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Bob Froese 11:06

There are a couple of constructs for how you do naming. And it’s the, I’ll say, it’s usually the most challenging part of any branding assignment when we do branding assignments. I actually tell clients upfront, I said, you may not enjoy the naming process part of this. And you may not like the first things that you see, but you may fall in love with them, ultimately. And it was the same with us. There were names that were very sort of bullish on what we do, brash, bold names that had the word creative in them somehow that tried to define us. There were names that were based on the founder, me, Bob, of which this is not one, by the way. Interestingly, and that was one of my points of resistance to it.

I didn’t want an agency named after me, even though it’s called Bob’s Your Uncle. It was meant to be not that, of course, I do now get to be the uncle. And it’s a point of connection and friendliness between us and our clients and the outside world. I have a lot of clients and folks that we work with that just call me down, which is, it’s an amusing outcome. And then we had a couple B2B clients, quite serious ones, Fortune 500 companies, and we’re like, man, we got to try something else that was okay, for them, more on the conservative side.

And then you have one that does have fields, so we tried to bucket them into categories, and the structure of those categories is a bit fanciful. It’s not a hard science, you know, there are naming companies that have a rigid process. And, specifically, we’ll do these ones, these ones, these ones and these ones, like, ultimately, you’re also massively constrained by what’s available. Right? I mean, I know it sounds trite, but you can’t find a URL for any name that is common English, like good luck. And then also trademark registration and all of that. So that was part of it.

We found there were no other. And you can imagine the agency world, there’s not a shortage of agencies with clever names. So you come up with a name, they could be a dozen others very similar. Bob’s Your Uncle was clean. There was a small agency in Australia, there was a little gift card and bought a gift card retail shop in Boston, who, by the way, own the URL, which I only acquired a year ago. So almost 10 years. I sent him an email every year saying, hey, how about that URL?

Jeremy Weisz 13:59

What made them finally sell?

Bob Froese 14:01

A couple of things. So their business was going through the pandemic, there were retail store, they had a few pivots about what they were doing. And so they went to a more online offering, they weren’t really using that URL in the same way. And he just said, it sounds like a pain in the ass to part with it, because you got to go through this whole process. And we have to reestablish everything, we’ll help you with all that. We’ll pay you fairly. It was actually more than what I thought was reasonable at the time, but they paid a lot for it 20 years ago, and that’s how long they’d had it. So respectfully to pony up a little bit more than I wanted. And it was totally worth it.

Jeremy Weisz 14:43

What was another front-runner on that?

Bob Froese 14:48

Honestly, I can’t remember.

Jeremy Weisz 14:49

You don’t remember okay, you put all of them behind you.

Bob Froese 14:52

I would literally have to go back. I got those out of my head as soon as I possibly could.

Jeremy Weisz 14:58

Let’s talk about the takeover of the Olympics. What happened there?

Bob Froese 15:02

So what happened there is we had a client, a long-standing client cannon. And that was still in the day when point-and-shoot cameras, digital cameras were sort of in their heyday. And still there, their SLR, their big format cameras, they were number two in the market. So we were working hard on building that business and that brand. And Panasonic was the Olympic sponsor, the official camera sponsor of the Olympics. This is the Vancouver Winter Olympics. And Canon also had about 500 of their own pro photographers there. But the rules in the Olympics, driven in part by previous guerrilla marketing sabotage marketing efforts, they hired actually, it was a friend of mine who runs a big media agency.

They contracted her to write the rules, so that no clever ad guy could come in and do something disruptive like we did. And so we tore apart the rule, we were looking for every loophole we tried, could we write a logo and sand on a barge below the bridge? Could we drape a building? Could we do anything, write names on it, there was nothing. They had literally written every landlord, we talked to every shop owner, every anybody, anybody we talked to like, no, I can’t touch that. We’ve been warned. That it terrified the entire town until like, Thou shalt not post a brand name. But then we discovered that through a friend of mine, Paul Pelton, who runs a mobile media company a little loophole that said, if you have a private livery service, like a taxi company or courier service that requires vehicles, you can have the name of your livery service on your vehicle.

So we thought, great, let’s register the Canon, this shuttle company, we have 500 Pro photographers, at the Olympics, this company can exist to shuttle these photographers around, legitimate will create bus stop or pickup stops for them. We brief all the drivers. So Canon agreed that it was shocking. And the reason the Olympics were so important for them, other than the fact that Panasonic was sponsoring, was their CEO from Tokyo was coming to the Olympics. And they were facing an Olympics bereft of their brand name, whilst their global CEO attended, and that was not something they wanted to face. So that drove a bit of additional energy, but it probably took us three, four months working through legal working through what you see here, which is leasing 50 Canon minis.

Jeremy Weisz 15:05

Yeah, if you’re listening to the audio, there is a video up here. And you can see actually what they did, but keep going.

Bob Froese 17:54

And then we had these oversized styrene camera molds, built and put on top of the cameras. And then we ran them in fleets of five. So 10 fleets of five, driving all throughout Vancouver during the Olympics. And it was a spectacle, you still talk to people that remember seeing him there. And after about two days, Canon was summoned by the Olympic Committee, and threatened that they would have all of their photographers removed unless they banned the cars and Canon’s team with the legal work that we’d done. Show them, you know what we’ve done, then they were like, oh, shit, please, would you mind reducing your convoys to cars of three instead of five? And we’re like, absolutely.

Jeremy Weisz 18:43

That’s really amazing. It took a lot of work on the back end to do all this. So it wasn’t just thrown together.

Bob Froese 18:50

It was an insane amount of work, you imagine just the agreement to lease a car like this for a period of two weeks to get all those cameras constructed. We had to hire 60 drivers, all briefed on the protocol and what we were doing. We had to keep it secret. So these were all stashed in a warehouse in North Vancouver. They didn’t see the light of day until launch day. Yeah.

Jeremy Weisz 19:22

Getting a client like Canon is not necessarily an easy feat. When you first started the agency, Bob, talk about the first milestone client was for you.

Bob Froese 19:38

Yeah, a couple. There were sort of two really. We started we had a couple of fashion clients that we’d taken from our former employee that came along with us, Calvin Klein and Kenneth Cole, that we launched in Canada. So we sort of had a bit of a fashion beginning. And in part because of that work, there were still three of us. We won a competitive review for a company called Tip Top tailors. And it was a 50-agency review. They had 50 agents from across North America. And they sent us this big RFP. And the classic thing, right or char, how many people staffing in each department. I’m like, I called the client who I did not know. But I had been referred to him I said, it was John Dawkins to John, Bill Ratcliffe, like you and I would work well together.

And we have the background for this, but I can’t, I can’t answer your RFP, like, we’d fail. We’d fail on paragraph one. And he’s like, okay, just come. So it sent us the brief. And we pitched our hearts. And we got it. So that was a big client that allowed us to go from like, three people to 20 almost overnight. And we did the repositioning rebranding for them, and then all of their retail advertising for a couple years. And then one of our art directors came into the office one day with a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, said this crazy stuff. 7% Alcohol premix with lemonade. Never seen it before. We did a bit of investigation and we saw it was like, there seemed to have some energy behind it, but nobody really knew about it. So we found the owner, Anthony von Mandel, ran a company called Mission Hill out of Vancouver. And Mike’s was just like a startup thing for him.

He was a wine guy. He ended up building Mission Hill Winery, one of the top 10 wineries in the world. And it’s an amazing place. But he built that on the backs of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Because when we started talking to him, it was like, you know, it’s a small brand. I’m not investing much behind it yet. But I’m the first in North America to have a product like this. And all the big companies, Molson Coors Labatt, everybody was coming after the category, we knew that they were all going to launch. And Anthony with Mike’s was there ahead of time. So we put together a SWAT team and our mission was get out first get up strongest. And we launched that thing in about two months of work. And that was the real game changer for our agency, because I was taking a product that was all about branding, and doing something brave with it, and launching in every way possible. With a very surprising idea, given that this was a product with a functional difference, right?

It’s our first premix vodka with lemonade. It didn’t exist. So we could have simply talked about the product advantages, and probably done really well. But only for a short period of time, right? We knew that every other brand was going to come in with the same product advantage. So we went for the emotional punch. And it was actually in research groups. And we were specifically looking for how do we make this beverage more appealing to male drinkers because the early adopters were almost all female. And we needed to broaden it. And so we came up with this idea the original Mike, there was a the original packaging had his whole sort of life story written around the package, and very unique copy and very unique font. It was all about the story of aspiring young entrepreneur, he used to sell lemonade to his kids that eliminate stand and then, grew up and now he’s doing this, or like nobody cares about that. What if he was just an asshole who killed lemons and hated them and did everything to make their lives miserable.

I had a very brave client named Russell Barnett, who’s done many, many amazing things in his career sense. And he said, okay, but you have to present the creative to the owner. The owner is a very, Suave, sophisticated wine aficionado, like, okay, so we did, Russell was in San Francisco, and he was in Vancouver, we presented over the phone. And I could just see Anthony going dead silent. It was like, what the hell are these guys talking about? What are they doing in my brand? Well, we showed him, we showed him though, what we learned in research. We showed him a clip, when we showed one of the research groups, a simple board that talked about lemons hurt real bad in the making this product and she looked at it and said, what did they ever do to him?

It literally affected them emotionally. It’s like — this is ridiculous. It’s ridiculously wonderful. Like, going hard on this idea. And then everything as you can see, everything went behind that. This is a brand that had the voice of one right the voice of Mike who existed only to bring destruction to Lance.

Jeremy Weisz 24:40

What did he say when you presented it to him that you were worried about his reaction?

Bob Froese 24:44

He didn’t say anything. He said, thank you very much. And then he continued the conversation with his brand manager Russell who then called me afterwards and said, what are we getting ourselves into? He said, But I’ve convinced him we’ve got a green light we can go. So that was it.

Jeremy Weisz 25:06

It’s amazing. You also did some work with Popeyes.

Bob Froese 25:10

Yeah. So Popeyes has been a client in Canada for 16 years. We started with them. They had only I mean, obviously, in America, you’re like, what? Popeyes, of course, everybody knows about Popeyes. Well, they didn’t in Canada, there were only 20 restaurants, and 20 franchises. 20 separate franchisees, they were run without very much sort of franchisor oversight. Canada wasn’t a market of note for them. And then they decided it should be right. So we were hired to take the brand mainstream. Interestingly, in Canada, in Toronto, it was a very niche community, all the franchisees were Muslim, most of the stores service their community, it was a halal, it was by no means a mainstream brand, and almost nobody knew about it.

And then they started to invest in the expansion. And we combined their marketing budget, so we’ve taken on, we’ve been with them on the entire journey from the very first foray of bringing the brand budgets together, to growing it within the city, then within the province, that across the country, and doing a lot of really, really amazing things. It’s a brand with a ton of soul, a strong identity and a great, great product. So in Canada, we’ve taken, we’re going to be almost 400 stores soon, from 20. And really, given the competition, something to think about.

Jeremy Weisz 26:37

I’m talking about hiring and staffing. Especially when you get these big contracts, staffing up and then maintaining the conversations the NC roll, it can be a very kind of challenging landscape sometimes.

Bob Froese 27:03

Yeah, we’re fortunate, blessed even, that our employee turnover is, like, above 12 years. So we have a very, very significant steady senior team, right, that’s been in done that no matter what that is. So we have that at our core, which I think is enormously powerful. And then over time, we’ve actually reduced our staff count to focus more on our core purpose, right, which is creative and strategy. And we’ve started to outsource things that require scale, execution. Digital programming, media, we used to do media planning and buying an in house now we fully have partners for that, or we work with our clients’ partner. So as we grew up, and became clear about what we wanted to do, some of that actually got easier.

I can’t imagine running an agency, a midsize small agency now that does everything. It just seems like that would be impossible, like media is so sophisticated now, we simply can’t, we don’t think it makes sense for us to compete there. So that’s been a big help, the digital enablement, also has made us, we’ve been around long enough, we know how long things used to take, and how long things take now, it’s like, that level of compression, and the productivity of people. So I’m actually really hopeful on that score with things like AI and stuff and other tools. Like we are just getting so efficient and how we do things. And then the people park specifically, hiring Toronto is a really good market. It’s the challenge now is that it’s a very expensive market for people, like Chicago and New York, there’s no shortage of expensive markets for living and for people now.

But, yeah, I would say we haven’t had a problem finding people, we haven’t had a problem keeping people. The increasing challenge is getting them up to speed quickly enough, right, because there’s so many moving parts now. And nobody has time to get really well grounded in a piece of business before they’re in a piece of business. So, we’ve really adjusted, we’ve really focus hard on our onboarding new employees. We have a fantastic Director of Client Service, who I think is the most phenomenal person in the world, for the way she welcomes people, trains people, introduces them to the client in the work, but spends a lot of time with them. Like a lot of time, it’s a big part of her role is to bring in those people and make sure that they succeed.

Jeremy Weisz 29:56

Is there something first for other companies, it could be agencies already any other companies something you do in the onboarding process that others should think about as well that maybe aren’t?

Bob Froese 30:10

I mean, I can’t really speak to what other agencies do. But we do take time. You know, we spend time taking them through our values, and what they mean. And I would also say, as a company, we have a Monday and Friday meetings where we meet first thing every Monday morning, and we share three intentions for the week, personally, right? Like, what are the three, I’m not talking about a docket list or a project list, not like I’m working on this, but sort of three big things they want to accomplish that week. And then at the end of the week, we get together again, Friday afternoon with everybody. And everybody sort of gives people an update about how they did.

Now, it’s not rigid, like you said, these three things. Now you report, it’s more casual than that, it’s more conversational. And everybody has to share one of our values that they lived, and after they shattered a teammate for one of the values that they lived. So it really — in terms of how that relates to an onboarding process, it really helps new people sort of become part of the culture, and they sort of hear what everybody’s up to. So they really get, I think, quickly get a broad sense of not only feeling included, but sort of involved in everything. So I just find that that’s helpful. We’ve all been there where you’re going into a new position, that’s just, you’re in your zone, but there’s so much that takes so much time to figure out about, who is everybody else? And what is everybody else doing? And that kind of socialization is, I think, enormously helpful.

Jeremy Weisz 31:44

Yeah, I love that. Because I mean, it’s almost like they’re indoctrinated twice a week, in the values, and they’re hearing how, like you said, one values they lived and then shouting out two values that someone else loves. I love that. Yeah, thanks for sharing.

Bob Froese 31:59

It’s because I grew up in a church.

Jeremy Weisz 32:02

Yeah, we’ll get to that, because I want to hear about your background. But I want to go back to the niche service thing. And your thought on did that require discipline? Was there a point where, because someone’s asking you to do work, they trust you. And you hear at least I’ve talked to clients, I’ve gone off, and they’ve really niched their service, which is made it easier for them to take on clients hire all those things. And then there’s others that are gone the full-service route, and they’ll do everything and take everything. So was that a hard decision at the time? Because the clients like, hey, we want to give you this ongoing advertising campaign, Bob? I feel you have to be somewhat discipline, to just say no, to some of these projects over time, it probably gets easier and easier. But in the beginning, talk about in the beginning of saying no to these things.

Bob Froese 33:01

Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s a common saying that what you say no to is more important than what you say yes to. But man, as an entrepreneur, that’s the most saying no to work it’s like, it just goes against your grain, right? It’s like, ah, and I’m pretty infamous for saying, like, I think we can do this, and I’ll talk to my partner and Cora will be like, No, we can’t, or no, we shouldn’t be like, Ah.

Jeremy Weisz 33:31

She’s the voice of reason is what you’re saying.

Bob Froese 33:32

Yes, absolutely the voice of reason, holds our feet to the fire on some of those tougher decisions. But yeah, I think niching our service down, it’s still an ongoing discussion and movement, right. So we do to appear branding work, which tends to be episodic, their projects, but the majority of our work is ongoing, you know, as a creative agency to ongoing clients. But what that means, these days, like, you tell me what it means, we do the foundational platform creator that could roll out into TV that we produce, or, you know, outdoor, digital, all those other things. And then there’s the entire social media realm that we mostly manage for our clients, even to the extent of doing their community management, which, that’s our current, like, should we really be doing community management?

Or does that really belong more with a client team? Versus creating the organic and paid content that, that’s definitely in our wheelhouse. But how nice can you go, because you can become one thing for social media if you want, but our sweet spot and I think our biggest value is still when we can bring all those things, all of those things together, because that’s ongoing conversation with the brand and their audience, right? Social media, digital, all those things. It just happens more in real-time. So, in our mind, we can’t really walk back from that and say, well, we don’t want to do that part, we just want to do like, the big, interesting creative projects, because increasingly, something down at the other end might have far more impact. And increasingly does, we see examples of it every day from brands where, they’ve blown up on something, ideally, something useful and helpful and sort of in line with what they’d like to be known for. So, yeah, we look for those moments.

Jeremy Weisz 33:33

So Bob, it seems like then you would have a lot of partners that you work with, and do you find that those partners it produces more business, maybe you refer to them to projects and like, and vice versa, they’ll bring you in, because they’re specializing in just one thing on TV or ads or something like that?

Bob Froese 35:51

I’d say today that I feel more like a sugar daddy.

Jeremy Weisz 35:54

You do. Yeah, you’ll bring a bunch of partners.

Bob Froese 35:58

I don’t mean it that way. But it’s been, I always be honest, disappointingly, at some level, the business that we’ve shared, and versus what’s come back to us through those channels. And I used to have an expectation that there would be some quid pro quo, but I’ll say I’ve let that go. Because it’s not the reason why we’re working with them. We’re working with them, because they’re trusted partners in what we need to accomplish for our clients. That’s it, they do that job well, I’m thrilled. Should something come our way? Of course, it’d be interesting, but they’re not also speaking to clients in the same way.

I would argue that I’m not even sure I want the conversations to be sourced from there, they have, for the most part, those kinds of agencies have more episodic relationships with their clients. Right? Those are a lot, if they’re a web developer, if they’re a content producer, if they’re, a lot of those are a broadcast production company. Levels are pretty they fight for every project, right? They got their own mouths to feed, getting their next project, right. I feel fortunate that you know, a large part of our business, we build over time, we have clients that stay with us. And we focus on the relationship, and we have less of a need to go out. And trust me, we’re motivated to get new business, and we work hard at it. But it’s not our ongoing existence.

Jeremy Weisz 37:33

Yeah, after doing it for a couple decades, you have a reputation, you get a lot of income, and you have a lot of clients and seal, bring on different teams to help with the components. So I’m sure you have a really nice network partner program. And hopefully they appreciate you bringing them on to projects.

Bob Froese 37:52

Oh, yeah. I know that they do. Yeah. And we have great relationships with them. I said the other comments half in jest, because that’s sort of natural, you get visits and somebody sort of expect something back. And I was like, no, that’s not why I’m doing it, what’s not why we’re doing it. We’re doing it to do great stuff.

Jeremy Weisz 38:10

I’d love to hear about your background, a little bit. And what was it like growing up rural Manitoba Mennonite that brought you to that point were you thinking you want to do something in business?

Bob Froese 38:24

No. Now, I mean, early days I don’t know what I would have thought that it wasn’t much of a thought even going into university. I went to business school. But I still wasn’t really sure about the idea of going into business. I didn’t. I was always envious of people are like, I got to be a doctor. I can be a lawyer. I can be engineer I can be an ad guy. Although that was never a conversation I heard. But yeah, it was sort of, when I graduated from business school, I got a job with a private sector, the government joint venture that was helping to introduce technology to small businesses.

So I was a consultant. They hired nine B-comm Grads. And it was sort of like, it was an amazing experience, because they’re still working with sort of university peers, that were thrown out into the world as like, proper consultants charging a fee. And having to sort of also, like, do a bit of business development, but then managing these consulting projects. I thought it was interesting, and I thought for sure. My boss at the time was a friend who was a year ahead of me. He knew what he was doing. He was going to be a business consultant. And I thought, yeah, that sounds reasonable. He ended up becoming a senior partner at KPMG. And like, you know, doing extraordinarily well. I was going through those kinds of interviews. And then I saw an ad for an advertising agency position. I was like, I don’t even know what that’s about. But I’m gonna go. So I went for the interview.

And I was like, what is this place? You can imagine, right? An advertising agency with all the classic brick-and-beam gorgeous office, smart people but not wearing suits. So that was a big thing, right? I was like, I thought I was in for a life of the dark blue suit. And it was not the case that this is very, seems like the ideal combination of professional and creative. So I was like, I want this job. I didn’t know, but I want this life at that point. But like, I want this job. And I got it done. Yeah.

Jeremy Weisz 40:39

Was college common where you came from?

Bob Froese 40:46

No, within that, we moved out of that community when I was an adolescent, but where I initially grew up, not only was college not common, you know, finishing high school was not common. In fact, at some point it was banned. And they set up their own schools, to educate to a grade nine level. But people who probably never got that far.

Jeremy Weisz 41:19

So what were people going to do? Do they just own farms there, or?

Bob Froese 41:23

Farms, small businesses, they’re actually a very entrepreneurial community, like quite a successful community. But not necessarily in the way that you might think my grandfather owned, feed and hatchery business, like it was quite a large business, he was ultimately a fantastic entrepreneur.

Jeremy Weisz 41:40

Who are some of your mentors, it can be actually personal mentors, or colleagues, or even distant mentors that you’ve learned from books that have helped your business career?

Bob Froese 41:55

Yeah, I think, especially, I was fortunate in the business, to be doing some really, like, cool things very young. And one of them was the tobacco cessation strategy for Health Canada. So we were working with the government on a very robust, deep strategic effort. And there was a guy there named Jim Mintz, who is running the social media program, by social marketing, sorry. And by social marketing, that meant behavioral change, not social media. And so we would talk three times a week, he had a, he had a course that he taught at the University, and he had an hour between the end of his work day, and the start of his course, which coincided with my dinner hour.

But I was always happy to take his call. And he would call we chat for an hour, three times a week. And it was amazing. So he was a client, but also an extraordinary mentor. And then the second one was also a client, Mark Gatemen was the head of Mr. Lube and it was owned by a very loyal and a client that we had for a long time that we helped grow that business for quite a while. So yeah, so mentors have sort of been people I’m actively working with, often, ideally in a position where I should be, perhaps mentoring them, but because they were at a certain point in their careers, and they were happy to take the time.

Jeremy Weisz 43:21

Where do you remember a lesson from either of them that sticks, either with Jim or Merck?

Bob Froese 43:27

Oh, man, honestly, those are quite long ago. So I can’t even pinpoint something. But mostly, some of the ones that seem most memorable were very, very basic, right? And it was like, just be fully, fully yourself. Like, don’t feel you have to over explain or anticipate how we’re going to react or, I’ll tell you another one. I do remember, Kurt Kane. So Kurt Kane was our client at Molson Coors, Denver. He went on to become, I think, the CEO of Wendy’s Corporation, and had a huge marketing career before that.

And he was ex-US military, too. So he didn’t have a problem expressing his point of view. And I think when we came to present creative to his team a couple of times, he called me back one day and said, Bob, if you have something to present, just present it, just say like, you don’t need to sugarcoat anything with us. And if we say something you think is shit. Tell us it’s shit. Like, it’s like you said don’t be so Canadian. That was the lesson.

Jeremy Weisz 44:46

Lesson. Don’t be so Canadian. Bob, I just want to be the first one to thank you. Thanks for sharing your journey, your lessons. I want to encourage people to check out to learn more. It took him 10 years to get that domain. So check it out. And Bob thanks and we’ll see everyone next time.

Bob Froese 45:08

Hey, pleasure Jeremy, appreciate the time. Thank you.