The List – J. Walter Thompson

A slew of strong work gives Toronto office a place of strength in its network

The Toronto branch of J. Walter Thompson has had its best year in recent memory. Having fully shed its image as a TV-centric shop, it produced head-turning campaigns for major clients such as Air Canada and Tim Hortons, picked up 11 new clients such as Nike and Burger King, and garnered a slew of awards in the process.


If that weren’t enough, this summer the team (led by chief creative and integration officer Brent Choi and president and CEO Susan Kim-Kirkland) also earned an unheard-of position for a Canadian agency in a multinational holding company: oversight of JWT Chicago.

Canadians being put in charge of a U.S. branch isn’t just an accomplishment — it’s nigh on unheard of. And to cap off that particular achievement, not long after, Choi was appointed CCO for both JWT Canada and New York. So just what is the team at JWT Toronto doing so right?

“Chicago is a testament to our Canadian office’s success,” says Choi. It’s hard to boil it down to one reason, but 2014’s work with Tim’s and Air Canada didn’t go unnoticed in New York. Neither did the potential of accomplished business leaders such as Kim-Kirkland or Ryan Spelliscy, the shop’s executive creative director and a “genius.”

“Susan, our CEO, is the most dynamic leader you’ve ever met,” says Choi. “As another leader, you’d look at her and think, ‘She should be in charge of more things.’”

JWT took home 138 industry awards this year — a precipitous rise compared to the already impressive 88 it won in 2014. The agency was the only Canadian shop to gain a spot on the Cannes Innovation Shortlist this year, a distinction awarded for its “Raise the Pride” campaign for PFLAG (Parents Families & Friends Of Lesbians & Gays) during Toronto World Pride 2014, which automatically raised or lowered a flag by measuring positive and negative tweets about the LGBTQ community.

This year, the agency once-known for its TV-centric work continued its strong digital development by hiring dedicated leads for design, content and experiential marketing.

JWT Toronto’s biggest scores this year weren’t just eye-catching — they got real-world results for clients. The agency’s hard-hitting “Better Tomorrows” SickKids campaign, whose depictions of the daily routines of sick children won them a Silver Lion at Cannes, led to the hospital receiving its highest level of donations in a single month. While it no longer works on SickKids, it leveraged that experience to pitch and win a more lucrative relationship with the St. Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri — a for-profit hospital that spends big to attract paying patients.

Its experiential stunt of having NHL superstar Sidney Crosby serve coffee at a Tim Hortons in Nova Scotia earned them 118 pieces of media coverage, its accompanying video got more organic views than any other Tims video to date — 600,000 organic views, with 70% of viewers watching at least one minute of the video. And, to boot, sales improved.

JWT’s work with Tim’s won them an inquiry from its new parent brand — Burger King — which they added as a client in the spring. Not long after year, Nike approached them as well, and they began work on social for them in September.

It all speaks to the way the firm has created a company culture that puts innovation first.

“We knew we had to do work that was brave, pushing the agency forward… We know that in the Canadian marketplace, brands don’t have the budget to do multiple large campaigns,” Choi says. “The work has to do more extra heavy lifting. One of our philosophies is we have to outsmart rather than outspend. Sometimes outsmarting is being a lot more disruptive, creating PR and talk value.”

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