Q&A: Porter on CP+B’s Canadian exit
January 04, 2013 | Kristin Laird | Comments
Ahead of his scheduled appearance at FFWD: Advertising & Marketing Week 2013, Chuck Porter, co-chairman of Crispin Porter + Bogusky (CP+B) and chief strategist for MDC Partners, spoke with Marketing about the decision to close CP+B’s Toronto office, what the agency could have done differently in Canada and why he doesn’t use Twitter… yet.
What will you cover during your Ad Week session?
I think people will maybe want to know about CP+B’s experience in Canada – why we came and why we left, so probably I’ll talk about that a bit. Hopefully something interesting will happen in the marketing world between now and the end of January so there’s something topical to talk about.
In October, CP+B Toronto became Union. But CP+B Toronto had some great momentum in its first few years. What was the turning point?
The turning point was conflict. Part of the reason we wanted a presence in Canada is because there’s great talent there. We go where talent is, we don’t necessarily go where our clients are. Our headquarters is in Boulder, Colorado and we don’t have a client within 1,000 miles. The problem that arose sooner rather than later – and became a much bigger problem than I guess we had foreseen – were conflicts. Because in the U.S. we have Old Navy, Dominos, Microsoft, Applebee’s and Best Buy. We have some big brands that sell a lot of stuff and that immediately created some very difficult conflicts for us in Canada. It precluded them from pitching a lot of business they wanted to pitch. We decided that, ultimately, our brand has more negatives than positives for this group of people in Canada.
If you could do it over, would you still expand into Canada?
It would depend on the circumstances. If we had some clients like Kraft or somebody like that who were really very interested in us doing work in Canada that was really Canadian work, where the idea and the soul of the idea came from Canada as opposed to global or U.S. [agencies], I think that we might. But I think that it’s very hard to do.
You’ve given speeches or attended conferences here in Canada before. Are the topics and conversations the same as in the U.S.? Are marketing challenges universal?
From the agency people I know in Canada, there tends to be a little bit of dissatisfaction or frustration because quite often they’re stuck with an idea or concept that was derived in the U.S. Their job, really more than creating an identity for the brand, is translating the identity for Canada. Canada, up until not very long ago, tended to be a pretty homogeneous culture, whereas the U.S. I think is much more diverse. When you have a more homogeneous culture, it’s easier to do certain kinds of work. It’s easier to do humour. It’s easier to work based on ideas that come from that shared culture.
Why are we still seeing adapted work? Why are marketers not better utilizing their Canadian agency partners?
I certainly don’t want to denigrate clients, but I think that maybe to some degree it’s laziness. It’s easier to come to a decision on one campaign than two. And I think a lot of even big, sophisticated marketers don’t really understand the differences between Canada and the U.S. If you travel from the U.S. to Toronto or Vancouver, you feel at home, right? You feel, ‘Wow, this is just like home except the money looks different.’ So I think there’s a natural kind of propensity for people to think ‘If it works in Chicago, it will work [in Canada].’
That tends to be pretty short-sighted, because you miss an awful lot of emotion that you could get by tapping into what’s unique about the Canadian culture as opposed to what’s the same. I think if you look at some of the great work – and there’s been a lot of brilliant work done in Canada – an awful lot of it probably wouldn’t work in the U.S. because it’s very culturally specific. It’s about things Canadians care about in a different way than Americans do.
You have a Twitter account, but have never tweeted.
I say this with great affection: our PR people started it for me because, about four years ago, they said I had to start tweeting and get followers. So they opened an account for me and finally… it sounds so tacky and I don’t mean it that way… but what I sort of thought was all my life I’ve been paid for writing, and no one’s going to pay me to write tweets, so I don’t think I’ll write them. That’s kind of what it came down to.
You have 500 followers but no tweets?
I’m old and I have plenty of friends I don’t really want more friends. Do you think I should start tweeting? If you think I should, here’s what I’ll do: before that thing in Toronto in January, I’ll send out a tweet and I’m going to tell everyone in the world in the tweet that you made me do it.
I like it. A lot of people use Twitter as a way of sourcing news. Do you see the value in that?
I do to a degree. It depends what you consider news. Twitter is a great way to find out what your friends are doing. If that’s the news you’re talking about, that’s really interesting. If the news you’re talking about is what’s going to happen in Palestine, I don’t really know that Twitter is a place I would go to find that out. But that’s because I have different habits. And I know there’s a whole interesting world of information and gossip and probably if I did get into it I would find things that are interesting. Probably one of these days I’ll have to do it.