DDB Group Photo

Gold — DDB

Frank Palmer and company have done it again. After a brief stopover at Bronze last year, DDB Canada is AOY champion once more, thanks to a solid performance across the board with five campaigns that showcase the agency’s undeniable bench strength spanning categories and media.

It was a rough year for DDB Canada’s parent company Omnicom, and DDB Canada lost staff in Toronto and Vancouver, contributing to a drop of 36 since this time last year. Long-time CCO Alan Russell departed the Vancouver office in January, with no plans to replace him; award-winning creatives Dean Lee and Cosmo Campbell were subsequently appointed co-CDs.

But despite the upheaval, the agency’s creative standard held fast. DDB scored some big wins this year, from Karacters Design Group’s Bronze Design Lion at Cannes for Silver Hills Bakery to Tribal’s Best in Show Campaign win at the Bessies for B.C. Dairy Foundation’s “Must Drink More Milk.”

The Milk work was a clear favourite with AOY judges this year, who called it “sticky” and “completely unexpected.” For B.C. Dairy Foundation director of communication and market development Liz Gurszky, who was initially attracted to DDB’s youth expertise in the form of its KidThink unit eight years ago, the recession was an opportunity to supplement consumers’ desire for comfort foods like milk with creative that spoke to the target. “It allows us more freedom and flexibility to air our ads more often, take advantage of that opportunity to have better rates and to do something a little bit different and new again,” she says.

Also bucking the recession trend, the agency’s tourism category clientele, well represented by the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), is growing, with the addition of the New Brunswick Department of Tourism and Parks this year, in partnership with Revolution Strategies.

Palmer himself is not one to sit still, even in a storm, and the past 12 months have been marked by a series of strategic promotions and hires to strengthen the agency’s social media, digital and planning departments. Planning capabilities were beefed up with the addition of two strategic vets: Toronto-based SVP director of strategic planning Tony Johnstone, who previously managed the integrated planning practice at Grey Advertising in Toronto, and Eric Weaver, who is now account director digital strategist in Vancouver.

To answer the increasing demand for social programs, DDB expanded its Radar unit this spring, moving Vancouver manager Yvonne van Dinther eastward to Toronto in April, where she is now spearheading that office with strategic planner Steve Wright. Van Dinther was replaced in Vancouver by Justin Young, who came over from Rethink. The agency’s comfort in this burgeoning area is evidenced through nimble feats such as last month’s coup, when Radar seized the opportunity to put the “Crasher Squirrel” viral phenomenon to good use for Banff Tourism.

Also in the digital sphere, Tribal DDB spearheaded the UGC-based “Locals Know” campaign for the CTC (see p. 20) under the leadership of managing directors Amber Bezahler in Vancouver and Andrew McCartney in Toronto, both of whom joined in the second half of last year from Blast Radius in an effort to re-energize the department and keep pace with digital growth.

One thing B.C. Dairy’s Gurszky says cemented her relationship with DDB over the years, and paved the way to a brave and groundbreaking collaboration, is the access she has to all levels of staff, from Palmer down. “For me as a marketer being involved in the process and being in touch with the people that are creating the process helps to bring that trust up. So once you’re involved and included, that really does minimize that risk.”

The Facts

Locations: Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Victoria

Staff count: 289

New talent hires: ADs Lisa Chen-Wing and Colin Hart; Josh Fehr, CD, Tribal DDB; Tony Johnstone, SVP director of strategic planning; Andrew McCartney, managing director, Tribal DDB; Tony Miller, ECD, Anderson DDB Health & Lifestyle; Eric Weaver, account director/digital strategist, Tribal DDB; Justin Young, managing director, Radar DDB

New business wins: Manulife Investments, the National Office and the Ontario Division of the Canadian Cancer Society, New Brunswick Department of Tourism and Parks, Plan Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart, TransLink, Servus Credit Union, Sport BC, Vancouver Convention Centre.