Why Cossette looked abroad to strengthen its strategy department

Cossette has boosted its strategy department in recent weeks with three new senior level strategists—all hired from outside Canada.

Joining as head of strategy, Max Keane was most recently SVP and director of brand strategy at Arnold Worldwide in the U.S., although he has spent most of his career in the U.K. Senior strategy director Sohail Bhatia started his career in his native Australia before moving to London and then the U.S., where he was most recently with Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners. Geraldine Tixier has spent most of her career in France, most recently as strategy director at DDB Paris. She, too, joins Cossette as senior strategy director.

The hirings speak to the growing importance of strategy and planning, both at Cossette and across the industry as a whole. The discipline has been around for decades, but recent years have seen increased recognition that agencies must solve a brand’s problems through not just creative ideas, but with great insights based on deep understanding of customers and consumer trends.

“I often joke that this is the time of the rise of the strategist,” said Cossette’s chief strategy officer, Cat Wiles. “I do think that in a way strategy is the engine of growth for agencies.”

Cossette also hired two new strategy directors last year, with Max McBeath joining from VCCP London and Robyn Hutman joining from Ogilvy Toronto.

The fact that Cossette had to go abroad to find its new talent also speaks to the fact that the discipline is still relatively underdeveloped in Canada when compared to other markets and the current needs and expectations. “Strategy as a discipline is still relatively new in Canada,” said Wiles.

In markets like the U.K., for example, there is a long history of marketers working with strategists and planners earlier in the process to crack their brand problems, said Wiles, who joined Cossette from the U.K. in late 2019 (meaning she’s spent twice as long working from home than at Cossette’s Toronto headquarters).

Cossette needed more talent with that kind of experience and a record of contributing to effective campaigns, said Wiles. “We started the search in Canada. That is where we would always start,” she said, pointing to the fact that the agency hired Hutman from Ogilvy Toronto.

“The kind of tasks that we’re being asked to do might be much further upstream than other candidates in Canada have had experience doing,” she said. “We have a duty to look at the evolving needs for our clients, and if we need to, to look further afield for the right people with the right experience we are after.”

But beyond the greater experience, the agency also benefits from bringing in international perspective. “One of the things I’ve always believed in is the power of cognitive diversity,” said Wiles. “I think that’s the kind of superpower [that leads] to creating world class work, especially in strategy… Having a really rich and varied department is going to get to great work and results.”

All three of the new recruits have relocated to Canada, and Cossette said that Keane will lead planning on McDonald’s Canada and TD. Cossette is also believed to be involved in the pitch for the TD creative business, a mandate that could include the U.S.

David Brown