Canadian marketing loses a legend
Gary Prouk, one of the most prominent figures in Canadian advertising, has passed away.
Known for his eloquence, strong opinions and cutting wit, Prouk began his advertising career at MacLaren Advertising after moving from Toronto to New York to try his hand at writing and poetry.
“They hired me at $35 a week ($1,800 a year) to write ads for Hunt’s and Woman’s Bakery and Eno’s Fruit Salts,” Prouk told Doug Linton for a 2008 profile in Marketing. From there, his talent and passion for advertising grew when, working at Ronalds-Reynolds, he began working on the Ballantine’s whisky account, for which he won a New York Art Director’s Show award.
“I knew I had a talent for writing advertising,” he said. “And I was really impressed with the fact something you created could be seen by millions.”
He first came to prominence in Canada when he joined the just-opened Toronto office of DDB in 1967. He would be named its creative director at the age of 26 and move to New York before returning to Canada to become CD and chairman of Scali McCabe Sloves (SMS) in 1978, where he stayed until 1994.
In his various senior roles at Canadian agencies, Prouk had strong connections to several of the industry’s biggest names – leaders such as Bill Bernbach, one of DDB’s founding fathers. Writing to Bernbach to resign from the agency in 1978 was a painful experience. “He and my mother gave me my value system,” he told Linton. “DDB was the family I never really had. Bill was the father I always wanted.”
In turn, Prouk himself became a defining figure in many careers that now shape Canadian agencies.
“He’s the reason I became a writer. He’s the reason I’m in advertising.” said Brett Channer, president and CCO of Red Lion. Prouk hired him in 1986 to join the account team at Scali (an agency that famously won Labatt Blue, “probably the lengthiest, most hotly contested account acquisition in the history of Canadian advertising” according to Linton). However, Channer said Prouk’s love of language inspired him to switch to the agency’s creative team.
“He was a genius who intimidated the hell out of me, but as I got to know him I realized that he was a very kind man,” Channer said. “He taught me all the important things of what an ad’s supposed to do, how to write a brief, how to come at an idea as a team.
“He was very much a play-hard-work-hard kind of guy. At Scali, he taught me how to really push everything – the idea, the team, yourself – but to reward yourself as well.”
Prouk shared many anecdotes from his lengthy career with Linton, now chair of the Canadian Advertising Museum, for the profile a lengthy bio in 2008 called “Passion of the Prouk,” which includes more details on Prouk’s history in the industry.
At the time of his death, Prouk was a partner at Sebastian Consultancy alongside his wife and business partner Susan Andrews. Sebastian has overseen work for clients such as Natrel and Lindt, among others.