Back to blog

Starting a new practice: part 1

Program Group

About a year ago, Geoff Teehan, Dave Barclay and I began talking about a challenge in our business. We were debating what our role as a company would be in marketing programs.

When Geoff and I started we made a very conscious decision not to pursue marketing work like banners and microsites. We did this for several reasons.

  • We wanted to focus on user experience and didn’t feel we could be great at that and advertising work.
  • We wanted to differentiate from ad agencies and other online marketing firms.
  • We felt that we would be unable to compete with ad agency relationships.
  • There were other companies out there doing a very good job of online marketing.

In our original Web site, online advertising was not even listed as a service, nor was any online ad work posted in our portfolio. Nonetheless, clients came to us and asked us to help them with their online marketing.

As this side of our business grew, we could see ourselves becoming uncompetitive in the space. We saw agencies, who had typically lagged behind creatively online, beginning to show some really impressive work.

I look at business as having three core components, people, processes and values. The people, processes and values required to do online marketing are totally different than those needed to do user experience/site design.


The staff we have are great at building platforms. They have backgrounds in large scale site design. They geek out on new UI techniques and spend a lot of time deconstructing user flows and reading research on user behaviour. When you are developing marketing campaigns you want people who are thinking about totally different things.

Great marketing people think of big ideas, they tell stories, they are less encumbered about task completion and more concerned about brand experience delivery.

Our people were more concerned with creating the next Google Maps. We needed people who wanted to create the next Subservient Chicken.


Over the past 3½ years we’ve developed our own “process” for designing great user experiences but had no defined process for developing great marketing experiences.

As online advertising has evolved it needs processes for things like writing scripts, shooting video and working with media suppliers. All things we did not have the expertise or desire to do.


Our values were more functional in nature. We valued great UI, and while we could appreciate great advertising that was emotional in nature, it is a very different cultural value that rewards that kind of thinking.

The search begins

In the spring we began quietly telling people about this plan and got recommendations on who might be right for us. We knew that we wanted to approach our old friend Dave Stubbs.

I met Dave when I was at Modem Media and had tried to hire him several times throughout the years. I finally hired him as an Associate Creative Director in 2002 only to have Modem shut the Toronto office 6 weeks later. We had been looking for an excuse to work together ever since.

Dave is an idea machine, and loves marketing. We knew he was perfect to head up this new group.

After a few months of searching, we identified 3 other people we thought would be great to help us build this new group: Greg Bolton, Duncan Porter and Phil Bonnell. All of them had a passion for online marketing, all of them were amazingly talented and unfortunately they all worked at Organic.

We stressed for a long time about offering 4 top people at Organic jobs here. The perception of poaching would suck. After a lot of debate, calls to lawyers and stress we decided to make offers.

We figured that:

  • Creative teams moving to other companies is common in the ad business.
  • These guys were all looking for new opportunities so they were leaving anyways.
  • We had no conflicting clients and would not be taking any client relationships resulting in a loss of business for Organic.
  • We didn’t believe Organic would be that threatened by a 15 person local shop .

So now we have a fully functioning team dedicated to doing the best marketing programs possible. They are here to build the group and do great work for clients.

In pt 2. we will discuss why these guys decided to come here and their vision for our online advertising practice

Jon Lax More posts by Jon Lax