Zig Group Photo

Bronze — Zig

Zig positions itself as media-neutral, as per its motto “ideas in their most powerful form,” and this year’s creative delivers on that promise. The five campaigns that landed the agency back in the AOY top three give a sense of what it’s been up to over the past year: work for Molson, Upper Canada College, Ikea, Corus and CFRB earned the agency an AOY Bronze this year, its best showing since it took home Silver in 2004.

If you paid a visit to Zig’s Toronto office last winter, you’d have seen the surefire signs of expansion: renovations. The agency – 10 years old this year – expanded onto a fourth floor of its Richmond Street West home to accommodate the 60 extra staffers absorbed from the merger with fellow MDC company ACLC in June ’08. Former ACLC CEO Esmé Carroll is now Zig co-chair with CEO Andy Macaulay. Shelley Brown, former MD/director of strategic planning, was promoted to president last month.

And just as the Toronto renovations wrapped up, Zig moved its Chicago office (founded in 2006) to new digs on the Magnificent Mile, where the dozen or so employees have settled in to work with clients including Mars, Microsoft, Playboy and National Geographic Channel. The offices also share clients like Toshiba.

As the agency worked to blend two cultures, one of Zig’s co-founders and driving creative forces, art director Elspeth Lynn, the long-time creative partner of Lorraine Tao, left the agency last November. The team had made a name for itself and the fledgling agency in the early ’00s putting canny insights into women to work for brands such as Special K and Fruit of the Loom.

This talent for nailing the target every time got the attention of marketers such as Corus Entertainment (YTV was one of Zig’s first clients), which was looking to amp up female viewership for then-newly acquired W Network. “We like to push the envelope and take risks [in our advertising],” says Susan Schaefer, VP marketing, TV, Corus Entertainment, who adds that the agency “also respect that we are driven by business results.”

Tao has found a new partner in AD Briony Wilson, a hire from DDB Dallas, and the agency has grown its relationship with Corus to include AOR remits for the off-air advertising of two more women’s specialties, Cosmo and Viva, as well as Dusk (formerly Scream TV) and CMT.

The agency also lured multiple Cannes Lions-winning creative team Michael Murray and Jason Hill from Taxi to work on Ikea and Astral Media Radio. On the digital front, ACLC’s interactive unit Push is now supporting what Macaulay predicted last winter would be a 20% increase in digital business over 2009 – starting with Unilever’s Axe brand.

Also putting the agency on the cutting edge of media innovation is X, a new connection planning venture jointly owned by Zig and former Cossette SVP/media director Cathy Collier. Announced in May, the agency affiliate maps the consumer decision-making process to find the critical moments that influence brand choice and determine the right type of brand interaction, whether it’s a message, an experience or both, for each identified moment.

Zig has also consistently been strong in TV and radio – which Macaulay affectionately refers to as “the death valley of creativity” – bringing home international hardware for clients like Ikea, which has localized Zig creative in countries like Israel and Italy. This year’s humorous “Dubbed Husband” campaign for Ikea’s kitchens business was a hit with judges like Draft FCB CCO Robin Heisey, who admired the campaign’s use of “insight to engage and entertainment to reward involvement. It also had one of the best pieces of film of the year.”

The Facts

Locations: Toronto, Chicago

Staff: 115

New hires: Jason Hill, Michael Murray, Briony Wilson, Andrew Cloutier, Neil Blewett, Gail Dhruv

New business: Axe (digital), Burt’s Bees, Cosmo TV, Elysian Hotels, Environmental Defense, Just for Laughs, Playboy Enterprises, Tribune Media Group (ChicagoNow.com, WGN, RedEye), Torys law firm, Toys R Us, VIVA