Go Canadians, Go: DDB Chicago’s Nathan Monteith

"If you decide to pursue a change of geography, awards matter!"

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?

When I was contacted about a job to work in the United States, I did a quick Google search. It turns out that Canada and the United States are both part of North America. At first, I was concerned about whether I’d fit in, in a whole other part of North America.

Was I so ‘Northern’ that I wouldn’t relate to those that are more ‘Southern Northern,’ like in Chicago? Upon my arrival at DDB Chicago, it was easy to see how we aren’t all that different. They had pain-in-the-ass timesheets that meant nothing, just like in Canada.

The agency you’re going to becomes the country you’re going to. I wasn’t leaving Toronto and going to Chicago as much as I was leaving Taxi and going to DDB. If you don’t feel that right away, it becomes your reality pretty fast considering how much we all work.

The office is your new home and you slowly get to know the city around you as you continue to do your job – this only sounds sad to those that don’t love what they do. I’m fine with the city taking a back seat to my office.

Is Canada ahead or behind? This totally depends on the agency you’re at and the clients you work on. It has nothing to do with being in the U.S. or Canada, in my opinion.

I’ve learned time is money. And America has more money. So they also have more time. The creative development timelines are the same, ranging from under a week to just over two. There’s a lot more time in every other area though.

Time to talk to planners about the brief and poke at it. Time to adjust the deck and presentation as you take it up and through the different levels. Time to execute and find the right people to do it. Time to get media to adjust. With so much money being spent, I’ve found the time to be a real luxury in making sure you’re bringing the idea you sold to life in the right way.

One thing in the U.S. that’s different is the celebrity option. Before coming to the U.S., I never saw this as a creative route. Name a great ad with a celebrity in it – and don’t say the Johnny Walker ad with Robert Carlisle – yes he kicked some ass in The Full Monty, but prior to the Johnny Walker ad we was the Evil Darklord in Eragon, so ‘celebrity’ is a stretch with him.

While in the U.S., I’ve had Alec Baldwin call me into his trailer unhappy, Jimmy Fallon say he wouldn’t work with a Mr. T ventriloquist puppet and Will Ferrell only agree to a script if there was no script. It’s just a very different world when those people are all part of it.

I’m still not sold on it being a great option, but it’s a very interesting factor to have when you’re sitting down and trying to concept.

One thing to remember is that Facebook is borderless. If you move countries but all your Facebook friends are still in the country you left, did you really move countries? A part of me still feels like I’m on a really long shoot somewhere. Only now, has my Facebook feed become about 30% American 70% Canadian.

It’s something I never really factored in. I’m completely aware of all my Canadian friends that have been fired from their current agency AND where they’ve ended up. Your newsfeed always delivers the right amount of home when you want it.

If were to offer advice to anyone considering working in the U.S. it would be this. Taking on a new country is like winning a new client. It expands your repertoire. It’s adding a muscle you might not think you need, but you’re stronger for it afterwards. If you’re a creative sponge who wants to keep soaking up new things and is concerned about getting too comfortable, it’s a great way to challenge yourself.

Worst-case scenario, if you don’t like working abroad, you go home in two years and people will just think you were off for a few weeks on vacation in Wasaga Beach for the Lithuanian festival.

And one final bit of advice, if you decide to pursue a change of geography: awards matter! The more awards you have, the easier it is for your new country/agency to bring you in. Take pictures of every award you have and a close-up of your name on it (yes, it’s almost impossible to catch the light the right way on your piece of gold so that your name is readable, but it’s necessary).

Scan every certificate and do a screenshot of every piece of press you have. This all helps them get you your work visa, and the more you have, the better the visa and the cooler you look at the border.

Mine says that I am a ‘Person of extraordinary ability’ and because of that designation, every time I cross the border, the guards get all excited and ask if I’m an Actor or an Athlete. What’s fun is to watch them lose total interest in you as you explain you’re the other ‘A’ – an Advertiser.

Nathan Monteith is creative director, writer and art director, DDB Chicago

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