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The message makers: how Winnipeg's advertising agencies put it all together.

It's Saturday, February 27 and more than 600 people have gathered in downtown Winnipeg for the Fifth Annual Signature Awards, the advertising industry's night to shine.

Though it's been a downright ugly year for everyone, there is a large turnout -- 200 more than last year. At stake are 40 industry-valued accolades from the Advertising Association of Winnipeg. The cut glass trophies are for those who successfully "|created~ specific thought patterns in the minds of other humans."

That's the definition of advertising, described by the industry association. Those thought patterns are important. When consumers are confronted by a dizzying array of products from soap to beer, the message makers contend they will choose a particular brand based on the belief that one is better than the rest -- a belief planted in your brain by advertisers.

The messages are on the back of buses, on signboards; they come to you on your car radio, they jump out at you from your television set. These messages are trying to get your attention to buy something, go somewhere, but in main they want you to act -- now.

"The point of advertising is to garner loyalty," says Jake Marks, president and general manager of Foster/Marks. "Once you've got it you can move product, but loyalty is fleeting -- that's the problem with it. Unless you keep at it, you will lose loyalty."

Linda Vernon, president of McKim Communications Limited, says part of the strategic planning process at her agency is to ask, "if this product was a person, would you sit next to them on the bus? That's how we pull out the emotions surrounding a product and use them."

Colin Ferguson, vice-president and general manager of Palmer Jarvis Advertising, says his job is to "find good clients, fall in love with them and their products and find every possible way to make a difference to their bottom-line."

Although participants in the Signature Awards -- there were close to 300 entries -- may do a smashing job of promoting peas, or corporations, or car dealerships little is known about the industry here.

That's because The Advertising Association of Winnipeg keeps no statistics on how many people work in the business, how many firms there are, how much money is spent annually on advertising. How much money agencies earn, and most are quite guarded about who some of their clients are, is not discussed. We are told if they give away too much in an interview the other guy may use it to steal business.

When McKim's Vernon was asked what fee range her agency charged she was reluctant to answer until informed of the rates at competitor Foster/Marks. Jake Marks says his rates are between $50 and $200 per hour. "Hmmm," mused Vernon upon hearing the information, "I'll have to raise my rates."

McKim was charging between $65 and $175 per hour, according to Vernon.

Ferguson keeps a constant reminder of the changing nature of his business pinned to the wall beside his desk at Palmer Jarvis. 'Every 24 hours the world turns over on a guy who was sitting on top of it.'

Perhaps there is cause to be worried. In 1975 there were 16 large full-service agencies in Winnipeg. Today there are only three. And the dramatic changes do not stop there. In fact change seems to be one of the only constants in the industry in 1990s.

The recession has really hurt the message makers. Says Brian Brooks, president of Howes, Waldon Associates Limited, "We deal with vulnerable budgets in tough times. It's relatively painless for companies to chop an |advertising~ budget." A consistent rule of thumb is that a firm should spend four per cent of sales on promotion -- bad times means that four percent is often sucked back into a company to keep it alive.

The way agencies make their money is also undergoing a fundamental shift. In the past, the majority of the income came from a 15 per cent commission paid by a media outlet to the agency that booked air time, or bought space in a publication. Out of that commission came salaries for the creative people plus all other staff, overhead and profit. That commission system is starting to crumble in North America. In the 1980s clients started getting tired of supporting what they saw as inflated agency overhead. Some media, particularly radio and television, started doing an end run around the agencies, which they saw as gatekeepers, and began dealing directly with clients, and many agencies themselves decided they would rather get paid for what they produce than for what they buy and are now shifting to a fee-for-service system says PJ's Colin Ferguson.

Another reason for the shift could be the growth of media buying services, firms that see the 15 per cent commission as a large enough niche to carve out substantial profits. In Toronto - the ad capital of Canada -- Media Buying Services Ltd. books more than $200-million worth of media per year -- that's all it does, buy advertising space.

Corporate Media Services Ltd., is doing the same thing on a smaller scale. "We've taken one part of the services offered by a full service agency and turned it into a separate business," says president Larry Licharson. Licharson says he started the company in 1985 in order to offer clients advice on buying media for clients nationally. He says that clients gain in two ways. They find the best source for their creative ideas and ad content and then turn to someone with good knowledge of mass media demographics.

That creative work still comes from the full-service agencies -- and the smaller outlets which have popped up during the past few years. But there have been plenty of changes in that department as well.

Technology is making the mechanics of ad creation easier but as a result clients want things much faster. Brooks, of Howes, Walden describes the "learning curve" as brutal. As newer, different and above all faster ways of doing things come along, it's the young who thrive. "The old skills, the ones you got by being an apprentice, are gone," says Brooks. "Things are changing so fast now there really are no teachers, you don't have some of the old touchstones you can go to -- a lot of this is being invented monthly."

This technology means many suppliers to the ad business are gone. Typesetting houses are virtually extinct. Soon the film used to make negatives from which pages are printed will be replaced by digital cameras.

Ed Beddome is president of b/w data services inc., a supplier of art, type and film to agencies. Beddome is a veteran of the Winnipeg industry who feels all the changes aren't positive. "A lot of people are coming into the business who have not had a background in the craft," he says. "As a result there's a hell of a lot of crap going out now."

Carl Radimer, a partner in Smith Radimer Communications Inc., says the proper use of demographic data bases conceivably means an advertiser can reach "the exact 12 people in Winnipeg who are going to buy a Jaguar."

For Brian Brooks, who has plenty of high-tech computer gear, comfort is found in the fact that humans can never quite be eliminated. "Creative is the constant in the industry," he says. "We have new tools to work with but it's creative thought which is the magic behind a campaign and so far no technology has replaced that."
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Title Annotation:advertising services in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Author:Ryan, Bramwell
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:May 1, 1993
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