April 10, 2006

WAX Changes Calgary Advertising Scene

Changing guards
Calgary’s agency scene isn’t what it used to be

At the beginning of the millennium, four agencies dominated the Calgary advertising scene: Ogilvy & Mather, Highwood Communications, Parallel and Venture Communications. Six years on Venture is going strong, but Parallel no longer exists, Highwood is re-evaluating itself and Ogilvy & Mather has been brought under the Young & Rubicam umbrella. At the same time, new agencies are muscling into the front ranks. The result is a new look for the city’s ad community.

In 2000, O&M was indisputably the king of the Calgary advertising hill with accounts like Canadian Airlines, Telus and Shell. Today, those clients are gone and O&M has been subsumed by its WPP cousin, Young & Rubicam. The newly combined operation scored an immediate coup by winning the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede account, a win that all by itself signaled a tremor in the city’s advertising world, since Highwood had been the Stampede’s agency for 19 years.

The Stampede loss and the additional loss of the Star Choice account, coupled with the departure of longtime CD Steve Williams to Venture, has resulted in Highwood doing a major re-evaluation, says its president Pat Sullivan. “Change like this is a good thing,” Sullivan insists. “It gives us the opportunity to put everything on the table and to look at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

Parallel, meanwhile, has morphed into Trigger Communications, under the leadership of former MacLaren McCann Calgary general manager Larry Bannerman. Although Trigger lost the Shaw Communications account, Bannerman says that won’t affect Trigger’s future. “We have a business plan and we’re executing that plan and are right on track.” As members of the old guard transform themselves, numerous new agencies are popping up, and two in particular appear ready to move into the front ranks. A year ago, WAX was only the dream of a group of young entrepreneurs. It grabbed local attention last summer when BBDO Toronto selected it as its on-the-ground partner for the Shaw Communications account.

Rare Method is another newcomer that’s making its presence felt. Entrepreneur Roger Jewett has built an eclectic company through acquisitions across a wide spectrum of marketing-related areas, from traditional advertising to web design to animation to direct marketing. Last year, it moved into the Marketing agency rankings for the first time in 34th place.

Jewett credits his company’s success to taking advantage of two major trends: client demands for accountability and the rise of non-traditional marketing. “If you have been doing marketing and advertising one way for 20 years, it’s hard to change, but it’s the companies that can embrace that change and who position themselves to lead it that will be the winners.”

An interesting contour was added to the agency topography last November when Toronto’s Taxi opened a local office to serve WestJet. Taxi president Rob Guenette said Taxi would seek additional Calgary clients. It’s the same promise Andrea Southcott of then Bryant, Fulton and Shea in Vancouver made in 2000 when her agency opened a Calgary office for clients Shaw and Travel Alberta. But the agency, which became TBWACalgary, lost Shaw three years later, and last October closed its doors without fanfare, retreating back across the Rockies.