Proximity (DAOY)
Proximity (DAOY) Group Photo

Gold — Proximity (DAOY)

How do you become a top award-winning digital agency in Canada?

You attract the best digital talent, you don’t let the next hot innovation on the block distract you from pushing out unique ideas and you utilize global resources for global clients.

That, in a nutshell, is Proximity Canada.

Owned by BBDO, Proximity started as a direct, CRM and digital agency in 2001. And though digital has always been in its blood, over the past five or six years it’s evolved from a classic direct marketing agency to one of the largest full-service digital communications agencies in the country. Along the way it has grown its team from 14 to over 170, with 83 new hires joining the fold over the AOY period of June to June.

“As we scaled, the key challenge remained the same – attracting top talent – especially when leading large-scale global business out of Toronto,” says Dave Lafond, Proximity Canada’s president, who has been with the company since May and came from Publicis Modem.

The Toronto office is the lead on worldwide assignments such as HP and Gillette, and it is the latter’s digital AOR. One of the agency’s first successes with Gillette was its 2008 BodyGrooming campaign, executed with BBDO NY, consisting of a number of how-to shaving videos for men. One such video, for the groin, went viral within days, garnering a mention on Nicole Richie’s Twitter feed and a feature in the New York Times.

“The BodyGrooming initiative was being heralded as a new day for Gillette,” says John Gagné, SVP and ECD, who has been with the firm since its second year.

Proximity’s ability to leverage its global network certainly builds momentum on programs. One such collaboration, also in 2008 with the Chicago office, EnergyBBDO, was for Alka-Seltzer. Working with its U.S. counterpart, Proximity brought YouTube comedians Rhett McLaughlin and Link

Neal into the fold, filming a series of adventures called “The Alka-Seltzer Great American Roadtrip.”

“It was featured on CNN, spawned several viral videos, was shortlisted at Cannes [and] brought us our first international awards at the LIAAs and New York Festivals,” says Gagné.

“This network is unique in that it engages agency partners with open arms and an open mind,” he adds.

As standalone agencies, Proximity and BBDO compete against each other and have a range of independent clients, but they also work together on clients such as RBC and Shaw. Being housed in the same office makes collaboration easier logistically, says Lafond, and enables them to harness their collective brain trust.

Proximity’s direct roots show in its focus on the “should” over the “could,” directing clients towards programs that best address their business challenges and drivers

rather than jumping on the latest shiny

new tech platform.

“Our direct and CRM heritage allows us to really understand data and insights and take a more disciplined approach to digital,” says Lafond.

“If you look at the M&M’s Find Red [program], we defined the experience we wanted to create and let each touchpoint be a catalyst to that experience,” he says. “We didn’t start with the touchpoint. What started as a digital treasure hunt finding red M&Ms in Google Street View resulted in an original digital game with international interest that garnered more than 15.6 million impressions.”

The Facts

Offices: Toronto and Montreal

Staff: 174

New hires: Dave Lafond, president; Christina Hill, Ricky Jacobs, VP, managing directors; Jeff Sangster, SVP technology; Scott Pinkney, VP, creative director; Ali Pulver, VP, operations. Also: 22 in Account Management; eight in Strategy & Insights; 27 in Creative; 12 in Project Management; two in Technology; two in Operations; four in Administration

New business: Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA); Western Union; Holmes on Homes; Johnson & Johnson – Baby; RIM; LCBO; Campbell’s, US; Starbucks