Hall of Legends 2012: Allan Gregg

Decima Research Founder, Enabler

Chosen by a jury of their peers, the four 2012 Marketing Hall of Legends inductees come from four different corners of the industry. But all four share extraordinary records of professional accomplishment built upon personal foundations of insight and intelligence, passion, determination and vision.

Allan Gregg – Founder, Decima Research/The Strategic Council


Marketing Hall of Legends Inductee 2012 – Enabler

Allan Gregg has said he experienced many failures before he enjoyed success. While in university, he aspired to a life in rock and roll and tried his hand as a music promoter. He booked the famed English band The Yardbirds for a gig only to find out the group he hired was a fraud. It seemed his rock and roll dreams were dead. Naturally, he focused on politics instead, becoming one of Canada’s most respected and well known research professionals.

After graduate studies in political science, Gregg arrived on the national scene as campaign secretary for the Progressive Conservatives. Shortly after the victorious 1979 election, Gregg founded Decima Research, which became the Conservative Party’s polling firm. He is often credited with the party’s federal election victories in 1984 and 1988. Gregg sold his stake in Decima after the Conservatives lost the 1993 election and took a two-year sabbatical before co-founding The Strategic Counsel, which he left in 2007 to form Allan Gregg Strategies, offering research-based communications consulting to both public and private sector clients. He also returned to Harris/Decima as chairman.

“There are certain Canadians who are part of the fabric of this country. Allan Gregg is definitely one of those because he has been so successful in helping us understand ourselves,” says MHOL chair and marketing professor Alan Middleton.

While Gregg’s passion for politics fueled a great deal of his career, his love for the arts, culture, media and music never wavered. He is one of the founding shareholders in the YTV children’s network, spent five years as president of the Toronto International Film Festival, and for 13 years co-managed the iconic Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip. And so it’s fair to say he was a success in rock and roll after all.

Who was the most important person you’ve ever met in business?
Bill Neville. He hired me directly out of graduate school to work on Parliament Hill in the opposition research office. He taught me the ins and outs of politics, supported me when we started Decima and has remained a friend for almost 40 years. The smartest guy I have met and the best mentor I could have ever hoped for.

What One lesson from your parents contributed most to your success?
You have to do 100 things right to get a good reputation and one thing wrong to get a bad one. Given those odds, always do the right thing.

The mistake that made me a better person/professional was…
Succumbing to the notion that politics is a winner-take-all blood sport rather than a higher calling that offers the opportunity to make the world a better place. I practised the black arts of negative campaigning and contributed to the spiral of political cynicism that is so evident today. Since 1993, in my own way, I have tried to atone for those sins.

What is your proudest career accomplishment?
Building something out of nothing. To start a business; to give smart young men and women their first jobs and help them nurture and support new families; to see them mature, grow, start their own businesses and become successes in their own right.

How will the industry change in the next five years?
It will be increasingly difficult to house both a manufacturing and creative capacity under one roof. Already, data gathering, media buying and other “arms and legs” functions of marketing are being treated like commodities and driven by price. Against this, the premium on innovation and creativity is growing and, if the task is sufficiently important, price insensitive. Managing these two functions will present a huge challenge to the next generation of marketers and will determine whether many exisiting firms adapt or fail.

The Marketing Hall of Legends gala takes place Oct. 18 in Toronto. Tickets are still available.

Watch for more Marketing Hall of Legends profiles in MarketingMag.ca

Photo: Jaime Hogge

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