Found People Thursdays – GUEST BLOG – Jack Bensimon – His Digital Wisdom and The Growth of Bensimon Byrne
Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jack-Bensimon1

We’ve been tapping into some great leadership stories here at Found People. We’re meeting the people who tilled the green fields of digital in Canada and who remain strong at the forefronts of leading our digital experiences. Digital is no spring chicken, and you see it very quickly when you talk to the people who’ve been a part of the convergence from traditional advertising towards what is now a multi-channel, media packed mecca of engagement, marketing and selling opportunities.

We spoke to Jack Bensimon this week, he’s the President of Bensimon Byrne, a recognized leader in the world of Canadian advertising.

With nearly three decades of experience in account management, strategic planning, agency management and ownership, and contributions to the industry at large, Jack is a recognized leader in the world of Canadian advertising.

In partnership with Peter Byrne, Jack founded Bensimon Byrne in 1993. Prior to that he gained experience managing a diverse array of clients including American Airlines, Nabisco, Cara Operations, Purolator Courier and Mercedes Benz. More recently, he’s been responsible for a number of Bensimon Byrne’s major clients over the years including Eaton’s, Molson Breweries, Loblaw, Hyundai, Scotiabank, Constellation Brands and Air Canada rouge.

Under Jack’s guidance, Bensimon Byrne has been recognized with Cassies Awards for Advertising Effectiveness on behalf of Buckley’s Cough Mixture, Wonder Bread, Molson Canadian, Scotiabank, the Canadian Football League, Ontario Lottery & Gaming, Hyundai, Ontario Ministry of Health, the Trillium Gift of Life Network and Loblaw’s President’s Choice. To date, Bensimon Byrne has won more Cassies than almost any other agency. More Cassies for Integrated campaigns than anyone else. A grand prix award. And the only award for best overall record of success in the Cassies given out thus far.

Jack has served as a judge for the Marketing Awards, the Effies and as Chair of the Jury for the Cassies.

Jack has twice served on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Communications and Advertising (ICA), and spent six years as a member of the Board of Directors of the Royal Conservatory of Music. In 2008 he led the industry team in negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with ACTRA. And in 2011 he chaired the steering committee guiding the ACTRA negotiating process.

Jack is a native of Vancouver who moved to Toronto for university. He received a BA in Political Science from York University with a Specialized Honours in Strategic Studies.

Our Q & A With Jack:

FP   –  The Digital space forces us to look ahead and innovate for the future. Where do you see things going in the industry?
JB  –  We like to say, “in five years, there will be no digital.” We began saying that a couple years ago. So we’re probably only three years away from that being true. Integration is so fundamental to what we do – and what clients expect – even that word is heard less often these days.
The implication of all these walls coming down is that the teams required to work on any project are much larger today. Where once a project involved an account person, a planner, a writer and an art director, we now routinely include an experiential PR person, a social media expert, and a creative technologist right from outset. Not to mention the involvement of designers, tech and dev folks, community managers and in-house video production people, as a project moves ahead. Media remains a bit of a floating variable because of the unbundled model. But so many other newer disciplines are now typically housed within a creative agency.
All this breadth and depth poses a real challenge to productivity and efficiency. To address this, we have restructured Bensimon Byrne to de-emphasize traditional agency departments, in favour of just three areas: Growth, Product and Operations. Every one of our 150 employees is now part of one of these three groups.

FP  –  How does Bensimon Byrne guide clients toward balance and effectiveness when it comes to digital innovation and early adoption?
JB –  Digital has become a routine part of everything we do. And best practices are being established in various forms of digital. So the challenge is that routine is overtaking innovation. Yet, marketers still need innovation to balance the tried and true formulas, or they will fall behind the competition.
We acquired a digital and design firm called OneMethod in early 2012, for the sole purpose of creating a standalone advanced media lab. As Bensimon Byrne focuses on what is now, OneMethod focuses on what is next. The more central digital becomes to our everyday operations, the more essential it is to have a separate group tasked with digital innovation.

FP  –  If the medium is the message, how is media usage going to change consumer behaviour in the next decade?
JB  –  Considering that Facebook and YouTube have yet to celebrate their tenth anniversaries, it’s impossible to predict with any certainty what will be happening a decade from now!
But if the current trajectory is maintained, we will likely see a consolidation of media devices and even more consumer control of viewing behaviour and content. Marketers are struggling to adapt creative development and research processes to this new reality. Audiences are not simply purchased. They are built through content sharing. And what drives content sharing is not the same as what drives effectiveness in a television ad.
Pre-testing online video with television-based research methodologies can be problematic. But investing television-scale budgets in online video, without the benefit of reliable pre-testing, is a new problem. Successful marketers today are operating more on faith and instinct than they have in sixty years.

FP  –  You’re famous for the “I Am Canadian” campaign you did for Molson 13 years ago. What would it look like if you did a remake?
JB  –  It’s unlikely we would do a remake. Beer is a category where the primary target audience – 19-24 – turns over completely every five years. The brand needs to be reinterpreted for the new cohort, or it will stagnate. So I think the question is really, what if we had done the campaign today, rather than in 2000?
The main difference would be social media and user generated content. In 2000, “The Rant” spawned massive earned media and consumer engagement, even without the benefit of YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. The amplification that would result if we had launched the campaign today would probably not affect reach all that much. It was nearly universal even in 2000. But it would dramatically impact engagement. The several dozen parodies of the spot back then would probably equate to hundreds, if not thousands, today. The role of the character, Joe, would include far more than the live performances in movie theatres and hockey arenas. He would probably be personally managing a Molson Canadian community.

FP –  What is so special about the DNA of Bensimon Byrne? What is the common strain that fuels your culture and success?
JB –  It’s entirely possible that we’re now the largest truly independent ad agency in Canada. Most of the others have changed their ownership structure in recent years. But we continue to be 100% owned by partners who manage the business on a daily basis.
This independent streak is not simply about equity. It’s a reflection of our contrarian nature. We tend to operate by different rules and standards than most agencies. Our values are deeply ingrained in the culture. Much of what the ad industry believes is important, we don’t. We see creativity as a means to an end, not an end in itself. And we see financial success not as an objective, but as the outcome of doing everything else we do right.
This only works for us because from day one, twenty years ago, we decided to prioritize our working environment above all else. And one of the key elements of a great working environment is attracting the right people to foster that environment. For us, that means recruiting for talent and decency in equal measure. To this day, our people hold us to that standard.
This is purely a people business. Everything flows from knowing the kind of people you want in the organization. And then finding and retaining them.

FP –  What is your advice for talented founders and leaders of advertising agencies who are in start-up mode?
JB  –  I’ve chatted with a lot of people contemplating a start-up. A surprising number focus exclusively on just one half of the business-creativity equation. Either they opt to go it alone. Or they build a partnership around only one discipline.
In my experience, it’s essential for a creative person to partner with a business mind. And vice versa. Peter Byrne was my creative partner when we founded the agency. And today, we continue to forge business-creative partnerships throughout the agency.
This is an industry based entirely on the commercial application of creativity. For a brand new agency, making that the foundation of your enterprise is probably a good place to start.

To learn more about Jack and his agency, click here and check out the work and evolution Bensimon Byrne

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