show me your last five campaigns. The challenge is to do it consistently."
In the past 12 months the agency has added to its project work for Corel, landed a new national account for Desjardins (a Montreal-based financial services institute that plans to launch its business nationally) and won more work from Pfizer. On top of that, Taxi will continue to do work for Telus beyond the mobility campaign we saw this year, running even further with a brand that Taxi helped develop before Telus bought up Clearnet. Overall, the agency has increased revenues by 25%.
"Every team in this agency is doing work that's recognized and considered really good," says VP/CD Zak Mroueh. "There's no one team dominating. It's really spread out."
Food for thought for fans of the famous "Good Morning" Viagra spot: "Everybody knows the Viagra 'Good Morning' television spot. But the password-protected Web site for the Viagra user, of the doctor's kit - nobody really sees that but it's equally compelling."
Ask any one of Taxi's five partners - Lavoie, Hope, Heather Fraser, and as of this year, Mroueh and VP/CFO Ron Wilson - what makes their agency so successful and the answer will not be "creativity." Interestingly, all point to a steady focus on "the work." According to Lavoie, there's really no philosophy at play. The idea is to find practical solutions to clients' problems. That means digging for the insight that will provide the biggest impact in the marketplace. Once that insight is clarified, the teams set about putting the bright idea into play.
In November, Lavoie traveled to London to serve as advertising jury president at the London International Advertising Awards where Taxi earned two trophies: for its work on last year's call for entries for the Marketing magazine awards that was later denounced by the magazine's publishers, and for its depictions of street youth for Covenant House. Those campaigns also won Gold and Silver, respectively, at Cannes this year, adding to distinctions from the Clios, Cassies, Bessies, the One Show, the Advertising and Design Club of Canada and the Applied Arts Awards. As jury president, Lavoie also instituted a new category for ghost ads (ads that have never run). "Lavoie's Playground," as it came to be known, received almost 100 entries, two of which won trophies.
Taxi's own wins have been so celebrated that its principals now receive up to 15 resumés daily, and indeed, the team has expanded. That doesn't mean its modus operandi will change anytime soon.
"The right way to do it is to put the right number of people in a room and make them accountable for the results," says Lavoie. "We don't need 14,000 people or huge committees. Accountability means you'll get there quicker, with work that is less watered-down, in a way that is much more motivating for everybody. If you can get the solutions while enjoying the ride, it's a pleasure to work."
Heather Fraser puts it a bit differently: "There's a strong culture in this place and it brings out the entrepreneur in all of us. The people that gravitate to Taxi are smart, they think creatively, they have conviction and courage and they say what's on their minds."
Taxi has had offers to buy from day one, but Lavoie maintains that they aren't interested in selling. The team likes to be selective with its clients, and to look for relationships where both partners can grow.
"You get too many departments and you have to continually pitch everything that moves. You have to feed the beast, and I don't want to feed the beast."
The Taxi Film Festival
Last year Taxi held a short film festival. Eight groups were given six weeks to produce a three- to five-minute film titled The Strangest Thing. The "Oscars" were held at Christmas with awards for best actress, best film, etc. "I thought it would be crazy, hokey homemade stuff," Hope says, "but, honestly, these films were amazing."
Group One produced L'Etrange Affaire, a black and white end-of-romance full of French stereotypes using a bastardized French-English (Franglais?) dialog. English subtitles, provided by the Canadian Board of Courtesy and Politeness, help the non-Franglais speaker to follow the plot. "I thought you burned all our pictures" is translated to "Weren't our pictures destroyed in an environmentally friendly way?" "You suck in bed," reads "www.edhelp.ca."
Group Eight's film consists of three spectacular Hitchcockian openings - each interrupted by a balding leader phoning from HQ to clarify instructions. The Shortest Fling opens with a broad slapping a suit on the cheek in the Taxi offices, The Strongest Stink shows a man struggling to find a toilet, and The Longest Swing chronicles a dramatic golf shot unleashed with rising fury.