Go Canadians, Go: Cundari’s Andrew Simon

“You, my friend, will not go very far in this business”

As part of our “Go Canadians, Go” project, Marketing asked dozens of Canucks working abroad (or those who’ve returned with a few years of international experience) to give us their impressions of the differences between Canada’s industry and others. Does being Canadian give you a leg up?

Given I’ve spent considerable time at big agencies in both New York and Los Angeles, people often ask me what it’s like to work south of the border. Luckily I have this forum to share my experiences with those contemplating such a monster move.

For starters, if you moonlight as a mixed martial arts fighter, you’re one step ahead. Multiple creative teams toiling away on the same assignment is a regular occurrence, and it can get quite nasty in the trenches. Fighting for your work takes on new meaning in the U.S. If you don’t end up lying on a gurney in the ER, you simply don’t want it badly enough.

While not every agency is a sweatshop, there are a handful of top shops that work their staff like dogs. (In fact, I was partnered up with a labradoodle for a few years and, last I heard, he’s an ECD at 72andsunny.)

Some agencies go as far as to encourage interoffice romance so there’s less impetus to run out to meet your significant other for a candle-lit evening out. Instead, you can enjoy a fluorescent-lit evening in.

Bigger budgets beget bigger marketing departments to manage said budgets. Just when you fight off one wave of attackers on your creative concepts, like the Chitauri invasion in The Avengers, another hundred or so fly through the portal to take up the fight. And the air is heavy with a survival-of-the-fittest mentality.

This one time (no, not in band camp) I presented work to a big muckety muck at a very large Japanese automobile manufacturer that rhymes with ‘Boyota’. While presenting concepts, I mentioned offhandedly that my partner and myself as well as another creative team had developed the various ideas. When the client asked me for my recommendation, I chose to put forth a really great concept that the other team had worked on. At this point, the client’s head spun around sixteen times (I may be exaggerating this part a tiny bit) as he stared disapprovingly into my eyes. “Selling someone else’s idea instead of your own?” he asked incredulously. “You, my friend, will not go very far in this business.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of my American upbringing. They don’t call it the land of opportunity because of its preponderance of gourmet cupcake shops. It’s just that having been in Canada for over a decade now, I’ve grown accustomed to apologizing for everything.

I am smitten with the can-do attitude of this market. Over the years, we’ve shown that smart, effective ideas aren’t driven by dollars and cents but rather by passion and gumption. And win, lose or draw, we have direct access to those with the ultimate decision-making power. Based on the number of pointy awards on the Canadian bookshelf, it’s paid off handsomely. Not a bad way to spend a career, eh?

Andrew Simon is chief creative officer at Cundari

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