Trouble? We’re not even talking about the layoffs, the salary cuts, the management hassles or the merger that would subsequently see the ad agency’s name change three times in the next two years. Trouble? It is October 2001 and the Vancouver advertising agency Lanyon Phillips is in it – deep.
David Martin, the new hot-shot creative director – brought in from Toronto when the agency was soaring – is now scrambling. Morale is low, the ship is under weather, yet Martin still believes. Why not? Believing is pretty much what he does for a living.
Like every other agency in the city, Martin has a Request For A Proposal (RFP) from the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation on his computer screen. The difference is that Martin believes he knows how to get the business.
But just as he is about to seize the prize, David Martin will face the one moment that tests everything he truly believes. This is how it happens.
The thing about agency people – at least in this market – is that they are
positive and affable. Yes, some may appear a little facile but, as a profession, they are
uncommonly good at conversation and have come to terms with what Leo Burnett or some other famously wealthy adman once said about the vagaries of truth: nothing is true unless someone believes you.
Chuck Phillips, founding partner of Lanyon Phillips, is trying to be just that kind of guy the morning Martin, art director Olaf Strassner, and account manager Michelle Whelan sit in his office at the World Trade Centre overlooking the Vancouver harbor trying to persuade him they should answer the Bid’s RFP.
Martin, Strassner and Whelan want to go for it, but Phillips is unconvinced. He has been in the business long enough to remember when agencies demanded 15 per cent commissions on media
placement and clients didn’t produce their own in-house creative. The business has changed. Agencies now bargain for media commission ‘points’. The client’s brother-in-law gets the website design business because he can do it in his basement for 500 bucks less.
Phillips’s agency is faltering. He is looking at his own future, and it isn’t pretty. He says later, “I thought I’d end up as one of those guys looking for clients in the local mall.”
As for winning the RFP, realistically he doesn’t think Lanyon Phillips can overcome the voracious presence of Palmer Jarvis DDB – the ad agency that ate Vancouver. In addition to a solid gold client list, Palmer Jarvis has experience with Expo. It is also connected to the Wasserman Group, which is connected to Whistler/Blackcomb. Then there’s Cossette, the city’s second-largest agency, which
handles McDonald’s, certain to be a major Winter Olympics sponsor. As far as Phillips is concerned, the deck is stacked.
But there’s another factor operating against Lanyon Phillips: it simply can’t afford to go after the Bid business. Martin pe rsists. “Both of those guys (Palmer Jarvis and Cossette) have amazing credentials we won’t be able to touch,” Martin argues, “but I think we have a chance. A small chance but a chance nonetheless.”
“Correction,” says Phillips. “You have zero chance.”
Martin explains the concept his team has created. Phillips thinks it is shallow, but Martin is nothing if not persuasive. Finally, Phillips agrees. They can do it. “But we’re not going to hire for this,” he warns.
Martin has only a few days and a weekend to respond to the RFP. He tells his team that even if they don’t have the resources the other agencies have, they have the heart. And the heart of the pitch is this: “Let’s show the Bid committ ee that we get what winning the Olympics will mean for Vancouver.”
David Martin is about the same age and intensity as Tom Cruise. He has never had any doubt about who he is. In his home he has framed, side-by-side, a drawing of a Dominion Store with Big Sale Today banners in the window (captioned: David Martin, age 7) and a photograph of an actual Dominion Store, now a client, with Grand Opening banners (David Martin, age 34). When he was in Grade 4, he designed a logo on shirt cardboard and tried to sell it to a local music store. The first book he ever bought was the classic Confessions Of An Advertising Man by David Ogilvy, among other things, the creator of the eye-patched Hathaway man and the father of ‘image’ advertising. Martin was 11.
He stepped out of McGill University and into McKim Advertising in Toronto, his first ad agency. In 20 years he has never worked in any other business. He started in media, learning the intricacies of manipulating time and space. Moving through Toronto agencies, he entered account services, the intricacies of manipulating brands and clients. He finally took a pay cut and became a writer. As creative director at Anderson DDB in Toronto, he made up the lost ground financially. When he was persuaded to move with his wife and three children to Vancouver, he immediately bought a home in West Vancouver.
In 2001, now at Lanyon Phillips, Martin is 40 and he too is struggling. He’s carrying two mortgages, he hasn’t been able to sell his old Toronto house and now, like everyone else still on salary in these post-9/11 days, that salary has also been cut. The agency, as Phillips says later, is ‘bummed out’ emotionally. Martin says, “If we don’t get this pitch, I don’t know that we could go back to the well.”
But, besides his determination, Martin has an ace in the hole. He has Olaf Strassner.
When it comes to the Bid, “David is like a dog with a bone,” Phillips says. “And the bone is Olaf.”
Advertising design is virtually all created by computer, and Strassner has a genius for digital imagery. Over the weekend, with a mini-DVD camera, he shoots the Cambie Street Bridge, Robson Street, GM Place, SkyTrain stations and whatever scenic floats into his viewfinder. Back at the agency with Martin, Strassner uses Adobe After-Effects on his Mac to cut in the existing Bid logo and Olympic rings to show what the streets and venues and directional signage might look like in 2010 – when the Bid comes home. The effect is entirely real. “Frighteningly so,” says Martin. They add music: This Could Be Heaven by Seal.
They show the two minutes to Phillips on Monday. He says, “You did this in two days over the weekend? You know what this is ?”
Strassner asks: “What?”
Phillips says: “It’s a nuclear weapon.”
A few blocks away, on the Vancouver harbor, Andrea Shaw works from a Gastown office overlooking a berthed cruise ship, a window view so huge it looks like Imax. If this isn’t the postcard image of what Vancouver is about, what would be?
Shaw is an athletic, compact blonde, a former downhill racer, skilled enough for the international circuit competing in Canada, but not quite at the Olympic level. In Ontario she tried nursing, teaching and then sports marketing for CIBC – where she again found her rush.
Like everyone else involved at this level, she is all but fanatic about the Bid. When her 12- and 14-hour days begin to interfere with her young family, she adjusts her schedule. She begins waking and working at home at 4 a.m., getting the kids ready for school at seven, checking into the office at nine, and getting home in time for a late dinner and to help with homework.
As vice-president, communications, she administers five key areas of the Bid – including advertising and media relations – all critical to her responsibility, as they say, for taking the product to the market.
To do that, first you have to decide what the product is. So, for about the first six months on the job, along with her masters, Bid heavies Jack Poole and John Furlong and others, she listened to what everyone else thought – Tourism, local communities, ethnic groups, athletes and organizers.
In the end here’s what they decide. Sea-to-Sky isn’t about a local place. Sea-to-Sky is a metaphor for Canada. We take this for granted but in the global community Canada can be sold as few other nations can – a safe, culturally diverse, gloriously beautiful country (mountainous and bounded on three coasts by ocean) that would welcome every athlete or visitor regardless of country.
What it finally comes down to, as Bid president and COO John Furlong relates in his Irish tenor, is people: “The Games will be good wherever they are. But what will make them great is us. It’s the people, the trust, the relationships that end up getting you home. It’s like all things in life: people like to work with people they like.”
But how do you get that across – say in an IOC delegate brochure or a radio jingle for the locals? It is part of Shaw’s job to find someone who can. “It may be the best product in the world,” she says, “but if it’s not communicated and marketed properly, you’re not going to get there.”
The RFP she sends out and posts on the Bid website spells it out: Shaw is not looking to become someone’s client; she is looking for a partnership. Perhaps because of that, perhaps because its timelines are so tight, the response to the Request is surprisingly small.
Over a weekend she reviews slightly more than a dozen proposals. She has specifically not asked for any ‘creative’, except for samples of previous work. All the respondents comply, except for one. It contains a two-minute video called The Dream. And Shaw takes notice.
Lanyon Phillips is the Cinderella team nobody expects to make the playoffs. But Martin, sitting at his desk on the phone, sees Phillips and agency partner Peter Lanyon hovering at the door, beaming, and Martin knows – he knows – they got the call.
Palmer Jarvis, the New York Yankees of local advertising, doesn’t get shortlisted. Neither does Cossette.
There is a tremendous surge of confidence inside the agency. Like Martin, people begin to believe. The feeling, he says, is: ‘We really do have a shot at this, don’t we?’ And that shot turns out to be just one face-to-face meeting with the Bid’s communications committee.
Six people from the agency, including Martin, Strassner, Whelan and Phillips, will take the meeting. The conventional strategy is to come prepared. Presentation materials, PowerPoint, and everyone rehearsed like a presidential debate: If they ask this, you say that.
Martin vetoes the PowerPoint. They will present no graphics; they will not rehearse Q&A; they’re not even going to have a leave-behind: “We decide instead to engage them in conversation.”
The video – which will play a much greater role in the evolution of the Bid than Martin could ever expect – has already left a residual effect on Shaw and her committee as they meet Lanyon Phillips at the Bid offices.
“The video expressed a vision,” Shaw says later. “It said they understood where we had to take this in terms of communications, advertising, the Web – of where we were then and where we had to go.”
Phillips plays his role: the affable Master of Ceremonies. He essentially turns it over to Martin and the others. Each speaks briefly about what responsibilities he or she would take. They never pitch.
“A lot of agencies make the mistake of selling too much,” Martin explains. “You have to think about listening before you start to sell.”
Phillips says of his team in that meeting: “You could feel their passion. Their energy.” But Shaw wants more than passion: “Other people had the passion, but these guys were very like-minded. There’s a parallel here. The IOC wanted to know Vancouver and Whistler were going to be good partners before they gave their brand to us. This is exactly what I was looking for in a partner that we gave our Bid brand to.”
The ‘conversation’ convinces Shaw: “I knew very quickly. I was confident. It wasn’t going to be just any product. It wasn’t going to be just advertising.”
The committee makes its decision quickly. A few days later, Shaw telephones Phillips. “We’d like to get started,” she says.
The prize is in Martin’s hand. “You have to have the stomach for this business,” he says later. “The highs are higher, the lows are lower. In this particular case, keeping positive and dreaming the impossible seem to just fit hand-in-hand with what the Olympics are about – which is reaching into yourself for the best possible personal achievement.”
That night, the highs are definitely higher. Lanyon Phillips erupts in a full-scale champagne celebration.
But as Martin says later, “We had no idea of what we were going to get into, really.”
It is difficult for an outsider to understand the impact a project of this magnitude has on psyches. For Martin, whose brain is already hard-wired to the media collective – who remembers Hamm’s The Beer That Refreshes jingles from when he was a kid on his knees staring up at the tube, who believes “You don’t do what’s right for you, you don’t do what’s right for the agency, you don’t do what’s right for the client – you only do what’s right for the brand,” who is now suddenly central to bringing to B.C. the Games and its media-based, world event of historic and political significance that will link and inspire the hearts and minds of five billion people – the Bid is cocaine.
In the initial briefing session after winning the RFP, Shaw’s team brings Martin’s team up to speed on tactics and strategies. “I could see it in their eyes,” Shaw says. “They were so present in that moment.”
Outside the room, Furlong paces, concerned about this new team. “This was a big decision for us,” he says later. “We were going to ask these people to do extraordinary work. It was important these people speak the same language we were speaking. That they be inspired the way we are inspired.”
Inside the room he tells Martin’s team about the customs officer who greeted him when he first arrived in Canada. “Make us better,” the officer told him. Furlong speaks of how the Olympics are going to change the way people live and believe in Canada. He tells them, “I want you to feel the burden we’re feeling.”
He is preaching to the converted.
Martin already has an Olympic flag flying from a pole outside his West Vancouver home on the road to Whistler. Three nights later at his computer in his home office looking out at the lighted flag and the city twinkling beyond, Martin inscribes a 144-word precis of what it all means – Sea-to-Sky, Canada, the Olympic dream, the whole damn thing.
Shaw and Furlong dub it ‘The Manifesto’. It becomes what is known in the ad business as ‘The Brand Voice’: everything said for and about the Bid will be derived from it. The Manifesto is like a piece of music, Martin explains. “You’ve got to get the key you’re in and if you find that key, it’s fantastic. And you’ll always know when you hit a wrong note.” Twenty months later, when the IOC visits Vancouver, Martin’s Manifesto – exact and unchanged – will be inscribed in English and French on the pillars at the entrance of the Vancouver Trade & Exhibition Centre. Meanwhile, there’s Strassner. On a Saturday night, Martin receives a phone call from his anxious art director.
“I’ve got some logo ideas I want to show you,” Strassner says.
“Okay, send me a PDF,” says Martin.
“I can’t. I’ve got too many.”
“How many do you have?”
Strassner says, “Two or three hundred.”
The thing to understand is that while the Bid is a prestigious piece of business and by far the most exciting account Martin has ever been part of, it is not the most profitable.
In advertising it’s called the ‘recovery rate’, which is how long it takes to recoup the investment of time and energy an agency makes in securing and building an account. The recovery rate on the Bid has, apparently, a low arc. You can’t possibly shovel enough time into this furnace: it always needs more. Nor is the agency on the clock. Unlike, say, a legal firm, you don’t get to write an invoice every month for every minute everyone has spent on the business. Worse, all these
creative and account service people pretty quickly start to lose track of who they’re working for. Like everyone else involved, they just want to win the Bid.
“You don’t take on a piece of business like this to make money,” Martin explains. “You try to minimize how much you lose.” Which sounds a lot more like a writer talking than a CEO.
The first hit comes a few months later when Lanyon Phillips morphs into Bryant, Fulton & Shee, which is already owned by an international parent and will later become TBWA/Vancouver, depending on how you calculate these things now arguably the third largest agency in British Columbia.
Lanyon leaves to join the insatiable Palmer Jarvis. Phillips also lands on his feet. He talks to BCBusiness, his toes in the warm sand of a Malibu beach two years later. Instead of “searching for clients in the local mall,” he is consulting to Electronic Arts, a job that has variously re-situated him in London, England, San Francisco and now Los Angeles. He even hires Whelan away from the agency and positions her in London at twice her previous salary.
For all intents and purposes, Martin is now the senior man on the account. As their masters’ identities and even office locations seem regularly to change, it is Martin and Strassner whom the Bid Corporation now come to rely upon.
The marketing plan the Corporation devises is meticulously calculated. It begins with an initial brochure presentation to IOC delegates at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. (As it turns out, new rules prohibit the lovely brochure from being handed to delegates, but the exercise serves to establish the design look, which will continue to the final Bid Book and visual presentation in Prague 20 months later.) The plan projects a steady climb in marketing and advertising locally culminating in the IOC evaluation visit in February 2003, after which attention would turn almost entirely internationally toward the IOC delegates themselves.
The ‘creative’, as they say, centres on what the Games mean, not only to athletes but to all us of us – from business people to a guy who collects Olympic pins, from a log-home builder in the Interior to Nancy Greene, who calls the Games, appropriately, “a dream machine”.
Then Shaw is driving home one night in November 2002 when she hears the news. “I’ll never forget it,” she says, though she cannot remember exactly how she got home after the newscaster declared the new COPE council was really going to call a referendum on the Winter Games.
Furlong relates later how he “personally [got] in the face of the mayor” to change his mind. “The Olympic movement sees this as a disaster,” Furlong tells him.
A previous local plebiscite in Switzerland had reduced the candidate cities to three. The Vancouver referendum threatens to make it two. Sea-to-Sky is looking to become an embarrassment for everyone.
Mayor Campbell remains positive, telling Furlong, “This is going to turn out to be a good thing.”
Doubtful but determined to come out ahead, “We had to start communication in a way we hadn’t planned,” Furlong says later. “We had to rebuild our credibility and assure people this was just a blip on the screen.”
Pressure to change the campaign is enormous. Who cares what the pin collector thinks? What’s the log-home builder in the Interior got to do with the East End voter who wants to see the money spent on safe injection sites?
Martin sees his new role as ‘keeper of the flame’. He knows what advertising guru Rosser Reeves said about the value of consistent, multiple impressions, as far back as the 1950s: “Just when a client gets tired of seeing his ads, the public is just beginning to notice them.”
Martin fights to preserve the brand voice against interests that would wage the Yes campaign on the basis of hard sell and politics. “It would have been the wrong note,” he says.
“Don’t deviate,” Martin advises. “Stay on message.”
It is agreed: the marketing purpose isn’t to convince No voters to vote Yes. The strategy is to get Yes voters to come out and vote.
Still, the well-planned campaign becomes – at least partly – derailed. New ads are rushed into production. The speed is blurring. At one point Martin is informed Rick Hansen would be available – but for only 20 minutes the next morning; Martin videotapes the interview and has the spot on television the same day.
Virtually every piece of Bid advertising – television, print, radio, outdoor and cinema – comes from Martin’s agency. Some may be more hard sell and political than Martin would like but his voice is positive, consistent. The Games benefit us all, his ads say, but it’s up to you to win them: “The Torch Is In Your Hands.” Walls of his office are lined with TV spot schedules, storyboards, print ads. The passion for it becomes all-consuming. He says, “I did nothing but try to find a way to win.”
On the night the referendum was called, along with others in the Bid committee he had written a number on a piece of paper: his guess what the Yes vote will be. It ends that way exactly – 64 per cent.
Having won the battle locally, the focus turns now to influencing the international delegates. By this time, under Strassner’s direction, the design work for the final three Bid Books is completed by Signals Design Group, whose virtuosity with low-resolution digital file conversion, holographic foil and handmade embossing should probably be illegal. What remains for Martin is to recreate the final video that is the centrepiece of the Sea-to-Sky presentation in Prague in July.
Then, on May 23 he receives the phone call that changes his life. Susan, his wife, is on the line. She says, “Dave, the biopsy came back…” In that instant, David Martin knew what he believed. It did not have to do with videos or classy IOC delegate brochures. It did not have to do with a world event that would change the way Canadians lived or thought about themselves. It was not about 20 years in advertising, but 20 years with Susan. In that instant, David Martin lets it go and steps back.
When asked about his decision, Susan says there was no decision. “Dave was just, ‘Okay you need me. I’m here.’ There was no discussion about it.”
Martin calls Shaw and Furlong to inform them. As the Bid Corporation assembles the Prague presentation, including the videotape based on the one Martin and Strassner had created to win the account, Furlong recalls, no one got more than three hours sleep a night.
Martin is not among them.
In the last days, Furlong and the presenting team decide the video must be entirely re-thought to reflect the changing strategy they are pursing in Prague. “We knew where the votes were,” Furlong says, indicating he knew European delegates would vote for neighboring Strasburg first and Vancouver on the second round. Marti Kulich, who produced among other things the spectacular four-day IOC evaluation in Vancouver, brilliantly recreates the video, doubling its length, bringing it new relevance to IOC delegates, some of whom reportedly weep at its showing.
David Martin is not in Prague. He’s with his family at GM Place waiting for the announcement and then cheering the victory. His wife, Susan, post-surgery, is about to face her first chemotherapy.
For him the Olympics have become a new metaphor for their lives. “The Olympics are about a challenge, about finding something inside you and rising to that challenge.”
The last time we spoke on the telephone, Susan talked about a weekend they had just spent canoeing with the children – now seven, nine and 11 – keeping it as normal as possible.
Over a drink, Martin tells me, “We don’t know what will happen, but we’re very positive by nature. Mortality tables are such that five to seven years is the survival rate. Well, five to seven years from now is the Olympics. Irony or symmetry? One challenge ends and one