Search Interviews:

Tom Shepansky is the Co-founder of Rethink Communications, a well-established, full-service creative ideas agency that operates across various locations, including New York, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montréal. The agency caters to a diverse clientele and provides comprehensive 360° campaigns, digital solutions, design, production, public relations, and strategic services. Tom serves as a trustee and oversees the business operations at Rethink. Before Rethink, he held a prominent position as the VP Director of Client Services at DDB Canada, a renowned advertising agency.

Google Play
tune in
radio republic

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [03:49] Tom Shepansky shares the genesis of Rethink Communications
  • [07:11] Leveraging partnerships to grow an agency
  • [08:53] Rethink’s key hires that helped maintain its quick growth
  • [10:25] Building a successful agency through client relationships and creative ideas
  • [13:08] Tom explains how they acquired their initial clients
  • [16:47] How to win business from big companies
  • [21:31] Techniques for building business culture
  • [27:56] How Rethink handles profit-sharing and its benefits
  • [38:55] Tom talks about succession planning and governance at Rethink
  • [46:06] The idea behind the Rethink the Business of Creativity book

In this episode…

Marketing plays a pivotal role in the growth of any business. However, executing successful advertising campaigns as an entrepreneur can be challenging. So, where can they get the desired support to help them thrive in this space?

Experienced entrepreneur Tom Shepansky says that entrepreneurs must prioritize marketing to stay ahead of competitors — offering great products or services is no longer sufficient to guarantee success. However, it requires a specific set of skills many entrepreneurs may not possess. He recommends working with a creative agency and shares his journey of building such an agency to assist others in achieving their marketing goals.

On this episode of the Inspired Insider Podcast, Dr. Jeremy Weisz sits down with Tom Shepansky, Co-founder of Rethink, to discuss his journey of building a successful creative agency. Tom shares the genesis of Rethink, how he leveraged partnerships, client relationships, and creative ideas to grow the agency, how to win business from big companies as an agency, and techniques for building business culture.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Special Mention(s):

Related episode(s):

Quotable Moments:

  • “Create a culture that’s always people-first.”
  • “In any partnership, you’ve got to have complementary strengths so that you don’t duplicate each other.”
  • “Get ahead of it, build it, and they will come.”
  • “Believe that you’re going to create the business environment and clients are going to hire you.”
  • “Work with people you believe in.”
  • “Stay true to your values.”
  • “You don’t pitch six things hoping that you get one, you pitch one or two, hoping you get both.”
  • “Culture always starts at the top with leadership and the example that we set.”
  • “Hire great people, do great work, and make money.”

Sponsor for this episode

At Rise25, we’re committed to helping you connect with your Dream 100 referral partners, clients, and strategic partners through our done-for-you podcast solution.

We’re a professional podcast production agency that makes creating a podcast effortless. Since 2009, our proven system has helped thousands of B2B businesses build strong relationships with referral partners, clients, and audiences without doing the hard work.

What do you need to start a podcast?

When you use our proven system, all you need is an idea and a voice. We handle the strategy, production, and distribution – you just need to show up and talk.

The Rise25 podcasting solution is designed to help you build a profitable podcast. This requires a specific strategy, and we’ve got that down pat. We focus on making sure you have a direct path to ROI, which is the most important component. Plus, our podcast production company takes any heavy lifting of production and distribution off your plate.

We make distribution easy.

We’ll distribute each episode across more than 11 unique channels, including iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. We’ll also create copy for each episode and promote your show across social media.

Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPOEOLending TreeFreshdesk, and many more.

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

Podcast production has a lot of moving parts and is a big commitment on our end; we only want to work with people who are committed to their business and to cultivating amazing relationships.

Are you considering launching a podcast to acquire partnerships, clients, and referrals? Would you like to work with a podcast agency that wants you to win?

Contact us now at [email protected] or book a call at

Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Insider Stories from Top Leaders & Entrepreneurs…

Never Miss an Episode and get Free Updates

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01

You are listening to Inspired Insider with your host, Dr. Jeremy Weisz.

Jeremy Weisz  0:22

Dr. Jeremy Weisz here, founder of where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders today is no different. I have Tom Shepansky of Rethink Ideas, you could check them out And Tom, I’m gonna formally introduce you. But I always like to point out other episodes, people should check out the podcast and actually had Morgan Tierney who started off as an intern. This speaks to the culture and what you’ve created at Rethink, I think, Tom, she started as an intern, and she worked her way up to partner and that’s an amazing story of the work that they do. So you can check that out, but also just how she progressed, and the culture and everything like that, which we’ll touch on. And I want to go back to the source, which is you, Tom, how was the culture? How did this stuff start from the beginning, and we’ll get into that. Another good guest was Todd Taskey, Todd Taskey, we’re talking about succession. We’re gonna talk about succession. And how you set the company up. Todd Taskey is interesting, because he matches private equity with agencies, he helps sell agencies to private equity. And he has a Second Bite Podcast. And he found sometimes people make more on the second bite than on the first because of how private equity works, right. And Tom has chosen not to go that route. But there’s a lot of different routes people can take for their reasons. And it’s just an interesting conversation about valuation, and how he looks at the landscape of business in general. So check that one out as well. And this episode is brought to you by Rise25. At Rise25 we help businesses give to and connect to their dream 100 relationships. And how do we do that we actually help you run your podcast, we’re an easy button for a company to launch and run a podcast. We do the accountability, the strategy and the full execution. Tom, we call ourselves magic elves that work in the background and make it look easy for the host and the company so they can run their company, create great content and create great relationships. And for me, you’ve heard me say this before, the number one thing in my life is relationships. I’m always looking at ways to give to my best relationships. And I have found no better way over the past decade to profile the people and companies I most admire and share with the world what they’re working on. And there’s a lot to learn from that. So if you’ve thought about podcasting, you should if you have questions, go to And I’m excited to introduce Tom Shepansky, co-founder of Rethink Communications. The agency was started in 1999 in Vancouver, and has grown to be one of the top independent agencies globally. They were ranked second globally as a network and they have offices across Canada and also in New York. Tom governs the business as a trustee, with his two co-founders, Chris Staples, and Ian Grais. Rethink, has worked on some award winning campaigns. I’ll pull up their website and show a few of them. But Molson Coors IKEA, A&W Shock Communications, McCain Foods and many, many more. And Tom also is a rock star, literally, guitarist in his band. So Tom, thanks for joining me.

Tom Shepansky  3:36

Hey, great to be here, Jeremy. Thanks, I really, really look forward to our conversation.

Jeremy Weisz  3:40

Talk about Rethink, and the initial idea that you had for Rethink.

Tom Shepansky  3:49

Yeah, it really started by reading a book, we were with a Vancouver-based agency that sold to a multinational, I will say the founder of that agency gave the speech that every agency President gives, nothing’s gonna change. And I laugh, because that speech, not that it’s a bunch of BS, but within weeks, if not months, it was really clear to a bunch of us that things had changed. So we read a book by Andy Law, called Open Minds, and Andy was in the UK TBWA had bought the agency that he was with, he broke away, he said, you know what, I’m gonna stay true to the values that I believe in to the purpose that I’ve got to a culture that I think we’ve created here in London, England, and we were reading this book. And so I got together with the two co-creative directors from Vancouver. And we started talking, we started talking about how we had this great independent agency and how things did change when the multinational took over. And we said, why don’t we take all of the things that we know were great about that agency, and let’s not to use our name, because we didn’t have it yet, but let’s rethink some things. And let’s create a culture where creativity is number one, let’s create a culture where it’s always People First, let’s create a culture where people can do the best work of their career. And I’m the business guy so I said, well, let’s create a culture and a business that can make some money too. So that was really the core of it Jeremy, news leaked, we broke away, and had fairly quick success, we grew to about 40 people after our first year, we had a couple million in revenue, we were cash flow positive in our first year, which is very unusual, self-funded. And then it’s just been a journey over the last almost 24 years from there and just ups and downs, but for the most part wouldn’t have changed the thing of the two co-founders Chris and Ian, Chris staples and Ian Grais, we were together two weeks ago with our life partners on our annual trip we do, and we take turns picking a place and we still truly like and love each other, like brothers. And that for me says everything, if I’m proud of one thing, I’m proud of lots of things. It’s the fact that you started Jeremy talking about relationships to us and to me, relationships are everything. They start with your founders, your partners, your clients, your suppliers, everyone, and we had a lot of amazing people and continue to in our circle, and it’s based on great relationships.

Jeremy Weisz  6:41

I want to talk about handling quick growth, also, like out of the gate, right. 40 people, successful, lots of revenue clients. And before we get to the quick growth, though, let’s talk about the partnerships, right, partnerships are like marriage, right? Yeah. How much of that was thought out how much of it was luck, when you were talking and starting this company with the two other people?

Tom Shepansky  7:11

Well, one of the two. So Chris Staples, and I go back to working at the very first agency in 19. I’m showing my age now in 1983, in Edmonton, Alberta, we worked together for after Rethink, it was 35 years, we worked together a whole career at four different agencies, including Rethink. Ian will be over 30 years. So for us, coming into this, we knew each other well enough that we knew what we were getting into. And we also knew that like in any partnership, and I’m sure you agree, Jeremy, you’ve got to have complementary strengths so that we don’t duplicate each other. And we very much had sort of complementary strengths that we not that you deferred, but Chris was amazing, amazing with the press. He’s a journalism grad, he was the lead spokesperson for Rethink as the co-founders, we were happy. It’s like, yeah, it featured Chris a bit, who cares, it’s good for everything. Ian the pure craftsman and an amazing creative, both inner Chris amazing creators, I had the two top creatives in Canada starting the agency with so I was the fortunate business guy. And then for me, it was about building trust, working with clients on their strategy. And I would say creating the conditions for Chris and Ian in the creative team to do the very best work and to solve the client’s problem with an idea. So yeah.

Jeremy Weisz  8:43

Talk about the quick growth, right? Because a lot of times, I’m curious on key hires, but growing to 40 people in a year, you had a lot of hires out of the gate.

Tom Shepansky  8:53

We did, but you sort of had to stay ahead of it. And we’ve continued in our quick growth years, because COVID was very good to us. We had massive rapid growth for COVID. And we encourage the team as we governed as trustees to build it and stay ahead of it. You can’t staff the agency with freelance hoping that eventually, you’ll know what the reoccurring revenue is, you’ve got to have the confidence that we’re going to grow to that level. And we hired full time we heard, it was a bit of build it and they will come and we weren’t scared to build it and get ahead of it. As we open Toronto, we built it and got ahead of it as we opened Montreal and now going into New York, the same thing. So I think, for entrepreneurs out there, I think you have to believe that you’re going to create the business environment and quite frankly, clients aren’t going to hire you. If you’re entering a new market and you’re fledgling and you only have a handful of people and Chris and I spent a lot of time in Toronto with prospective clients and then they would always ask okay, who’s here? We had to have more than a couple people when we expanded. So if I was to give you one answer to that question, it would be get ahead of it, build it, and they will come.

Jeremy Weisz  9:06

What’s the timeline that if you break down the timeline, did you go out in the three of you? You’re in a room and you’re like, okay, you went out and got a client first. And then you started hiring? What was the timeline of that? Would that look like?

Tom Shepansky  10:25

Yeah, so the story I told you about the agency we’re at, we had an agreement, when they found out we were leaving. They’re gonna give us a month, we’re gonna have this really nice, easy exit. And then we had an agreement that no one would talk to the press. Well, we get a call that hadn’t even been announced internally, and we get a call. So we’re here. This is the Globe and Mail like the national business, but we hear you’re leaving someone told us like. So we were very prepared. We had our photo, we had our press release, we sent, we hit full send that day. And it was funny, because it was a year ago. Last weekend, it was the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. So it hit the National Post and hit the Globe and Mail. So it was like our news of leaving. So we didn’t have a long exit, we had basically three days and we were out. And we did in the end, we got about a month’s pay to cover the gap that we agreed to, we said, let’s sit down and talk about who we’re going to work with. And we had this little whiteboard, I’ll tell you a story, we had a little whiteboard. And on that whiteboard, we said we want to work with people we believe in. Underneath that we want to work with brands that we believe in. Under that we said we have to share the belief that a creative idea can solve the business problem and a good creative idea, not just a mediocre idea. And then I put underneath it, you have to believe that they have the money to pay our rates, right. So today, our purpose is creating believers in the brands we believe in that drove us to get to where we started the agency, it’s continued to drive us for, it’s gonna be 25 years. And that same purpose, the notion of belief, and creating believers is the purpose that has continued to drive us so yeah, there’s some of our clients, there are some of our believers.

Jeremy Weisz  12:27

If you’re listening to audio only there is a video piece and we’re looking at the I would encourage anyone to check these out. There’s some really cool campaigns, it just for me at least, I could say Tom, I get my creative juices flowing, whatever it is just a look at the work, what you did with some of these specifically, and we talked actually at length with Morgan’s, if you check that one out with Morgan I did. We talked about the ad the M campaign, we talked about a couple of these campaigns, to the Heinz campaign. But talk about the first key client and how you landed that.

Tom Shepansky  13:08

So we wrote, as I said, you do the time we’re out in October, by late November within 60 days, just if you just scroll past the NW. So NW, least for the non-Canadian listeners NW is different than the NW in the US. NWA and Canada had grown to be sort of on par with Burger King and Wendy’s in the QSR landscape. So very close to number two to McDonald’s. But sort of working hard to get there. So, NW was just going through a transition. And we were honestly in the worst little office. The office did not have heat. We had power but no heat. And it’s like October in Vancouver says cool. So we had these portable space heaters we had parts of the offices painted and the parts we couldn’t pay, we close the doors because we carpeted it up to the door but not passed. Right. So we made it seem like we’re legitimate. So we had the president, the CEO and the marketing two marketing people in and my partner Chris proceeded to tell them how bad their ads were and the CEO, he could have walked up and he said, why do you think we’re here? It’s so within 60 days NW hired us. I’m proud of lots of things that we’ve done over the course of our time, but that relationship is still intact today. We’ve been partners for over two decades I’ve known all three CEOs that reigned and all the great marketing people and a true partnership. And they’ve grown to be a clear number two in the burger quick service category, and we’ve grown alongside of them, right? Like we’ve grown alongside of them. And they’ve challenged us Jeremy, over the years, we’ve challenged each other to be better to do better, we almost got fired once. That’s a whole nother story. But we weren’t listening, I’d say the reason that we almost got fired is we weren’t listening. And I went back and said to my partners, unless we listen to them, and give them something close to what they want, we’re not going to be their agency, and we dug deep and came back with a heartwarming idea that reignited the brand and reignited our relationship with them again, we’d eroded trust, and through that moment, we started to rebuild trust. So I mean, NW has been so proud. And I care a lot about food and what NW has done is they’ve leaned into, you know, better food, a better ingredients story to, you know, to really address some of the things that are going on in that category. So within the category, they stand out, you know, because they’ve got a great story, they have a great tasting product, but they’ve got no hormones and steroids in their beef, they’ve got a product story that supports the brand. And is that evidence that that reinforces the Great Tastes they provide? So yeah.

[Continue to Paage 2]