Just two days into his new job at Toronto agency Diamond, Max Valiquette responds to a routine icebreaker question about how he’s doing by saying that he’s currently a nine. “That’s on a five-point scale,” he adds with a laugh.
With a LinkedIn profile that lists both an endorsement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a regular gig on Entertainment Tonight, Valiquette arrives from Publicis Canada as Diamond’s first chief strategy officer.
He is charged with bolstering the agency’s strategic capabilities and providing brand strategy, planning and consumer insights. “It’s a bit of a weird mandate in that it’s to do more of the same, but bigger and better,” says Valiquette of his role, which will also draw on his new business acumen with Publicis—where he was the lead or co-lead on “at least” 10 significant new business wins.
Winning new business is obviously good for driving agency growth, but the very process of pitching new clients is good for the agency too, says Valiquette, who will oversee a team of more than 20 strategists at Diamond.
“It forces us to think about new or different things,” he says. “Win or lose, [pursuing new business] benefits existing clients as much as it benefits the agency, because that’s how we make sure we’re not always thinking about the same thing.”
Family-owned Diamond has a staff of 120 people, and is producing work for prominent brands including General Mills, IKEA, Hershey’s, HBC, McCormick, TD Bank and the LCBO.
“A massive amount of growth is happening here, but it still feels awesomely entrepreneurial,” he says. “And we’re going to continue to grow and do even better work.”
Diamond CEO David Diamond says the new CSO role is “probably overdue” for the agency, which has added approximately 40 new staffers over the past two years. “We know that brand strategy is increasingly important so that you can win in every channel… and to be upstream with a thinker like Max is really an incredible moment for us as a company,” he says.
The three-month hiring process involved several candidates—”It wasn’t a role that we took lightly,” says Diamond—but Valiquette immediately established himself as the best candidate. “Upon my first meeting with Max, I thought ‘This is the guy you want on your business and in your business,” says Diamond.
What was it about Valiquette that made him stand out? “Have you met him?” says Diamond. “He’s an incredibly dynamic person who has the benefit of being inside the industry and outside the industry—running his own thing and being inside major shops for many years. He’s demonstrated that he’s a really great lateral thinker, and that had a lot of appeal.”
Valiquette says he wants to help the agency to continue to grow—not just via new clients and increased revenue, but by improved creative output and broader industry recognition. “I’m being pretty blunt about it, but we’re a little under-the-radar, and we don’t have to be,” he says. “There’s great work being done here.”
Valiquette’s arrival at Diamond comes as agencies place a greater emphasis on strategy as a means of helping their clients find an edge in an increasingly competitive environment. Last year Diamond partnered with the consultancy Accenture to launch a new offshoot called iD, which is committed to delivering “insight-driven, personalized marketing solutions at scale.”
“Strategy means a plan or process to reach a particular goal, but the way we tend to speak about it in agencies is that it means uncovering insights that are going to fundamentally transform a piece of business,” says Valiquette. “For me an insight is any new or deep understanding that leads to an opportunity; that’s what strategists have to do, and that’s what I’m going to do for our clients here.”
While Valiquette wasn’t actively seeking to leave Publicis, the role with Diamond ticked several boxes—including a hands-on role with a company that is more entrepreneurial in nature, as well as a seat in the C-suite and a position on the executive leadership team.
Diamond previously hired former FCB senior vice-president Alan Macdonald as chief operating officer in 2017, and last year promoted Dave Stevenson to senior vice-president, creative director.
“I love the feeling of pure entrepreneurialism,” says Valiquette. “And there is something really nice about fundamental decision-makers being located on the same floor as you are, much less the same country or continent.”