From Edinburgh to Toronto, small agency to big agency, strategy to accounts … telling it like it is.

Hanging out in Mel Lastman Square, Toronto for Canada Day

Canada Day and proud

So…. obviously when I moved to Toronto and started interviewing at various advertising agencies I had very little information to go on. I knew nobody in the industry here and when it came to making a decision about which job to take, I was hit with conflicting information from various recruiters and I was specifically warned against joining my current agency.

Six weeks into the role, I am comfortable with my decision and happy. The team are fantastic: genuinely warm, community-focused, hard-working, smart people. In all honesty, there is nobody that I’ve met in the immediate and wider team who hasn’t really impressed me, I’m delighted to join them.

Moving from a small to large agency comes with challenges. I miss working on a Mac. I crave the freedom to download and install any software I damn well please. I miss the agility to test ideas. Having been used to reporting directly to the most senior management team, it’s hard to find the patience with the decision-making process in a larger company. I hate managing projects via email. After three years of Basecamp, it infuriates me to embed emails in emails and forward these in mammoth threads. After my naive expectation that somehow Canada would be more advanced than Scotland, I wrestle with the frustration that across the board, digital life here is no more progressive than back home.

Before you accuse me of bitching about my new country, just hear me out. I am critical of Canada, but I was critical of the UK too. I just can’t stand the idea of “good as it gets”; things can always be improved, we can always learn from before. Business should be a constant evolution, adaptation, evaluation. We compete globally now, so I don’t want to apologise if I arrive here with alternative solutions. Likewise at home, there was a lot of conversation, but not always so much action. And actually, not one Canadian (friend or colleague) has accused me of arrogance in my frustrations about the tools and technologies employed over here. I think across the board, I’ve been encouraged to speak up and in my one-month evaluation, my boss specifically advised me to stop apologising, speak up more in meetings and proceed with confidence. It’s my British network that advises me to proceed with caution in this brave new world. My colleagues here already tease me about my carbon-copy rants (I hate the CC field), but they’ve also tried to accommodate that feedback. Although I am aware I’m still in my three-month probation, I’m already Facebook friends with a few of the team, have been out for drinks with them on a number of occasions and we had a ball with group bowling (that pun is for Rich). They really are awesome, which you shouldn’t take lightly because I was genuinely heartbroken to leave my last company. And yet here I am, falling for an agency that was once pitched to me as a ferocious sweat-shop. Note to non-industry folk, all agencies wring the hours out of their staff, it’s the nature of running a service business, but if you hire decent people and cultivate an open and creative atmosphere, it’s a compromise and lifestyle many willingly adopt.

Culturally, there are obviously big differences too between my last agency and my current employer. Presentations here are to inform, rather than motivate/provoke. Arguments are rational and though we think to the nth degree about creative for clients, somehow colleagues just aren’t worth the investment (which is bizarre considering they’re actually the most important stakeholders).  Frankly, PowerPoint just isn’t the same without porn (Torontonians you’re missing out). The slides I’ve seen in Toronto are often text-heavy and devoid of imagery, a view that I’ve based on meetings inside and outside of work (though I acknowledge exceptions exist). Working life here is packed full of acronyms and jargon… and though I agree that’s largely down to the type of client account we manage (I have just one client here), I also think we’ve lost sight of thinking “human”. Naturally I have to bear in mind that I’ve joined mid-year and therefore mid-campaigns/projects, so to a certain extent I have minimal control over what I can influence. Still I’m trying and even if the environment is generally less progressive (or at least more cautious), I have to admit that there has been abundant support for improving the way we work.

Switching from a strategy/planning role back to a client-servicing position has been interesting. On the one hand, after complaining about so few team meetings at my last agency, Karma has caught up with me and I now have precious little time to do “real work”. By the time I’m back from the washroom, two more meeting requests have flown in and they align themselves in Outlook like Tetris blocks. From having spent my days wrestling with those bigger questions and disappearing into research for hours, I now spend a large part of my day pushing around emails, aggregating information and  working across four different time zones. Most of my client numbers are 20 digits long, which is a bugger when you make a mistake when dialling. I also haven’t met any of my client contacts, who are based in the US, Vancouver, UK, Italy and France. Even with my long-term commitment to client and country, I may never get to meet the people I speak to on the phone.

Although I have joked in the past that planners are like Time Lords, I didn’t arrive in Canada declaring I had all the answers. When talking about life over here to friends and family back home, I sometimes think they’re looking for a clear indication of mood and acceptance. If you’ve read my past posts, you’ll have some idea of the hurricane of emotion that accompanies such a giant life change. Three months into Canadian life, I’m not experiencing such epic highs and lows. On a daily basis, I still keep asking myself is this where I want to be forever? And honestly, I just don’t know. Some days I shiver with excitement to be here and some days, things drive me nuts. However, missing home isn’t quite the same as wanting to return and as I keep telling my parents, worry enough, but don’t worry too much.

Upon reading back this post, I guess you could draw one of several conclusions… (not necessarily mutually exclusive)

  • I’m one grumpy bitch…. critical of life in the UK and in Canada, despite being surrounded by the nicest people in the world
  • I still believe we have everything to play for (recession or no recession!), because we’re capable of so much more
  • It’s amazing how quickly you become sentimental, whilst discovering the grass is no greener on the other side

The British agency…

A Canadian in Scotland

What is it about Canadian men with beards who always pull this expression?

More than words...

For better and for worse...


The family 2.0

The Canadian agency…

Bowling awesomeness

Another angry Canadian man and two lovely Canadian ladies

Canadian men love facial hair

See, Canadians know how to smile for the camera

Another award-winning smile (and possibly a very high bowling score)

Afternoon tea in the office, British Day I

Fruit scones, Devonshire clotted cream and jam

From the second floor to the 31st floor

Because we do what we say on the tin