CP+B Toronto Closes, Union Takes Its Place

After Conflicts Hinder MDC Partners Shop's Growth, Canadian Office Goes Its Own Way

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This story originally appeared in Canada's Marketing Magazine

CP&B Toronto -- one of the shop's few global offices -- is gone. The agency brand has left the Canadian market, leaving in its place Union, a new agency in MDC Partners' stable.

Fully owned by MDC, Union will be led in equal partnership by Executive Creative Director Lance Martin (former ECD at Taxi 2), client service lead Dave Carey (former senior VP-client services at Lowe Roche) and agency president and strategic planning lead Subtej Nijjar (former exec VP-president of CP&B Canada). Andy Macaulay will continue on as chairman of the agency.

Union will move forward with a starting staff of 30 and all the clients it had as a CP&B shop, including Kraft and Best Buy, accounts it shares with CP+B's American agencies. It has laid off 15 CP&B Toronto employees in the transition process to "right-size the agency and build a model for growth in the future, sustain our business and provide our clients with the best possible account service, planning strategy, production and studio service we can moving forward," said Mr. Nijjar.

When CP&B Toronto launched in 2010, it had approximately 100 staff. In April, it reported a staff of 50.

The move away from CP&B's network follows talks with MDC that addressed challenges arising from North American conflicts that kept the Toronto office out of desirable new business pitches, Mr. Nijjar said.

The agency's loss of longtime blue chip client Molson Coors last year -- the result of CP&B Boulder pitching for the competing AB InBev brand Bud Light -- was an indication that such conflicts would happen, said Mr. Nijjar. Further disappointments arose for the Toronto agency as it couldn't pitch retail and financial clients due to the agency's relationships with Old Navy and American Express in the U.S.

"It seemed to be counter-productive in what we wanted the agency presence in Toronto to be for an MDC shop," said Mr. Nijjar. "In conversations with MDC and CP&B, we decided that the better opportunity in this market was for us to spin back off into an independent, but partnering with MDC and still remaining a sister agency to CP&B and the MDC network, similar to the way we worked when we were Zig," the agency partially owned by MDC that merged into the CP&B network, bringing it to the Canadian market.

"We love our Canadian partners and are very proud of the work that we've done together," added Andrew Keller, Global CEO, CP&B, in a statement. "We believe their best opportunity for growth and success will be as an independent agency. We are great fans of [Subtej] and look forward to the success of Union."

Union is designed as a cross between a big-idea shop and a technology start-up, said Mr. Nijjar. It will take tools traditionally reserved for digital experience design, including a robust analytics and data measurement practice, and embed them into its strategic process to drive brand-building that 's closely tied to business growth.

"For us, it's going back to the core of what an idea shop is and mixing it in with tech so you're providing useful value both emotionally and functionally to our clients' brands and, ultimately, their consumers," said Mr. Nijjar. "We're going to be looking at the consumer journey holistically and finding opportunities where the brand can provide some value. Ultimately what we're trying to do is create unions between brands and consumers.

"That's why we're calling the agency Union. We want to find ways to become welcomed and valued parts of their lives at the right moment."

"I'm really excited about taking on this new challenge," Mr. Martin, the ECD, told Marketing. "Taxi has been like a family to me for almost 12 years now, but I'm ready for this new challenge with this new team.

"My goal is always to do impactful work that gets noticed. I think that 's one of the first challenges that I try to achieve creatively. If your work doesn't get noticed, it's wasted money. I've had great luck of doing that in the past at Taxi, doing work that people talked about, that was noticed and drove results for clients. I hope to continue doing that with Union. I think it's a really strong team and we're well set up to do impactful work," Mr. Martin said.

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