2012 Agencies of the Year Shortlist: Rethink Communications

December 19, 2012  |  Alicia Androich  |  Comments

Rethink staged a killer comeback with work that keeps getting more attention

Rethink Communications’ work stops people in their tracks. Whether it’s placing Metro newspaper boxes small enough to fit in a purse on bustling streets or a huge monster mascot on a passenger ferry, the agency has long been known for consistently getting its clients noticed. Add its impressive haul of awards – best of this year’s Lotus Awards (for the second year in a row), four golds at the Marketing Awards—to the national accounts it won this year, and 2012 was a standout year for the shop.

It’s quite the comeback story considering the challenges it faced in 2010, when nearly a third of Rethink’s revenue vanished in an eyeblink when Solo Mobile and Sympatico – part of former client Bell Canada’s business – scaled back.

But by keeping its eye on the prize, Rethink made huge moves in the last 12 months, winning work from iconic brands including Molson Coors Canada and Shaw Communications.

Rather than chase higher profits quarter after quarter as many big multinational agencies demand, founder and partner Chris Staples says Rethink focuses on producing stellar communication that gets Canadians talking and makes its clients famous. It did a remarkable job of that in 2012.

Staples says the mini Metro newspaper boxes, part of a project for Metro News to promote the free daily newspaper’s mobile app, brought results that exceeded its goal by 100%. Rethink was shooting for 30,000 new downloads and ended up with almost 60,000.

The agency won a Juno for album package design for a Chris Tarry jazz album cover, and raised awareness for pet safety by making a temperature-measuring dog collar that sends an alert to the owner’s mobile device when it’s too hot or cold for the pooch.

A campaign for longtime client Coast Capital Savings at the beginning of the year featured a monster in TV spots, print and digital ads that symbolizes the stress Canadians feel when it comes to making financial decisions. The results were outstanding – more than $1 billion in mortgages were booked against a goal of $500 million.

Rethink also showed it’s perfected the art of raising awareness without spending millions. “Production values don’t need to be what they used to be,” says Staples. The cheap-and-cheerful approach Rethink took with Canthem—the inventive video that features the national anthem being played on a medley of Molson Canadian cans and bottles and has earned about 800,000 YouTube views –was all about being compelling, not costly.

Molson Coors Canada awarded AOR status to Rethink for its Molson Canadian and Rickard’s brands a year ago. The massive win helped the agency, which was founded in Vancouver and opened a Toronto office in 2010, reassert itself as a true national player, says Staples. It had long been thought of as a regional agency (understandable considering its national clients, such as Mr. Lube and A&W Restaurants of Canada, tend to be based in Western Canada).

The agency also added Lilydale Poultry and Hy’s Restaurants to its roster in 2012, but without question the biggest win of the year was picking up the Shaw account.

“It was a vote of confidence in our relationships with people over the years and our track record,” says Staples. Rethink recently unveiled a complete rebranding of the cable company which included a new logo and a national campaign that features animated robots with names like Bud and Bit that embody different parts of Shaw’s business. At the time the campaign launched in November, Shaw’s vice-president of marketing Katherine Emberly said, “We’re in love with the bots.”

The Molson Coors and Shaw wins are a huge part of the reason Rethink’s revenue jumped 17% this year, says Staples. And new business means new staff. After scaling back in 2011, Rethink was hiring again in 2012.

Most notably in Toronto, Rethink hired Aaron Starkman, one of Canada’s most successful creatives over the last decade with Zig (aka Crispin Porter + Bogusky Toronto, RIP). “We have some of the top creative talent in the country,” says Staples, of a creative pool that includes Dré Labre in Toronto (a Cyber judge in Cannes this year) as well as Rob Tarry in Vancouver.

The agency went from 86 to 104, a new high-water mark. Toronto alone went from 23 to 35 and the agency secured an entire warehouse floor there that can fit 70 or 80. “We locked down [the Toronto] space for seven or eight years and we expect big things,” says Staples. As Staples sums up, “I think this year was our real coming of age.” Beer keg drums and all.

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