The Best of ’08 Agencies: PhD

Before selling a majority stake in Touché Media to PHD Canada in 2004, founder and president Alain Desormiers had rebuffed four agency groups looking for a piece of his Montreal agency. When PHD came knocking, though, Desormiers was wooed by an emerging network with a strong entrepreneurial spirit: traits that aligned perfectly with his nine-year-old […]

Before selling a majority stake in Touché Media to PHD Canada in 2004, founder and president Alain Desormiers had rebuffed four agency groups looking for a piece of his Montreal agency.

When PHD came knocking, though, Desormiers was wooed by an emerging network with a strong entrepreneurial spirit: traits that aligned perfectly with his nine-year-old operation. Oh, and it also had the considerable clout of the Omnicom Media Group behind it.

“It was a perfect match,” says Desormiers.

Four years later, the merger has blossomed into an incredibly fruitful relationship, one enabling PHD to establish a crucial Montreal presence while allowing Touché (rechristened Touché PHD) to tap into the vast Omnicom resources.

In many ways, 2008 was the realization of their partnership, with PHD operating at a creative peak while strengthening its management team and adding several new clients.

Its emergence mirrors that of the PHD network itself. Three years ago, it was operating in just three countries—Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. A major expansion by Omnicom since then has seen it expand into 48 countries.

In the past 12 months, PHD’s Canadian operation has bagged an astonishing 22 creative media awards for clients including Unilever, Hershey, the Quebec government, Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec and Loto-Québec. That total includes seven awards, including Best of Show, for the red-hot Touché PHD at the InfoPresse PrixMedia awards earlier this year.

“It was quite incredible for us, because our positioning is really about innovation and creativity,” says Desormiers. “You can’t just say you are creative, you have to prove it; winning these kinds of awards is very good to prove what we say.”

It continued its hot streak at Marketing’s Media Innovation Awards earlier this month, with the two offices combining for another seven awards—including three Golds—for work with clients such as Unilever and the Quebec Foundation for the Blind.

The latter’s “Blindness Experience” was a gold winner in the Television category. A partnership with Quebec sports specialty channel RDS, the execution saw the TV screen go black—although the audio portion remained—during a sportscast featuring highlights from a Montreal Canadiens game. After a few seconds, a message appeared on-screen that read “Ce n’est pas un probleme technique. C’est notré réalité (“This is not a technical problem. It’s our reality”).

And last month, the agency’s Toronto office executed the “grand opening” of a faux boutique for Peroni beer on the “Fashion Mile” in the city’s trendy Yorkville neighbourhood. Nestled alongside upscale retailers like Gucci and Hermés, the entrance to the exclusive “Emporio Peroni” was roped off, while inside the store, a single bottle of the upmarket beer sat on a pedestal.

“We’re doing a lot of great work for a lot of great clients, and we have been for some time,” says PHD president Fred Forster. The agency also moved to bolster its management ranks, appointing former print portfolio director Brenda Bookbinder to vice-president, and promoting the three principals—Scott Henderson, Zoryana Loboyko and Michelle Hohs—on its Unilever business.

“We’ve just got a really good story to tell clients about who we are, what our vision is, and the work we’ve done,” adds Forster. “The fact we’re starting to pile up a great case history of work is really helpful when we talk to potential clients.”’ Many of those potential clients have become actual clients over the past year, with PHD scooping up several new pieces of business, including the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), Belron (which operates the Apple Auto Glass, Standard Auto Glass and Speedy Glass banners), New Balance, Cirque de Soleil and Peroni. At the same time it has retained a roster of blue-chip clients that includes Unilever, Weston Bakeries, Loblaw, Home Hardware, Belair Direct, Red Bull and Honda Canada.

“They’re constantly pushing us to look at leading-edge media,” says Jerry Chenkin, executive vice-president of Honda Canada. “We tend to be fairly conservative and they’ve been pushing to adopt the latest that is in the marketplace. They are ahead of us in many ways.”

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