Two of Winnipeg’s leading agencies announce merger

One of Canada’s oldest agency brands—almost as old as the country itself—has a new, much younger digital partner.

McKim Communications, which calls itself “Canada’s first advertising agency” and traces its roots back to Montreal in 1889, has formally merged with 25-year old Sherpa Marketing—a union of two Winnipeg agencies with designs on winning business across the country.

The merger represents two different though complementary agencies coming together to provide a more complete offering to clients, said McKim president and CEO Peter George. Sherpa has specialized in digital marketing, while McKim’s reputation has been for strategic and more traditional creative services. Combined, the two agencies have about 50 employees.

George and Sherpa president Marty Fisher first started talking about merging in September 2019. “I was looking for a digital group, either the right person to build it, or a digital agency to buy,” said George. “When we came across each other, Marty was looking for a creative agency to buy.”

Talks cooled when the pandemic hit, as both agencies dealt with the early weeks and months of the crisis. They also started working together informally on different projects, working well together and providing better integrated solutions for their clients, said George. By the fall, as business started to recover from the initial shock of the pandemic, they started to once more talk about merging. “We just finally pulled the pin in December and said let’s get this done,” said George.

“Our combined capacities will enable us to win more national and international work as we continue to excel in agriculture, financial services, financial technology, post-secondary education, tourism, healthcare and government verticals,” said Fisher in a release announcing the merger. “Together, we are positioned for expansion into a variety of sectors, including manufacturing and consumer brands.”

They’ll continue to maintain both the McKim and Sherpa agency brands for now, but when Covid allows, the Sherpa team will move into McKim’s office in downtown Winnipeg, while a new single or unified brand is likely in time.

“Ultimately we will probably end up amalgamating the company completely, we’re just not quite sure what that’s going to look like at this point,” said George. “Everybody’s working remotely anyway, so we figured it gives us another six months to figure out how we might do that operationally.”

Mergers often lead to staff reductions through “synergies,” but George said that’s not the intent in this case. “There’s very little duplication,” he said. Instead, they are “ramping up,” and hiring across a number of different departments. “It’s really gotten quite busy… from coast to coast there is opportunity,” he said.

For a long time, being based in Winnipeg was seen as an impediment to working on clients outside the province, but George thinks the pandemic may help to change some thinking in that regard. 

“There’s always been a stigma about Winnipeg that really bothers me: Why would you want an agency in Winnipeg?”  But together McKim and Sherpa want to compete for clients anywhere—and 15 months of working remotely has demonstrated great work can in fact be done from anywhere.

“With the way everything is now, and how we all got used to working from wherever, I think it will open it up to us nationally.”

David Brown