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my business skills

Something I wrote to explain what skills I bring to the table in starting my own business…

 

My competitive advantage centres on uncovering human texture. I seem to be a natural researcher — delving into all the relevant data, identifying gaps, designing methodologies to fill those gaps, etc. Sitting in people’s houses, rummaging through cupboards, closets and fridges to understand their daily habits, then exploring how they process, relate and react to broader issues affecting their lives. My role has (primarily) been to connect human insight and creativity in ways that fuelled ideas for multinational advertising clients. In the 1990s, amidst the Quebec referendum, most big multinationals were harmonizing their North American strategies. In Canada, this meant strengthening team understanding of differences between Quebec, English Canada and US consumers in needs, behaviour and attitudes; then highlighting how these variances should impact communication strategies to achieve business targets. My approach was to continuously induce paradigm shifts using client data as a means to influence how our client’s research, marketing and media budgets were spent. I gravitated towards strategy work, although my role was much broader. I was the ‘hub of the  wheel’ — managing creative teams, production, media planning & buying, etc — responsible for meeting short term deadlines and accountable for the overall ad performance. In a few short years, I managed around 30 bilingual campaigns… encompassing traditional, emerging and experiential media.  

In the late 90s, the agency I was with went through a merger resulting in a staff defection, where I was left alone to lead our Kraft Foods client’s (formerly Christie Brown & Co) cookie portfolio. During that time, I led the launch of Planet Snak (a kids umbrella brand, supported with TV, cinema, print, outdoor/posters, in-store promotions, a PR event and YTV media partnership), which garnered double-digit growth across the entire cookie portfolio. At the time, it was unusual for a packaged goods company, with near universal household penetration, to achieve this level of growth without risking product shortages. Within a year, Planet Snak was highlighted as a global case study throughout Kraft Food’s global network, which led to both me and my client securing new roles internationally. I continued expanded these abilities through various international posts. When I was transferred to the New York office, I was used as a “troubleshooter” for difficult strategic challenges, for new business pitches, and to manage complex projects and difficult clients in the digital division after the dotcom crash. Shortly after 9/11, I moved to Bangkok, where I managed ASEAN regional strategy (Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore) on Kao, Dentsu’s largest packaged goods client. I became known throughout the region for an ability to immerse myself in different cultures, to manage the senior regional clients, and to elevate the strategic and creative output across the countries. Within 6 months, I was elevated to be a part of the global strategy team on Kao’s flagship brand. Significant improvements in the creative coming out of the Indonesian and Malaysian offices less than a year later, led to an offer to transfer to the Tokyo office… which (for personal reasons) I declined.  

When I returned to Toronto, I was contracted by Ogilvy Toronto to work on Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty; to make sense of a pile of research projects the client had some heart for, but the Ogilvy team was disillusioned about. Although Canada was the Dove global lead market, the Campaign for Real Beauty strategy had been dictated solely by London at that point. Ogilvy Toronto wanted to change that; to be able to take more ownership of the global thought-leadership of the new ad campaign. The research centred on a bucket list of insights debunking beauty myths, which the former planner had been unable to create a cogent strategy from. I constructed a framework for how to evaluate the potency of individual beauty myths (to catalyze perceptual/ societal change), and pair them with relevant product strategies within the Dove portfolio or programs like the Self-Esteem Project and the Dove Dermatologists program. Everyone became excited about the  potential of the range of myth ideas… except the Consumer Insight (CI) agency, who saw themselves as gatekeepers for Dove Canada’s research and strategy. They felt Ogilvy was infringing on their territory. The CI agency tried to kill the project, taking specific aim at the most potent beauty myth on the list. The Ogilvy team was taken aback, unsure how important this all was. I fell on my sword… fighting to keep the most potent idea alive. It was the only idea on the table that truly fit with Dove’s new brand ideology and Ogilvy Toronto’s global ambitions. The senior client recognized this, but shelved the project. A year later, the “Evolution” ad — based on the beauty myth in question — was launched. “Evolution” remains one of the most high profile international ads to ever come out of Canada.

In 2005, I incorporated a company to house international freelance contracts. This was deemed beneficial by international agency teams, as billing clients through a Canadian company allowed me to work in Europe immediately, instead of waiting 6 months for employment visas. I began billing a handful of local and international projects through this company (Ogilvy Toronto, CLM BBDO Paris, Taxi, etc) before post-9/11 airport security became a significant barrier to projects requiring frequent travel in Europe. With the 2008 financial crisis and looming family obligations, I decided to shelve the company and stay in Toronto.   

Since then, I have been developing an art practice in experimental film and video installation, which is moving towards more code-based installation. I have exhibited in a handful of group exhibitions across 4 countries, in shows with increasingly higher profile: film festival screenings, alternative venues, gallery exhibitions, conferences/ symposiums and cultural events. In 2015, I was commissioned by the City of Mississauga to mount an installation for the Pan Am/ ParaPan Am Games as part of a group show. Other exhibition venues include the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival (Port of Spain), Littlefield (New York), Devi Arts Foundation (New Delhi), and The Living Arts Centre Gallery (Mississauga). The work is often pulled out of my hands, catapulted into exhibitions before it is ready, leaving me cringing at how the work is improperly installed and/or marketed; and then stumped as to how to distribute or commercialize work that was never fully packaged for a particular audience. The purpose of developing a business plan, at this stage, is to better manage the procurement of additional resources and to develop longer term plans to address this. Projects would be (ideally) focused on research, writing, interaction design and video editing, where specific aspects of production and promotion (filming, coding, marketing content, etc) would be outsourced. While projects currently in the pipeline are experimental and focus on South Asia and its diaspora (politically and commercially unimportant audiences currently), longer term the goal is to develop experimental content which leans more towards commercial viability.  

 

Related:

Nabisco blasts off with kids’ in-store snacking destination / Strategy / Mar 29, 1999 / http://strategyonline.ca/1999/03/29/25056-19990329/

Dove: The Evolution from ‘Evolution’ / Ad Age / Jun 11, 2013 / http://adage.com/article/news/dove-evolution-evolution/241971/

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