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Getting a Taxi in New York

Montreal. Toronto. New York. Has a nice ring, doesn't it? Paul Lavoie certainly seems to think so as he presently realizes his American Dream of making the Big Apple the next stop for his agency, Taxi.

If one shop were to make the enviable leap from homegrown boutique to chain, many in the industry would point to the one co-founded by Lavoie over a decade ago. Partly because in its 12-year history, Taxi has managed to produce consistently creative, ROI-friendly, award-winning work for clients like Telus, Flow 93.5, Nike, BMW's Mini, Covenant House and Viagra. Clearly Lavoie's founding philosophy of only taking on clients with whom they share a vision and chemistry has panned out and in the process come to define the agency and its work.

"I think that Taxi has suddenly become an agency where clients who want outstanding work go," says AOY judge Marc Stoiber, ECD, Grey Canada. "It's become a prestige client agency. It's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you behave like a great agency, you get great clients."

Client Nicole Jolly, VP marketing at Flow 93.5, offers this: "With Taxi, they get it. They know what we're trying to do. We speak the same language so it makes it all very easy."

Also effortless is the agency's stripped down, hands-on approach to working with clients: no multi-layered bureaucracy here, says Nike's Derek Kent, head of corporate communications.

"If you work with Taxi, you feel very much like a part of their team. Their flat organizational structure reduces layers of red tape and allows us to get the much-needed face time with everyone involved on the project whenever we need it," he says. "It allows us, as clients, to roll up our sleeves and contribute to the development process. Everyone feels like they own a piece of the end product and that's a good thing." That unity (Nike has worked with Taxi for a year and a half now) has produced "Light it Up," last year's hockey campaign, "Battlegrounds" and "Speed," campaigns that have not only garnered awards but impressive consumer support.

Then there's the work for longstanding clients like Telus, which show no signs of atrophy. "It's amazing that Taxi's Telus campaign continues to be solid after what seems like seven or eight years," says Laurie Laykish, McDonald's VP marketing, and one of this year's AOY judges. "I respect the client and the agency for staying true to the campaign and finding ways to evolve and refresh the brand essence or creative integrity."

All of that understanding, sharing and general creative smarts has managed to spin itself into a ball of, well, client-love for the agency. "They make us feel special although we don't have the gazillion-dollar budget," says Jolly, who has worked with the agency since Flow first went to air in 2001. "They care about the big idea. They understand the way the brand needs to work."

She pauses, then adds: "It's embarrassing. I sound like such a lackey. They're not even paying me but it's going to sound like they are: We've just really been happy with the work they're done for us."

So coming off of two consecutive gold wins in the contest, this year's gold finish (based on work for Telus, Athletes World, Nike hockey, the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival and WestJet) simply joins the string of consistently strong placements for the agency since being invited to join AOY after its first year in business in 1992.

"Never mind being the best in Canada," said CD Zak Mroueh back in 2001 after Taxi's first gold win. "We want to be the best in the world." Brings to mind that old Leonard Cohen song, no? "First we take Manhattan...."

Copyright 2004 Brunico Communications Inc. All rights reserved.