2011 Agency of the Year Shortlist: Proximity Canada

December 09, 2011  |  Alicia Androich  |  Comments

It’s time to review our finalists for 2011 Agency of the Year. To find out which of our top 10 shops takes top honours, pick up the January 2012 issue of Marketing.

Proximity Canada

Lots of joy from little M&Ms

Andrew Bailey remembers the moment he first heard the idea for “M&M’s Find Red.”

John Gagné, Proximity Canada’s senior vice-president, executive creative director, came into Bailey’s office with his team and shared the idea for the now-famous campaign, in which giant red M&M’s were stashed around Toronto to be captured in Google Maps’ Street View imagery. “I just looked at John and said ‘This is huge. This is going to be amazing,’” recalls Bailey, who was president of the agency at the time.

He was right. The campaign won three Bronze Lions at Cannes and a slew of hardware at both Marketing’s Digital Marketing Awards and New York Festivals this year. “First and foremost, it’s just a wonderful idea,” says Bailey. “The idea that we could ‘hack’ Google and get our M&M’s characters into Street View.”

Bailey says Proximity wanted to capture the simplicity of the experience in a way that was compelling for consumers. Of course, simplicity isn’t easy in the digital realm, but the agency pulled it off. “From a digital perspective, you can get caught up in the touch point and we always have to ground ourselves back in the idea,” says Proximity’s Dave Lafond.

But an idea can only go so far if the right people aren’t in place to execute it. Lafond himself is one of several new hires at Proximity Canada; he stepped in as president in May when Bailey was promoted to chairman of Proximity North America in New York. The agency has ballooned from 91 employees at the end of August 2010 to a current roster of 174. “We made a significant investment from a creative standpoint,” says Lafond. “We are experiencing tremendous growth and as we scaled, one of the first places we focused was making sure we have the right creative thinkers and storytellers in here.” He estimates the creative department now has about 45 people—roughly a quarter of the agency’s team.

Another recent focus, says Lafond, has been building Proximity’s strategic capabilities, including CRM strategists, planners and analysts. “Understanding data is much different than putting together integrated banners, so we put a tremendous amount of depth into our strategic practice,” he says.

Proximity also dedicated new hires to the technology aspect of the business. “Right now I think we have 20 active digital clients… we’re working on a wide range of digital experiences and platforms, so you have to have a pretty large brain trust in the building,” says Lafond.

Especially when you’re working with big brands like RIM. Lafond says Proximity was awarded the CRM buiness for RIM roughly a year ago. “We work on the RIM business from a North American perspective here in Toronto,” he says. “After one full year, we deployed 100 million e-mails, which is an incredible feat when you think of the range of handsets and desktops out there and the amount of effort that goes into that.”

“That number is reflective of the scale of the work we’re doing which, as a Canadian agency, we’re very proud of,” adds Bailey. “As much as we’re very proud to be Toronto-based and to be a Canadian agency, we’ve always believed, certainly within the digital and CRM space, that there’s a wider opportunity and that Canadian agencies can absolutely play a part in helping brands around the world.”

There’s more! To read the full story in the Dec. 12 issue of Marketing, subscribe today.

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