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DDB stands tall (and comes heavy)

Last year’s AOY champ may have fallen to third place, but don’t make the mistake of underestimating DDB Canada. The Vancouver-based agency has missed the top three only twice in a dozen years, and you can bet it’ll always be a contender – and that you’ve got to be brave to get in the ring with larger-than-life chairman/CEO Frank Palmer.

Despite the economic slowdown, DDB Canada stayed steady on its feet this year. The far-sighted Palmer began tightening its belt six months ago and has made some shrewd and timely investments, including creating DDB Echology to help businesses reach their sustainability expectations. In fact, Palmer maintains that investing in projects like Echology and Radar (which launched last year) actually makes DDB better suited to survive.

“Radar hits the target where we need to on social media,” he says, “and potential clients are always asking where we stand on sustainability.

“In the future, we’re going to turn up the dial on Echology so we can get known in that space, and we’re also looking at a growth strategy in markets we don’t serve as well as we could.”

“Elevator” and “Metal Shop,” two Bronze Lion-winning spots for Pacific Blue Cross that portray people talking about other kinds of insurance while engaging in life-threatening activities, illustrate DDB’s emphasis on the big idea – in this case, reminding consumers about the value of life insurance. Says AOY judge Rob Assimakopoulos: “The ads landed right on the insight, and there was effective use of humour to carry the message.”

And the agency has picked up a slew of new accounts to make up for the loss of Dell Canada and Boston Pizza.

“We’ve had an outstanding year,” says Palmer, who’s determined to keep fighting the good fight. “I’m going to hit the competition hard, when they’re not expecting it. Tough times don’t last, but tough companies do. And this is a time for DDB to get tough.”

Vital stats

Home gym: Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Victoria
Entourage:325 deep
Season highlights: New business wins included Blockbuster Canada, Canadian Tourism Commission, Diageo, FedEx, Wonderbra, Wrigley and Pier 1 Imports, among others. Launched DDB Echology to help clients create sustainability programs, and the James Lee Foundation, a charity that provides scholarships for new creative talent in honour of the late DDB Vancouver ACD. Won a Bronze Lion at Cannes for its Pacific Blue Cross work. Named one of the best small and medium-sized employers in Canada by Queen’s University School of Business.
Defeats: National president Rob Whittle retired after 26 years. There are no plans to replace him. Lost the Dell Canada and Boston Pizza businesses.
Management moves: 78 new talent hires, including Amber Bezahler, MD of Tribal DDB Vancouver, Len Wise, MD of Karacters in Toronto, and Andrew McCartney, MD at Tribal DDB Toronto.
Training regimen: Tough and smart, full of bluster and focused on the Big Idea.
Licensing and merchandising: The DDB family includes Kid Think (youth marketing), Public Relations, Tribal (interactive), Karacters Design Group, Rapp Collins (direct), Radar (social media) and Echology (sustainability). DDB Worldwide came in second in Cannes’ Network of the Year competition.