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Float like a butterfly, sting like a BBDO

BBDO Canada’s stance in the ring is decidedly head-down, eyes-on-the-prize. Unlike the Cassius Clays of the ad world, the Toronto-based agency doesn’t trumpet its awards or new business wins, preferring to quietly keep clients happy with good, solid work.

But as the agency reappears on the AOY podium for its best showing in 10 years, it might be harder to keep a low profile. “Keep your eye on BBDO, that’s what I tell my staff,” says one, decidedly louder agency president. “They’re an agency I have to pay attention to.”

President Dom Caruso attributes BBDO’s breakthrough work on brands like Diet 7-Up to the network-wide “Total Work” approach. “There was a time a few years ago when BBDO [Toronto] was ‘an ad agency that makes great TV spots,’” he says. “Today, everything [we do] in terms of how we work towards strategies and develop campaign ideas is to get to a big magic idea that’s bigger than any single medium, that inspires great creativity across every touchpoint.”

Total Work, which has been in effect for three years, was first implemented in Toronto by former chairman and CCO Jack Neary, who left in January to work on the P&G business in New York. And ECD Ian MacKellar insists that very little has changed since his mentor’s departure. “That was the great thing about Jack’s legacy – his skill set is enviable and it’s hard to follow in his footsteps, but he left me with the tools to carry the torch for the agency,” he says.

The work has built trust with clients like Royal Bank and Johnson &Johnson (Monistat) to do more risqué work. “We’re taking intelligent risks to make sure people are getting more engaged,” says Caruso. “In this day and age, for communications to really work, they can’t be too conservative. It’s that spirit at the client level that has been key to the progress we’ve made in the past year.”

Being in a top-shelf network is also a big motivator. “We’re in a pretty tough and enviable crowd,” says MacKellar. “We have no choice but to try to rise to the occasion.”

Vital stats

Home gym:Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary, Montreal, Windsor, Halifax
Entourage: 300 deep
Season highlights: New business includes Sirius Satellite Radio, Mabe General Electric, Mercedes Benz and the Ontario Ministry of Health. Diet 7-Up work scored a Silver Lion at Cannes
Defeats: Lost the Budweiser Quebec account to Brad Marketing in March. The auto industry slowdown means less Chrysler work; fast-feeder Cara Operations is also feeling the pinch
Management moves: Chairman and CCO Jack Neary moved to BBDO New York, while Ian MacKellar rose to fill his creative role as ECD; SVP/EMD Stephanie Nerlich left to become president at Lowe Roche
Training regimen: The work, the work, the work
Licensing and merchandising: A card-carrying member of the BBDO network, which has been named Cannes Network of the Year for two years running