Toronto agency Smith Roberts has a new name – Corktown Seed Company – and a new business philosophy that puts cause marketing at the forefront.
The new name is a nod to the agency’s home in Toronto’s Distillery District, as well as a commitment to traditional values and a desire to create genuine growth for clients, said founder Malcolm Roberts.
Launched by Roberts in 2004 as a “generalist agency,” Smith Roberts has worked with clients including Corby, Mercedes-Benz and Toshiba. It has also demonstrated a particular aptitude for cause marketing through campaigns for clients including the United Church of Canada and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
Whether featuring a bobble-head Jesus or teasing a fictional drug called “Obay” in an attention-getting 2006 campaign for Colleges Ontario, the agency has relied on a “head snap” approach to marketing.
“We like to do campaigns where we can do a little bit of shit-disturbing to get people’s attention and get them to take notice – and then when you’ve got their attention deliver a message that will resonate,” said Roberts.
The death of Roberts’ wife from cancer 18 months ago provided the impetus for the change in philosophy and the new name, which was chosen from a long list of candidates that included The Farm, Matter & Sway, Awake and The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Corktown Seed Company will continue to deliver integrated creative solutions for its existing clients, said Roberts, while at the same time expanding its capabilities to serve a growing business commitment to a triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.
The electric vehicle company Tesla Motors is a perfect example of a company that embodies that approach, said Roberts. “The triple bottom line is where real change is going to occur in society,” he said. “Some agencies do [CSR] in smaller pieces, but we’re aiming to go big and make a bigger impact.”
As part of its new purview, Corktown has added corporate responsibility communications and stakeholder relations to its core capabilities.
“I really sat down and thought long and hard about what I wanted to focus on,” said Roberts, who developed the new business approach in consultation with former MDC Partners managing director, Rob Dickson, who now runs his own consulting firm, Rob Dickson Consulting.
“[Consumers] are beginning to have an affinity for brands based on their values, and more and more they’re taking companies to task,” said Roberts. “We’re not looking to be that old model of social marketing agency with not-for-profit [clients]. We’re looking at helping brands connect with values and consumers which may be incremental to their current business.”
The agency recently hired Julia Howell, who has extensive experience in the cause-related space through her involvement with organizations including the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Arts Toronto, as cause partner.
It has also launched a new venture called Cause School, which it describes as a pilot social enterprise designed to help start-up causes get their message heard. Each year, a selected cause will gain access to a “faculty” of leaders and innovators, along with the creative services of Corktown Seed Company, to develop a brand position and execute a campaign.
“It feels like the right thing to do for us because it’s an evolution,” said Roberts of the shift in the agency’s business model. “If we suddenly decided to change direction and become a shopper marketing agency, I’d be really scared because it’s not what our experience and expertise is.”