DDB Group Photo

Silver — DDB

After two years in the top spot, DDB is giving the competition a chance to catch up, taking home Silver in this year’s Agency of the Year competition.

“2011 was a year where we couldn’t pitch many conflict accounts in the automotive, financial services and beverage alcohol segments – the big pitches of 2011. Though we did incredibly well on the digital side with digital AOR wins for big clients like McDonald’s, Canadian Tire and Lipton,” says David Leonard, president and COO at DDB Canada. “That part of the business is on fire.”

For Leonard, the agency’s strongest campaigns this year were the ones that embraced innovation and defied category conventions – like its “Keep Exploring” work for Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), which took Gold for Transmedia at strategy’s inaugural AToMiC Awards this fall. The digitally savvy campaign eschewed professional footage of scenic vistas in favour of videos and photos shot by tourists, and used Google Maps Street View to put travellers onto Canadian streets.

DDB also demonstrated a knack for using older tech in new ways, giving the old-school flipbook a modern twist with its animated “Pure Performance” for Subaru’s WRX STI.

“When you’re working with a relatively niche brand, you’ve got to take some calculated risks to get ahead,” Leonard says, noting that Subaru has “continued to take control of their own destiny” by creating fresh local work instead of relying on U.S. creative.

“I wish there were more brave, innovative clients out there that have control of their own activity and don’t have to report to someone in some other hub,” he says. “We all need more clients like this.”

And DDB is laying the groundwork for new growth with Shopper DDB, a shopper marketing division launched this summer, helmed by Spider Marketing’s former VP of consumer and shopper strategy, Jason Dubroy.

“Shopper marketing has really started to take off [in Canada],” Leonard says. “We’re still about three years behind what’s going on in the U.S., in terms of sophistication and client budget commitment. But if you think about what online felt like 10 years ago, this is what shopper marketing is starting to feel like in this country.”

Scooping up Dubroy as VP of shopper marketing allowed the agency to dive into this emerging field with confidence, Leonard says. But finding and retaining the right talent isn’t easy – in fact, Leonard considers it one of the biggest industry challenges moving forward into 2012.

“The best thought leaders in any of the disciplines are in very high demand and they’re mobile,” he says. “I keep saying to my folks, ‘Don’t hire anyone from a

Bloor Street agency, from a King Street agency. Why would we hire from average shops in our own backyard? We’ve got to hire from offshore [and] different disciplines, we’ve got to look at people who’ve worked clientside. Injecting that fresh thinking and perspective is the only way to stay in front.’”

If Leonard’s got hiring on the brain, it’s for good reason: “You’ll hear very soon about an additional office for DDB in Canada – more on that in the new year.”

The Facts

Offices: Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal

Staff: 252

New hires: Nik Badminton, director of digital strategy, Tribal DDB Vancouver; Michelle Kitchen, VP business director, DDB Vancouver; Natalie Godfrey, senior planning director, DDB Vancouver; Peter Bolt, VP director of integrated solutions, DDB Toronto; Doug van Spronsen, social media and digital strategist, DDB Edmonton; Chris Dallin, director of branding and design, Karacters Design Group; Jason Dubroy VP, shopper marketing, DDB Toronto

New business: Alberta Health and Wellness; BC Lottery Corporation; BC Place; BC Salmon; Canadian Tire (digital AOR); Canpages; Desire2Learn; Edmonton International Airport; Eli Lilly Canada – Cialis; Hoopla; Jamieson Vitamins; Johnson & Johnson (digital AOR for Reactine, Polysporin, Band-aid, Visine, Korres, Nicorette and Benadryl); McDonald’s (digital AOR); Province of British Columbia Public Affairs Bureau; Rick Hansen Foundation; RIM B2B; Taseko Mines; TeamBuy; Tourism Vancouver; Travel Manitoba; Western Canada Lottery Corporation; WIND Mobile