Rethink Group Photo

Silver — Rethink

Rethink loves an underdog. If you don’t believe that, a flip through their Silver-winning cases over the next few pages will convince you: from long-time clients like Coast Capital Savings to new North American accounts like webhosters Peer 1 and gamers 2K Sports to eco-friendly rabble rousers like the Dogwood Initiative, there’s no shortage of take-’em-on brands in the Vancouver indie agency’s AOY portfolio this year.

“They really thrive working with the little guy, doing what they can to position them to take on the Goliaths,” says Surrey, B.C.-based Coast Capital Savings VP marketing Lawrie Ferguson, who has worked with co-CDs Chris Staples and Ian Grais and their partner Tom Shepansky and co. since the B.C. credit union was formed in 2003. (Richmond Savings, one of the three smaller FIs that merged to form CCS, followed Grais and Staples from Palmer Jarvis DDB when they split to set up their own shop in 1999.)

Rethink can be seen as a bit of an underdog itself: a relatively small, nimble player that consistently dominates Canadian award shows with work that makes national household names out of local B.C. brands like Playland and Science World. Case in point: the agency won AOY Silver in 2005 and Gold in 2006. Despite their successes, Staples, Grais and Shepansky are content to keep their “kitchen” in Vancouver, close to their roster of mainly regional clients.

Rethink’s work for the credit union has stood out in the FI category – known for its conservative standards – and this year’s satirical attack on the Big Five Canadian banks, “I Love Fees,” was no exception (see p. 26). “Our brand is about taking some risks, about poking fun at ourselves,” says Ferguson. “Rethink is part and parcel of that; they come in with risky stuff.”

The standout work is the result of a collaborative relationship with a total lack of ego, says Ferguson, and this open approach also applies within the agency, as campaigns are vetted through a peer review process. “We believe that advertising is a team sport, and that all opinions have value,” Grais told strategy in February, when Rethink swept the annual Creative Report Card award rankings – again. “We’ll show ideas in rough form to people in all departments – and even take our scribbles out onto the street.”

While the shop lost some of its top talent this year – eight months after copywriter Jono Holmes moved east to Taxi in Toronto last summer, star team Rob Sweetman and Bryan Collins took co-CD titles at Cossette West in February – it’s held steady at around 60 staffers as it beefs up its digital, design and production departments. Rob Tarry was promoted to group creative director. Art directors Chad Kabigting and Nicolas Quintal are now ACDs, as are AD/designer Brian Musgrove and copywriter Bob Simpson. Design group CD Jeff Harrison joins the executive team as the agency’s fifth junior partner.

And they put their money where their mouth is with the Rethink Rebate, which ties up to 5% of the agency’s fee to sales targets or other metrics – they claim to have more money tied up in rebates at any given time than they pay in rent in a year. “They’re very frugal, driving the value back into the relationship as opposed to into affectations of an agency,” says Ferguson. (Think Astro Turf and Ikea furniture vs. hardwood and closed door offices.)

Yet they still find time for pro-bono work like the jury favourite “No Tankers Loonie Project” for the Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative (see p. 28). AOY judge Kevin Edwards, Grand & Toy VP marketing, said the sticker project was his favourite campaign of the year, calling it “a brilliantly simple execution that was both provocative and thought-provoking.” It also earned the conservation non-profit a Cease and Desist order from the Canadian Mint for allegedly defacing currency (the decals in fact peel off).

Dogwood communications director Charles Campbell says the Rethink project – the second they’ve done together, with another in the works this fall – inspired his organization to take more creative risks. “They have a really creative attitude which I think their structure and independence allows,” he says. “They seem to bat above their weight [with respect to] creative projects.”

The Facts

Offices: Vancouver

Staff count: 60

New business: Peer 1 Web Hosting, AG Hair Cosmetics,, Alberta Libraries, 2K Sports, BC Hydrogen Highway, Palladin Security

New talent hires: Matt Gomes, team leader, interactive; Allison Abernethy, account manager; David Giovando, writer; Natee Likit, art director