Rethink expanding to New York City

Rethink is ready to take on America, opening an office in New York City early next year and joining independent agency network Dawn.

The move comes after a year of strong growth in Canada (a 45% increase in headcount, to 250) and expanded and new U.S. only mandates, said chief operating officer Caleb Goodman. The agency handles Molson-Coors’ Arnold Palmer and Vizzy brands in the U.S. for example, and has also been doing more Kraft-Heinz work south of the border. It also won the protein bar brand RXBar out of Chicago.

But the agency will be taking a go-slow approach, with just a handful of staff to start. “Right out of the gate, minimally four and then we’ll add as we go,” said Goodman. There is space for about 20 people in the new 7th Avenue office, and they hope to land up to three U.S.-based clients by the end of 2022. Rethink will be hiring for all departments, but the short-term focus will be on creative, strategy and production, he said.

The agency operates with what it calls a “long hallway” model, with staff from any office working on any business at any time—meaning that employees in Vancouver could be working on a New York-based client and, in time, New York-based staff could be working on Canadian projects. Nevertheless, the agency’s growth curve and possibilities of a new market convinced them to open the new office.

“We hit that moment of we have enough business financially, and there is demand, increased creative opportunities, and opportunities to hire Rethinkers from a new talent pool, so all of those factors lead to the time is now,” said Goodman. “Lord knows this past year would have been a little bit simpler had we had producers and creatives on the ground in the U.S.”

In the early days, the office will be managed by Toronto’s key leadership trio of Goodman, chief creative officer Aaron Starkman, and chief strategy officer Sean McDonald, who will each take turns on the ground as needed. They didn’t want to hire a big name from outside of Rethink to quickly build the new office, said Goodman.

“We’ve learned that we need to transplant the culture and processes of the agency, and all of the things that make us unique. That’s how we did Toronto. That’s how we’ve done Montreal. That’s how we’ll do New York,” said Goodman. “The theme really is about responsible growth.”

They want to grow, but they don’t have to chase growth either, he said.  “We’re owner-operators, we’re never selling, so this isn’t about adding another office so we can fatten up the agency to get ready for sale.”

Rethink had been looking at New York, and joining Dawn not only helped facilitate that expansion, but also means relationships with a handful of new agency partners.

“Rethink is one of the most talented and creatively celebrated agencies in the world. We are proud to support their continued global expansion,” said Dawn CEO Bob Kantor in a release. Dawn was launched in 2019 by Kantor, who was previously Global CMO at MDC Partners, and independent media and analytics agency Crossmedia Inc. Other members include Pereira O’Dell and BleacherReport.

Rethink is leasing its office space from Crossmedia, and Goodman sees short-term opportunity in that relationship to enhance the work it does for its clients. “They are great independent media agency, they’ve got a really dynamite data product which we can get access to, which is a real advantage, and can often be a disadvantage to independent agencies, which don’t have access to deep data sets.”

David Brown