Starcom MediaVest Group Photo

Gold — Starcom MediaVest

No, you’re not experiencing déjà vu. Starcom MediaVest Group has again exhibited the golden touch, clinching back-to-back strategy Media Agency of the Year titles, a feat achieved by virtue of its ability to break new media ground.

A major part of the Toronto-based agency’s success is the creative, never-say-die attitude embraced by its staff, a way of thinking nurtured by CEO Lauren Richards, and one she’s worked hard to keep prevalent within the agency since taking command three years ago.

“Curiosity is one of the most important characteristics, and an attitude of not taking no for an answer at the entry level, because if you don’t have the right people starting out, then you don’t have people who are promotable into the vision of what you’re trying to accomplish,” says Richards.

That approach extends to hires at any level, and is reflected in the new talent Starcom brought in this year. Anna Wells – formerly of Canwest’s marketing ventures group where she was responsible for developing integrated marketing programs spanning the company’s media assets – joined the team to head up its Kraft business as VP group media director.

Clearly, the doctrine has taken root, given the slate of inventive work that SMG has pulled off. Recently, the agency orchestrated a multi-platform campaign for Nintendo Canada with CTV to promote the “Wii Get Up and Play Challenge.” It involves a series of customized 30-second spots that connect the promotion to the content of high-profile shows like Grey’s Anatomy and The Amazing Race.

Campaigns for P&G’s Swiffer brand and Kraft’s Tassimo coffeemaker (see next page) are both examples of mold-breaking, negotiation-intensive print executions. SMG’s spirit of innovation has also extended to applying practical utility to new technologies. It used alternate reality to plug Tassimo into tech-savvy coffee drinkers with a virtual brewing demo. Richards credits close working relations with creative agencies as a catalyst for its successful executions.

“I’m a strong believer in huge collaboration with creative agencies,” she says. “I generally think [they] really appreciate working with media agencies that are unorthodox and have people that are more interested in the total communications impact and being creative. The best creative agencies are very [open to] ideas coming from anywhere.”

Starcom’s achievements have been duly noted in accolades. It was named Media Innovation Agency of 2008 by The Internationalist, a U.S.-based global industry pub, after taking home four of its awards for innovation in media, including a Grand Prix for Johnnie Walker’s campaign celebrating Chinese New Year. It won Gold in the newspaper category and a Finalist trophy in the best media plan category for Swiffer, as well as two more Finalist trophies for Tassimo in the creative and consumer magazine categories at MediaPost’s Creative Media Awards (the only Canadian wins). And SMG was named Media Agency Network of the Year at the Festival of Media Awards in Valencia.

Among the 14 or 15 pieces of new business won this year – there were no losses – are RIM, Jim Beam, Samsung and Globalive Wireless’ Wind Mobile. “It’s a run I’ve never experienced to this degree, we’ve been very fortunate,” Richards told strategy on the news of her nomination as Media Director of the Year.

“I was pretty intrigued by the innovative nature of their work,” says Will Novosedlik, VP, brand and communication for Globalive Wireless. “They showed us some stuff that clearly demonstrated that they could put us in places where you wouldn’t think to see us.”

The Facts

Location: Toronto

Staff: 145

New business: Avon, Boehringer Ingelheim, Globalive, GMAC, Jim Beam, Purity Life, Royal Sun Alliance, TD Bank Financial Group, University of Toronto, White Wave, WSPA

New hires: Claus Burmeister, strategy director; Susan Courtney, VP group media; Robin Hassan, digital director; Todd Patersen, investment director; Anna Wells, VP group media director