A new all-star Canadian creative agency officially launched in Toronto Monday called Broken Heart Love Affair.
The nine-person agency is led by Beverley Hammond as chief business officer, Jay Chaney as chief strategy officer, and a chief creative triumvirate of Todd Mackie, Carlos Moreno and Denise Rossetto. The five partners will run the business together, without anyone assuming the role of president.
The new agency will not be starting from scratch: it replaces Hammond’s previous shop Republic, and therefore opens with a handful of clients including Kids Help Phone, Kruger, and Houston-based Everest Insurance.
“But it is not a rebrand of Republic, this is an entirely new organization,” said Hammond.
How it all began…
The roots of the agency go back about a year, after Chaney left his previous work with Koho and was freelancing for Hammond. They started talking about how marketers must become more focused on their brands and on earning the love of consumers.
Over several months, Chaney brought Moreno, Rossetto and Mackie into the conversations. All of them agreed that for some time marketing has been overly focused on targeting and data, rather than building brands and creativity. “And for a while, in a weird way, this group was out of fashion in some senses,” said Rossetto.
But the partners also sensed a shift, a return to the power of creativity and strategy to connect with consumers in deeper ways. If they had any doubts, Chaney kept sending them articles supporting the theory, such as McDonald’s hiring Wieden + Kennedy in the U.S.
“This group kept getting together and talking about ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could just focus on brands again, and having people fall in love with them,'” said Mackie. “And we felt like the pendulum should be swinging back… and it just started to feel like the timing might be magical for us, because what gets me out of bed in the morning is when I can transform the way someone feels about a brand.”
Rossetto said that before being approached by Moreno and Chaney, she hadn’t even considered starting her own agency. “But every time we got together, there was this energy and magnetism, and we just kept reading more about how this is where some people in the industry want to go, and we want to go there too. And we just couldn’t help ourselves.”
Why “Broken Heart Love Affair”?
The name was inspired by the “why” behind their agency vision. It alludes to the challenges of the industry in recent years, and the determination of those working in it to keep doing great work. It’s also about getting people to fall in love with brands again. For Moreno, the name is about that familiar feeling of heartbreak when an agency takes what they think is a great idea to a client, only for the client to not like it.
“But that broken heart is what fuels us to come back the next time and do something even better, more innovative, more passionate, funnier, more culturally relevant,” he said.
That’s a lot of senior (ie. expensive) talent for a small shop…
First, as Hammond said, they are starting with a small roster of clients already. “We kind of skip that startup phase,” she said. Each of the five partners is in this for the long haul, even with the seemingly unavoidable COVID-induced recession.
But there’s also a business reason for such a talent-heavy model, which goes back to fundamental changes in marketing, said Chaney. For too long, he said, brands over-invested in digital and targeting.
“They became hooked on the drug of being able to see people click on ads but they mistake efficiency for effectiveness,” he said. Because of that, agency composition even started to shift—emphasizing digital ad tech rather than big ideas and creative thinking.
It’s not that BHLA believes that digital targeting (and retargeting) aren’t useful, but as brands find renewed interest in actually building brands rather than simply focusing on performance marketing, they’ll have greater need for agencies with deep strength in creative and strategy—ideally with top talent working directly on their brands, as opposed to managing junior teams.
“We’re a bunch of very senior talented people who have been in the business for 25 plus years. We know what hard work is and we know what good work is,” said Chaney. “And so what we say is that you’re not paying for the time, you’re paying for the experience.
“This isn’t a bunch of managers in the room,” he added. “These are a bunch of people that come together that want to create and work directly with clients…. And because we do that, we’re able to get to big solutions and accurate solutions very quickly.”
So Carlos left Peter for Denise?
Yeah kinda. Rossetto is married to Moreno’s long-time creative partner Peter Ignazi, and Moreno recently left Cossette (and Ignazi) so he could start Broken Heart Love Affair. “I’m still married,” said Rossetto. “And he’s still my friend,” added Moreno.
It was an unusual change, but it has been “oddly seamless,” said Rossetto. The three have known each other for years, she said, “and we’ve always been each others’s biggest fans and supporters.”
It is odd not seeing Ignazi every day, said Moreno, but it was just time for them to pursue two different dreams. “But you’ll hear from him through me,” said Rossetto. “He loves what we’re doing.”
On launching during the pandemic
They did talk about delaying the announcement, said Mackie. “The truth is, we feel like brands are going to need help now more than ever,” he said. “The brands that are loved the most are the ones that are going to survive, or are the ones that most people are going to be behind. There’s a lot of small businesses out there right now that probably need some help.”
It was tough to launch now, added Rossetto. “You want to be excited about launching a business…. It’s emotionally difficult when you see what’s going on and there’s very sick people.”
But the “why” behind BHLA has not changed, she said. “I think, more than ever, there needs to be a sense of humanity and I think this group has that. And we’re a small business now, too. We’re a small Canadian business. And we have to keep going. And we can’t just stop.”