Rethink, small and mighty

By Harmeet Singh

THERE'S A (PRETTY HILARIOUS) LOOK OF DISDAIN that often pops up on millennial faces when they're scrolling through their phones and accosted by an annoying ad.

It's one Darren Yada and his team at Rethink — which takes Silver Digital Agency of the Year — works hard to avoid causing.

"The amount of content that's vying for attention at any given time is ridiculous," says Yada, partner and national director of digital strategy at the shop, which has offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

It's not a new problem for brands, but it is one that's getting tougher and tougher to solve.

Still, from big budget beer to niche social campaigns, Rethink has been fighting (and winning) this battle for consumer attention. How? By coming up with creative ideas that are shaped by the context in which they're being delivered, Yada says.

Take its campaign for streaming site Shomi, playing on the themes of one of its shows, Mr. Robot. Tweeting about the show would have been simple enough, but Rethink appropriately played into the show's plot by hacking its own social ads to make it appear as though they'd been digitally defaced by "fsociety," the hacker group from the series. There weren't any calls to action for the rest of the campaign, which included a location-based scavenger hunt for 50 bundles of cash. Instead, it relied on using certain hashtags and letting the most intrigued fans figure things out on their own.

Overall, it's been a year of growth for the agency, building on momentum from 2015, when it picked up 14 new client wins and took home the Bronze Digital Agency of the Year.

This year, its growth continued with roughly 30 new hires. On the leadership side, CDs Bob Simpson in Vancouver and Mike Dubrick and Joel Holtby in Toronto were made partners in February, bringing the total to 18.

Those leaders are tasked with working in a way that's seamless and nimble, since Rethink has a single P&L across its offices, says Ian Grais, founder and national CD at the agency.

From a practical perspective, giving senior staff equity and having a broad-based team that can adapt and add new ideas — rather than relying on just one or two top brains — is important for the independent shop's model, he says.

Then there's its physical growth. About a year-and-a-half into opening its Montreal office, that shop is now up to nine people. It was created as a response to Rethink's clients A&W, Molson and Mr. Lube growing in that market, but now the agency is preparing to continue its momentum there, Grais says.

English Canada is, in some respects, ahead of the Quebec market in terms of understanding social media, and the shop is hoping to parlay its expertise in that area into more growth, he says.

That doesn't just mean going after whales, though, with Grais noting that Rethink has a tradition of pursuing pro bono clients, working on social cause campaigns and investing in work for smaller businesses. "We're actively looking for clients that don't have large budgets but that have ambitious marketing plans and compelling offers," he says.

That's meant that the same shop responsible for bringing a hockey rink to the top of a skyscraper and a beer fridge across Canada for Molson Canadian has also worked with Starlight Children's Foundation to bring fashionable designs to the drab hospital gowns that sick teens are forced to wear.

"As an independent agency, we have that luxury to work with clients and causes that we really believe in and that offer us interesting creative challenges," Grais says.

The shop has garnered awards and recognition for a broad range of its clients and work (this year, it took the number four spot on strategy's Creative Report Card).

Not that awards are everything. "We always say at Rethink that it's more important to get on the green than get in the hole," Grais says.