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Matt Litzinger on Bringing a ‘Local’ Approach to Canadian Creativity


The founder, president and CCO of Toronto agency, The Local Collective, speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about using “locally mined insights” on campaigns, what’s changed and changing about Canada’s creative scene and how inspiration can be found in a prisoner’s escape from Alcatraz

Matt Litzinger on Bringing a ‘Local’ Approach to Canadian Creativity

"Great creative has no boundaries. The best work can come from anywhere. Meet some of Canada’s best creative thinkers. The work is world class and consistent."

Canadian production company FRANK Content is a proud supporter of Little Black Book as its partner for the Canadian market. As part of that relationship, LBB is sitting down for a chat with the brightest and best minds from across Canada's advertising industry. Today, LBB’s Ben Conway has the pleasure of talking with Matt Litzinger, founder, president and CCO of The Local Collective. He speaks about the rollercoaster of running a new business during a pandemic, the optimistic future for Canadian creativity and why TLC’s strategy is to “start as small and narrow as possible.”

LBB> When did you start The Local Collective and what was your motivation for doing so? What were you doing before founding TLC?

Matt> The Local Collective was started in late 2018. From a professional standpoint, I think we just noticed that there was a different way to do things. Not only from a process standpoint but also from an output standpoint. We really wanted to do work that became culturally relevant without the benefit of a massive media buy or a ‘Super Bowl spot’. For me personally, I think it just took me a longer time to realise I was an entrepreneur.

LBB> How did you get your start in the industry?

Matt> I started as a junior studio operator (anything to get my foot in the door) a lifetime ago. It was a great time in my career. I was young and fearless and lucky enough to start my career inside an independent agency. The owners were amazing leaders, and I was surrounded by an immense amount of talent to learn from and watch. I eventually moved into the creative department and continued from there.

LBB> Could you sum up the ride with TLC so far?

Matt> Fun(ish). For the most part, every day at TLC has been fun. But the pandemic was a real kick in the teeth. We had just started renovating our new space the week the first (of many) lockdowns occurred. Throughout that period there were great moments, but the general cloud of both financial and cultural strain was pretty shitty. But the roller coaster is full of both ups and downs and we have enjoyed the thrill of this ride immensely!

LBB> You say that TLC’s philosophy is to “start as small and narrow as possible” - how does this impact the work that TLC does? How do you then develop ‘small’ into ‘huge’?

Matt> Great question. We really focus on trying to uncover the most intimate, personal consumer insight that is driven through the lens of what it feels like to be a local. Not necessarily the locational impact but the emotional one. And we work from that outward. So, for us, it forces us to develop work that feels very authentic - by the audience, for the audience.

LBB> When it comes to hiring new talent, does most of that come from Canada? Are there a lot of people from abroad looking to come to the market right now?

Matt> Most of our hires happen ‘on the ground’. We try to maintain some form of human presence through the hiring process. It’s nice (when you can) to meet in real life and be in shared spaces etc. But that usually means people who are in Canada, more so than Canadians. We pride ourselves on partnering with fun, talented people. Some of them are Canadians, some aren’t. But they’re all great humans.

LBB> How has the Canadian market changed since you started? Is there more international interest/business in Canada now? Have perceptions about Canada’s creative scene changed?

Matt> It’s a bit chaotic I would say. I think the process of covid-19 and all the impacts it had on Canadian life, and more specifically in our province, has caused a ‘wild west’ approach to not only creativity, but how businesses are looking to work with agencies. The new ‘format’ in the market is there is no format. We have won pitches through traditional consultancy approaches to CEOs putting out a call for agencies on LinkedIn, and everything in between. International business has picked up as well and it is no longer just due to the favourable exchange rate, A lot of these discussions are led by the creative currency coming from Canada - the exchange rate is much more of a ‘bonus’ than a ‘draw’ - which is amazing.

LBB> How do you feel about the upcoming generation of Canadian talent - a generation that has grown up with unprecedented technological access and self-taught skills? How will TLC harness and develop these young talents?

Matt> I love what’s coming! It’s interesting because I believe advertising no longer attracts the type of talent it needs with the ease that it once did. Our industry now competes with start-ups, gaming and other pop-culture avenues available to creative people, due to technology. So, as a company we need to embrace the new way of looking at ‘work’, the new way of looking at ‘balance’ and the understanding that this new generation of talent is (more often than not), chasing their journey not our destination.

LBB> Is there a piece of work that TLC created in the last year that you’re especially proud of?

Matt> I think the two that stand out right now, for completely different reasons, would be the Roncesvalles ‘Not for Lease’ campaign and the Pink Cherry ‘Invest in Yourself’ campaign. Both campaigns really broke through and had amazing results for their respective client partners. And creatively, they attacked a problem in a new, fresh way. 

LBB> Is there a piece of Canadian work from the last year that you kind of wished you had created, or that you admire?

Matt> It’s hard for me to pinpoint one piece. I recently did my High Five list of Canadian work. There is so much great work being done all the time. Smart, creative solutions on tough briefs are everywhere. 

LBB> You’ve said before that ‘advertising sells nothing, but people talking about your advertising sells everything’ - could you expand on this idea and talk about how TLC and other agencies can create work that gets people talking? 

Matt> I think it’s our approach. We like to try and uncover a locally ‘mined’ insight when we’re working on things - often that changes our approach to solving things. It doesn’t mean we don’t develop and produce mass campaigns that rely on traditional channels, it just means we don’t chase them. Ultimately, we focus on chasing free GRPs - on work that not only gets remembered, but more importantly, gets shared with a sense of ownership - kind of like when you see a fantastic movie. You want to be one of the first people to recommend it, to tell your friends how great it was…almost to make yourself a part of the film. We aspire to make advertising that works that way. We have a saying, “Be the graffiti, not the advertising,”… so hopefully we continue to work with our amazing client partners that want to help make that happen as well.

LBB> Could you talk to us about ‘The Local Gallery’? How did it come about and how does it fit in with the wider plans and philosophy of TLC?

Matt> Art has always played a role in both its influence on our industry and its relevance within culture. And I think as an agency you hope to develop work that affects culture in some way and uses culture as inspiration - kind of like a game of cultural catch. So, launching a stand-alone entity that helps support some of the purveyors of culture feels great! And we love art! The Gallery is an amazing space and has now really taken off. There is a waiting list of artists, and we are having another show from April 13th to April 30th.

LBB> I recently spoke with a director who worked on a Team Canada Olympics spot and they said that the concept of what it means to be Canadian is undergoing a lot of change and updating. Have you noticed this? Has this changed how Canadians are advertised to and how Canada is represented in TLC’s creative work?

Matt> Yep! It’s an amazing time to be Canadian in my opinion. It feels like we as a country have finally started to come into our own on a global scale. Film, music, art, sports… across almost every major cultural category, Canadians continue to show up alongside long-standing stalwarts of culture. I think this has resulted in an increase in the quality expected in the types of messaging and creativity used to make something. Hopefully our work continues to aspire to this challenge. I prefer to think it’s never obtained - it’s always about the chase.

LBB> Do you have a creative hero and if so, who? 

Matt> I don’t have an individual, I think I have thousands. But as a quick example: Frank Morris. I’ve always been captivated by prison escape stories - they are literally examples of creativity through necessity. Frank Morris led an escape from Alcatraz in 1962. It’s an incredible story and it has stuck with me since childhood. But it’s so hard to pinpoint one hero. There are amazing examples of creativity everywhere! From artists like Banksy and Ai Weiwei to Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali. Genius-like creativity presents itself in so many ways and it resonates in so many ways. I love feeling inspired as often as possible, so I think I always look for that.

LBB> What do you enjoy doing to relax and unwind when you’re not working?

Matt> I love spending time with my family, and I also try to make sure I spend time exercising and working out almost every day. Playing hockey and watching movies. And sleep, I’m always trying to catch up on sleep. 

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Frank Content, Tue, 19 Apr 2022 15:41:00 GMT