Sid Lee (AOY) Group Photo

Bronze — Sid Lee

Sid Lee may not be the new kid (around since the early ’90s and formerly known as Diesel), but they are the new kid on the AOY block. It’s the agency’s first time medaling in strategy’s awards, and considering their global reputation for innovative work, it’s about time.

Sitting around a table in their brand-new Toronto office in the Distillery District, president Jean-François Bouchard, VP strategy Eric Alper, VP senior partner Martin Gauthier and managing director Vito Piazza, reminisce about the evolution of the agency, from opening European offices to diving into experiential, design, architecture and branded content, to taking chances on new interactive, digital and social media.

“If you walk through our agency, you’ll see a bunch of people working on a 20-storey building,” says Bouchard, “and then you’ll see people working on an iPhone application that will be globally launched, then you’ll see people working on a social network platform, then a bunch of guys working on events to be deployed in 10 different countries around the world. This diversity, just a couple of years ago, seemed nuts.”

With such breadth of services, it’s no wonder two of Sid Lee’s cases this year revolve around new brand identities (STM and Vidéotron), while the SAQ work redefines how consumers purchase wine, and Tourisme Montreal leveraged blogs and social media. And then of course there’s Adidas. From AR codes on sneakers to reimagining a scene from Star Wars, the Adidas work never seems to stop innovating – much like the agency itself.

So how does Sid Lee make this diversity work? They boil it down to the agency’s culture of “entrepreneurial plus communal” spirit, as Alper puts it, and of course finding the right talent – just one

of the motivations for opening shop in Toronto this fall. The new location will service the agency’s

pre-existing Toronto-based clients such as Red Bull, Winners, Kraft and the newly acquired (in May) INQ Mobile, with the plan to attract more Toronto-based business, as well as clients out of the U.S.

But, Bouchard says, “It’s really a quest for talent more than it is a quest for clients. Our belief is that if you have the best talent, clients will follow at some point…A lot of people believe that we went [to Europe] because of Adidas, but actually we won Adidas after committing to opening in Europe.”

While the Sid Lee team doesn’t know how exactly the agency will evolve in the coming years, the one certainty is that there will be change – a constant stream of it. “It is quite likely that the pace of change will accelerate again in the next decade, so our challenge as we’re growing is to remain as agile as we have been in the past,” Bouchard says, noting that they’ll do so by having numerous small ateliers around the world, an “armada of pirate ships at different ports,” as they put it.

When it comes to further expansion, it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when” it will happen. They anticipate opening an office in the U.S. within the next couple of years and are setting their sights on emerging markets like Mexico.

Speaking with the team, it’s hard not to imagine the agency as a perpetual motion machine. “A lot of seasoned people in this industry think that this business is a bunch of sprints – you run fast, then you stop, you coast for a while,” says Alper. “No, it’s a marathon. We’re in an endurance sport here.”

The Facts

Offices: Montreal, Toronto, Amsterdam, Paris

Staff: 300

New business: Adidas Performance, worldwide AOR; Red Bull, Netherlands; Kobo, AOR; Fatboy, Netherlands; Ubisoft; INQ Mobile

If Sid Lee has a mascot it would be: A chameleon: “Because we build change into our business rather than waiting for it to happen.”