One of the most respected—some would say provocative—agency brands in Canada over the last quarter century will soon be disappearing from the stage.
Interpublic confirmed Tuesday that Lowe Roche will be shutting down in the next few months.
“We are planning for Lowe Roche to close its doors by the end of this year,” said a statement from IPG’s New York head office. “While never an easy decision, clients are asking for creative marketing solutions that work across a variety of channels, including emerging technology, data and analytics. The critical mass and greater range of capabilities required by agencies to meet those challenges have become increasingly important, and are driving this decision.”
Like most agencies, Lowe Roche has been through peaks and valleys over the years. Launching as Geoffrey B. Roche & Partners in 1991 and renamed Roche Macaulay & Partners in 1995, the shop won Ad Age’s International agency of the year in 1998, was named Marketing’s agency of the Decade for the 90s and won agency of the year again in 2008. In many ways the agency became synonymous with the colourful and often outspoken founder Geoffrey Roche, who left the shop in 2011. Since then, the agency seemed to be stuck in a valley.
The agency has been “a very small operation” for some time, fluctuating between 30 and 50 staff for mostly local clients without, for the most part, the critical mass necessary to provide the capabilities required for clients today, said an IPG executive. In that situation it made sense to close the agency and try to find a spot for remaining clients at other IPG agencies in the city, which have been thriving.
Roche himself said he was neither surprised nor saddened by the news and lays the blame for the closure at the Manhattan doorstep of holding company owners Interpublic.
“Because I left and pretty quickly it took a direction that really wasn’t the direction I thought they should take it,” he said. His departure from the agency should have been viewed as an opportunity to reinvent the agency and take it away from traditional advertising, said Roche.
“Much more driven towards doing content and stuff that people don’t find sexy, but are the reality of where the business needs to be right now.”
“The reality is that there is not traditional advertising to speak of anymore,” he said. But most agencies still exist solely by making advertising instead of figuring out how to generate revenue for the new services that build brands in the digital age. “It is madness to think it will continue,” he said.
The signs of transformation and reinvention aren’t coming from traditional ad agencies, but PR companies hiring creative directors or brand strategy firms like Jackman layering on creative talent like Israel Diaz. “Israel is one of the finest art directors that ever worked for me,” said Roche. “I think [Jackman] are at least trying,” to do things differently, he said.
The big holding companies have a responsibility to manage and support their offices to reinvent themselves, he said. “But from ’97 on [after Interpublic bought the agency], we virtually didn’t exist as far as New York was concerned.”
At least one former Lowe Roche executive agrees the agency likely suffered from a lack of support from New York.
“The sad truth is that Interpublic just didn’t likely care,” said Scot Keith, founding partner and CEO of Vancouver’s 123W and managing director of Lowe Roche from 2006 to 2008. “The Lowe Roche brand and office in Toronto was just too small for them to invest in. It’s like a big brewer phasing out a once popular beer brand.”
The agency was always facing an uphill battle once Roche left, added Keith. “He was the agency. Without a doubt, he was the most creative person I’ve ever worked with. When he was on his game and laser focused, he was just a force.”
“So many people went on to have amazing careers under his guidance,” said Keith “When I was there, we were fortunate to go on a roll and win Agency of the Year. Everything just came together. At least for a while. It was a special place.”