As we turn one, we become three

The Message celebrated a milestone of sorts recently, with its 1,000th post. It arrived a few weeks after our “official” one-year anniversary, which came and went without any fanfare in late January.

That wasn’t a conscious decision, but the result of a head-down commitment to creating a new editorial product that would meet the high standards we set for ourselves when we first started talking about a new product dedicated to the Canadian marketing industry.

We were cautiously optimistic about what we might be able to achieve in Year 1, but to say the response has been gratifying—and more than a little humbling—would be a profound understatement.

We have seen our monthly visitors and newsletter subscribers grow week after week since our first article, and our reach has extended to more than 160 countries—Togo, Laos and Vatican City among them. So yes, Pope Francis (probably) reads The Message, and we suspect he might not be at all happy with some of you!!

Looking back through the first 12 months of The Message paints a picture of a vital and exciting industry, populated by interesting people doing interesting things. We have written about a digital marketer whose side hustle led to a job at NASA; a Mindshare employee who won (twice) on Jeopardy; a Canadian ex-pat who dressed in bubble wrap to land a job at a New York agency (he’s now at Ogilvy New York) and a Cossette employee who has become a champion of trans equality in the workplace.

We pledged from the beginning that we would endeavour to shine a light on some of the issues that matter, from diversity to the mental and physical toll the industry takes on employees, and the underlying forces utterly transforming the business for a digital age. We’ve made some headway in this regard, but not nearly enough—and rest assured it remains a priority as we move forward.


Whenever journalists and alcohol are together in the same room (a not uncommon occurrence), a conversation about creating something of their own invariably arises. Most times, these ideas are forgotten amid the next day’s throbbing head and imminent deadline. Every so often, though, one comes to fruition. This is one of those times.

I first encountered David Brown at Marketing magazine (RIP) in 2005. It was an inauspicious start to what would be an enduring professional relationship: Within days of his arrival, I was bristling at his decision to alter one of my carefully crafted ledes (we writers can be unbearably precious sometimes).

At the time, Marketing was still a weekly print magazine, with a full-time editorial team of at least 12, a pool of part-time contributors and a generous freelance budget. It remained like that for a few more years until we started to truly feel the effects of the digital media economy, as did the rest of legacy media, leading to a steady stream of cuts and downsizing.

Yet no matter how bad things got, Marketing‘s writers would always take solace in the industry we were covering. It could be so much worse, we would remind each other: we could be writing stories about a new industrial coating.

Instead, we were writing stories about advertising and media and creativity. Some ads were funny. Some goofy. Some were life-affirming. Others were sobering, even noble in their intent. The best of them delighted. They angered and outraged, swayed public opinion and perception. And they were often created by larger-than-life personalities with egos to match their seemingly boundless creativity.

David and I would eventually bond over our mutual love of English football (though I still find his support of Manchester United unforgivable), a fondness for dad rock bands like The Hold Steady, and a shared sense of humour that sustains us to this day.

As any entrepreneur can attest, good working relationships are fundamental to any successful venture. Recently, we’ve been fortunate enough to add a third member to our team in former Marketing publisher Libby Begg. She is a dynamo, whip-smart, a non-stop spinner of ideas (some of which you’ll see in the very near future), and a fierce and enthusiastic supporter of what The Message has done and what we want it to become.

Libby’s enthusiasm and smarts, combined with the backing and expertise of our mentors/business advisors Stephen Brown and Mike Girgis, will be a huge boon for The Message as we evolve our product in the months ahead.

We are endeavouring to come up with unique ways of covering this incredible industry, with everything filtered through a shared love of the craft. We are filled with admiration—and perhaps even a little professional jealousy—for people who can convey complex ideas succinctly, who seamlessly bring together the worlds of art and commerce.

None of us has ever created an ad, devised a brand strategy, or developed a media plan, and so we have pledged to never be needlessly critical of the work. Instead, our stated objective is celebrating (but not cheerleading) the industry, giving Canadian marketing the respect that befits its position as a top advertising market in the world while encouraging it to do more, to be bolder and braver and go further.

It has proven to be an all-encompassing endeavour. Between phone calls, texts and coffee meetings, David and I (and now Libby) probably spend more time together than any people except those who argue about whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher or who forgot to change the toilet paper roll.

We work remotely, but remain in near-constant touch about the “product:” that day’s story lineup, who’s writing that, who’s calling this person. There have been some disagreements, a few conversations through gritted teeth, but it is a wonderful working partnership.

David is measured, reasoned, a dogged reporter with zero tolerance for bullshit, possessing a dry wit and a sharp eye for nuance. His careful edits—always additive, never detractive—are sprinkled throughout what you’re reading here. I am impetuous, enthusiastic and prone to occasional moments of self-doubt (Ed. note. and a brilliant writer who cares passionately about every word). We’re a lot like a creative team, only without the plaudits and remuneration.

Our daily conversations are an oddball combination of the aggressively mundane and the bafflingly left-field: Comma placement, “said” versus “says,” is that a real ad, is this column too long (is it?). We’ve discussed ’em all.

Recently, we spent a good 45 minutes dissecting an ad for a female sexual enhancement product, a conversation that featured repeated mentions of the word “orgasm” and its variants.

At one point (right after I told David that the conversation was making me itch), we were struck by the absurdity of the discussion. We spent the next 10 minutes laughing about the conversations our jobs sometimes entail. We hope that just a mere fraction of that happiness and joy—as well as our enthusiasm for the industry we cover—is evident in what you see every day on The Message.

At a cocktail party last year, an entrepreneur with several start-ups to her credit shared a piece of advice that has stayed with us: “Don’t look down.” Thank you for sticking with us as we try to figure out what we’re all about. We’ll continue looking forward as we begin the journey to 2,000.

Libby Begg, David Brown and Chris Powell

Chris Powell