Doner returns to Canada with merger of Union and 6Degrees

After a decade away, the Doner agency brand is back to Canada, with agency holding company Stagwell merging creative shop Union with shopper marketing and data specialists 6Degrees.

The new DonerNorth has 110 employees, and will be led by Catherine Marcolin as president; Lance Martin, chief creative officer and co-founder of Union; and Adrianne Gaffney Wotherspoon, chief strategist and former managing partner of 6Degrees (left to right in top photo).

Doug Muir, who had been executive creative director at 6Degrees, also joins DonerNorth in the same role, though Derek Cairns, who had been managing partner at 6Degrees, is not with the new agency.

Stagwell was formed through a summer merger between Stagwell Marketing Group and MDC Partners after years of challenges for the latter. MDC first acquired a stake in Doner in 2012, at which point the agency had already closed its offices in Canada.

MDC created the Doner Partners Network in mid-2019, and while it included Doner offices in Detroit, L.A. and Connecticut, it did not reintroduce the agency brand to Canada. Rather, the network was comprised of Union, 6Degrees, influencer marketing and PR offering Veritas (with Meat&Produce), and brand strategy and digital PR agency KWT Global.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be back in Canada. Doner has always had a shared sensibility with this country,” said David Demuth, CEO of Doner and DPN Chair in a release announcing the move. “Now, with DonerNorth, we are graduating into something that smartly addresses where the puck is going, and not where it’s been.”

According to Marcolin, that means an agency model that addresses brands’ need to artfully merge data and shopper marketing insight with creativity.

“We find more and more, in talking with our clients, that this is what they need at this time. I think with Covid and budgets how they are, and new ways that consumers are shopping, they’re looking for ways to not only have big award-winning ideas, but converted into a sale,” she said.

It’s a form of performance marketing, which has a lot of appeal to marketers right now, although Martin said that DonerNorth is about clicks and creativity in equal measure.

“What the combination of these two agencies does is make performance work better, and not treat it as just mathematical and clicks, and bringing creativity to that. But it’s also making sure that our awareness work really ties into that below-the-line performance stuff as well,” he said.

“We’re hoping to create those big ideas that create brand love, but then also follow that right down the funnel.”

The growing interest in performance marketing has been driven both by demand for marketers to demonstrate meaningful return on their ad spend at the same time that media consumption and shopping behaviours become increasingly digital.

The shift has been complicated by growing demand for enhanced consumer privacy, including the imminent demise of cookies as a consumer tracking technology. That has led to greater interest among the big agency holding companies to update their digital marketing services, ideally with access to first-party data.

“A post-cookie world was a key consideration for DonerNorth,” said Wotherspoon. “Because of our focus on creative commerce, we are hyper focused on using CRM strategies that allow us to build first-party data for our clients as we prepare for what’s next.

“When it comes to privacy, it’s interesting: Consumers are often willing to give up information if the value exchange is there. Creative ideas on their own don’t necessarily translate into that value. But combined with our shopper background and predictive intelligence, we are now equipped to make this happen better than ever before.”

There have been a number of agency moves to combine creativity with lower funnel, data-driven marketing in the past year, including Publicis bringing back RazorFish, Juniper Park\TBWA’s launch of Scalpel, and Interpublic’s creation of Performance Art.


David Brown