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How TBWA\Group Canada Is Pushing for a New Level of Incredible

Advertising Agency
Toronto, Canada
Leaders Eve Remillard-Larose, Adam Reeves, and Des Jones discuss plans for 2024, and what it takes to run the recently-merged business, while still continuing to grow the DDB and TBWA brands, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

In September last year, a massive industry shakeup hit Canada as two of its most iconic network agencies - Juniper Park\TBWA and DDB Canada - aligned operations under united leadership, and the name TBWA\Group Canada. 

While each would retain its current branding in the market, there were some questions as to how this new operation would function. Namely, would the list of clients, ranging from Grand & Toy and the Montreal Holocaust Museum to CBC and Nissan, still be able to receive the same quality of work that they’d once expected? And, even more importantly, would this be achievable with but a singular leadership team splitting time between both operations? 

Half a year later, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. With the acquisition of Adam Reeves as chief creative officer, the team, which also consists of chief executive officer Eve Remillard-Larose and chief strategy officer Des Jones, is firing on all cylinders and proving that not only can it be done, but TBWA and DDB still have their right places in Canada. Firm believers that the best ideas can still come from anywhere, the three of them are in constant communication, building an ecosystem to enable success, and, most importantly, strong quality of life for the teams within. 

To learn more about this, and how they’re pushing for the resurgence of network agencies in Canada, LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Eve, Des and Adam for a chat. 

LBB> Congratulations on a new and exciting start to the year as TBWA\Group. What’s the road been like to get here? 

Eve> It's been a very interesting road. What I tell everybody is that we're in this super unique position where we have the opportunity to grow two iconic, global brands in the Canadian market. (It's not every job that allows you to lead two different agencies, really work with two different leadership teams and understand each agency's position!) I think both of them have done amazing work in the past, so it's like 'How do we build on the foundations that are there?'. Des, Adam and I are also all big believers that people make this business, so it's about building on the team that's here currently, so we can explode the creative product.

Speaking personally, having been at independent shops for my whole career, the last 18 months have been really eye-opening in terms of all the tools, expertise and people that we have access to as part of a global network. We need to have Canadian creativity at the core, but if we add the power of these global tools and experts, we can really push what brands can do in this market. So, for me, it's been really, really exciting to just discover this whole side and everything that's on offer.

Des> It is amazing because both TBWA and DDB have strong, strategic process deeply embedded. Both are very invested in effectiveness, and in making work that works. However, they also have distinct styles, which is awesome - DDB is all about that power to build emotional, connective strength, and how we culturally prove that. On the other side, TBWA is a lot more disruptive. It can't just accept the status quo, and uniqueness counts. So, we get to work with two incredibly strong philosophies, both of which are grounded in creating change. From a strategic point of view, I love this!

LBB> Notably, you’re continuing to build DDB and TBWA as separate brands, but under your collective leadership. What has this process been like?

Des> What counts a lot in the market is having a strong creative philosophy. That's why we have such two clearly distinct brands. The clients of each brand know what they're getting. At the centre we listen, allow the individual teams to lead in conversations, and stay focused on what we’re doing. So, having these two separate brands gives us a great opportunity to service clients in the way we think is the best.

Adam> Building on this, when a client comes to an agency, often the first thing you do is look for the best team within the agency to service them. But when a client comes to the three of us, we're like, 'OK, what's the business problem you're looking to solve, and which philosophy would be best for you?'. It's a step that doesn’t really exist when you're only focused on one agency, because all you can do is try to sell the approach you already have, whereas here, we have two different approaches that we can bring to the table.

LBB> Another key point is that Adam just joined the agency. Tell us about the search process! What made him the right candidate, and why is he a good fit for the vision you’re trying to achieve?

Eve> It was a really tough search, but we're very excited that we met Adam. We were really looking for somebody who had that entrepreneurial spirit, who was able to navigate that very unique situation of building two different brands, and who was also willing to roll up their sleeves, and not only did we get all of that with him, but I feel like we’ve worked together forever. He fits right in, and yes, we're going to argue, but it's going to be OK because we're cool with that. We want to be able to debate things because we all strongly believe that the work is at its best when ideas get built on, and you're not always going to agree when doing that. However, it's all in the pursuit of the same ambition, which is really, really important.

Des> Adam wasn't just a fit for Eve and I, he was also a fit for both brands. And by that I mean, the brands haven't gotten to where they are today without having a deep restlessness. They're always pushing their clients, they've always kept themselves at the forefront, and so looking for somebody to join us meant finding someone who cared about innovation. Adam brings that in spades. 

But, there's more to it than that. Modern cultural connection and a deep commitment to craft matter to both brands. So what we were really looking for was not only someone who represented innovation, but who could also bring that cultural connection and commitment to craft. It was a unicorn hunt, but we found one. When we met Adam, it was an easy decision. 

LBB> And what is the vision for 2024? What are your goals for the year, now that the leadership team is complete?

Eve> For me, it's all about the creative, the work, and partnering with our clients so that we deliver on the business objectives that they have. But for us, it's about work that's going to connect with culture, and that consumers are going to want to talk about, play with, and interact with. That's where the three of us get really excited. Des and I may not be creatives, but both of us get as excited about the work... and that's why we have grey hair and we're still in this industry. In seriousness, this year, we want to partner up with our teams to put the best work out there that people are going to talk about. 

Des> I disagree with the fact that we're not creatives, because I think we all work for the  creative product! That is one of the great things about what we have here - TBWA and DDB are both agencies built around the absolute love of the product, which is fabulous. So, in terms of our ambitions for this year: We want to win in creative effectiveness by bringing Canada’s unique forms of creativity together with that global power that we have. We've got links to global innovators who can help us leapfrog solutions. Fusing that local creativity with global capabilities is the ambition for this year. What's best from Canada, what's best from the world, and how can we bring them together?

Adam> Personally, I'm excited to see what we can do. I look forward to finding out where we can raise the bar and where we can deliver on this. There's always great energy when you join a new team, as well as new learnings and new clients, so I'm just excited to see what we can accomplish together!

LBB> With this in mind, on a given day, what does working towards this look like? 

Eve> I think we're all very open, and big believers that ideas can come from everywhere. I personally love to come up with bad ads where I'm like, 'Please beat this', because I want to be an active participant. Moreover, if I can't get inspired by a brief, I think that’s helpful, because it makes us think critically about whether we have the right insights when we’re asking somebody else to come up with ideas. 

Beyond that, we're also just trying to bring this openness to the office. We're looking at our space, trying to put things on the walls, and having conversations where people hear us. This industry is fun. I'm not going to push on whether you should come back to in-office, but fundamentally, I do believe you should want to be there! Being around your colleagues and saying 'Wow, this is awesome!' is what we want. I'd love for people to have more energy when they leave at the end of the day because they had so many interesting, inspiring conversations. Yes, there's going to be highs and lows, but overall it should be a net positive as a feeling.

Des> Personal connections really do make a tremendous difference. To Eve’s point, having meetings in open spaces is great, because it means you can just join in. I love being able to drop into other people’s worlds, lives and conversations! It brings an energy, which I think agencies need. 

So, between the three of us, we bring three different types of energy. Eve's energy is kind of legendary everywhere she goes - it's very hard not to notice - and Adam also brings a really nonstop but calm energy, which lifts people up so well. You want your agency to have this kind of push and drive, and I think it's up to us to make sure that we instil that everywhere.

Adam> Des, I'll say something nice about you! You bring an insatiable curiosity and a desire to find the right answer, so I think that helps the energetic mix a lot, because those questions drive us forward. 

Overall though, we've tried to make it seem pretty casual, but it's still pretty rigorous. Eve runs a tight ship (in a good way), we've got a lot of big, big stuff on our hands, but the interactions are surprisingly fluid and casual, where the three of us are always trying to talk. We're trying to build for no surprises. So in that way, it feels like we've been doing it for a long time, which is really good.

LBB> Of course, this becomes an extra big challenge when you’re responsible for two agencies simultaneously. So, how do you allocate resources, ensuring both are amply supported? 

Eve> As a mom of three, the analogy of ‘child’ is the one I use. Outside of work, I love my kids all the same, but they all have different needs and so I divide my attention based on those. And that's what we do here. We have strong teams within each of the brands, and it's really about keeping the communications open, understanding where the needs are, and bringing the energy, insights, and what they need in that specific moment. We're still new at it and we're still figuring it out, but so far that's how we've been doing it.

Adam> That needs state is what I call 'heat seeking'. It's about finding the hot zones and where I'm really needed. Yes, I’m used to deadlines, so I keep key goals in advance to focus on with the teams, but it’s really just about listening to them, and understanding when they need us. It’s a skill we’re all developing - both ears have to be open at all times - but it’s really exciting. Having strong teams on both sides, and having great people around makes it a pleasure to be in the middle and choose which side to go to, because they're both great places to be.

Of course, the modern workplace also makes it easier as well, because physically, we don't have to be in two places at once. We can be in the virtual office and whenever the people need us or we need them, we can just call. 

Des> And the time zones don't hurt! There's three hours every day where we can turn our attention completely and utterly to one brand or the other. That always helps!

LBB> Within this new way of working, how are you setting an example for the rest of the agency, and raising the bar for the work produced?

Eve> Just over a year ago, I joined, and Des and I met each other. So the last year has been about forming how we're going to work together. I'm a strong believer in different points of view, and that's one of the things we were looking at when Adam joined. I don't want to have anybody who's agreeing with me day in and day out. That's also why I love Des. I know I'm going to come up with something and he's going to ask me a question and it's going to be annoying, because it's a good question, and it's going to make my life more difficult. That's what you want! You want people around the table that are going to bring different ways of looking at things, and I think from managing agencies all the way down to creative and projects, that's what I want the team to be doing; open to other people's opinions and thinking, while being challenged every day.

Adam> The work takes so many forms these days, and it's very rare that we end up where we started or with what we initially think we're producing. However, I think we have a good focus on that, and the knowledge that it's all about the creative product and the people. At the end of the day, we're just hoping that it manifests really well - through a lot of different types of work, across the clients.

LBB> As part of this, how do you approach responding to client demands, and in general, handle business relationships?

Eve> I always say it's a people business, inside and out. It's about really connecting with your clients, building that collaboration, and understanding what their business challenges and objectives are, because at the end of the day, we're using creativity to help them solve those. So, at the heart of everything I do with clients, I try to emphasise a deep understanding and a lot of empathy for what they're going through.

Adam> When you really believe that our creative can help a client deliver interesting things in the market, then it's easy to be a good partner. We're out there trying to help, and collaboration is in every direction. So, I think we're just trying to meet each opportunity earnestly and take care of our clients in a way that is respectful. 

Des> Ultimately, we all build relationships with clients through the experience of working together. The more we share in the 'how' and ‘why’ of what we're doing, the better. It's about transparency, and not working behind closed doors. 

LBB> Equally important - tell us about your production practices! What sorts of groups are you looking to work with this year?

Adam> We have a strong production capability inside the agency - our Bolt division really works to help us deliver all kinds of things - and then of course, we're focused on a lot of external partners to help us deliver in the marketplace, in a lot of different ways. Personally, I'm excited to build on the relationships the production team has, as well as my own, and then really dip my finger into the Canadian pool of directors and production companies. We're already working across traditional film to AI, so it's really about seeing who in the marketplace can deliver and just getting to know more and more partners. We've got a few engagements already, without naming names, and those relationships are great, but as more and more projects come up, we can't wait to see what we can do with other people. Using this local Canadian creativity is something we're really excited about, especially when there's so many great filmmakers, coders and designers to collaborate with!

Eve> Creativity is an ecosystem, right? So it's important that we give back and bring different types of partners to the table. We want to find strategic and creative solutions for problems, and we're probably never going to have all of the production capabilities in house, so building those relationships is key to our success and our client's success.

LBB> Finally, how is this new group and model right for the industry of today? And  where do you believe your place in the Canadian scene is?

Adam> By being two agency brands and one leadership group, we can apply great brands, great people and great philosophies to a problem in ways others can't. I know we chirp a lot about having the global resources behind us, but those are incredible networks that TBWA and DDB have. In any case, I think we would be able to serve clients well, but I think in this one, having those resources behind us allows us to push for a new level of incredible.

Des> The market has been obsessed with lower funnel metrics. But the inability to gain a competitive advantage at that level has us looking at how proper brand building can be used to build and commercial advantage. If you think you get a lot of sales messages now, just wait and see what AI does. Just because you can do something doesn't make it the right thing to do.  What the world needs now is big ideas which drive business and build brands. I think that's what both TBWA and DDB bring to the table. Both have deep experience in creating this, and I think it's relevant today in a way it hasn't been for a while.

Eve> I want to lead the resurgence of network agencies in Canada. We can be just as creative as any other shops here, but combined with our global expertise, we can be really strong partners to build brands. That's what we all share - a passion for the value of a brand as an asset for business. Yes, it's about bringing it to life in communication, but it's also about bringing it to life through the whole consumer journey, and I think we have the talent and the tools to do this for Canadian marketers.

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