Why Telus is looking for new agencies, and what it means by ‘transformation’

Telus, one of Canada’s largest marketers and most valuable brands, has embarked on a series of invite-only agency RFPs as part of what it describes as a “transformational journey”—though that doesn’t mean the end of the critters.

Telus had worked mostly with The&Partnership for creative and strategy, and Cossette for media. For a period, it combined resources from both agencies into one team called The Greenhouse, although the two had been working separately since early 2022, and a number of other agency partners had been working across different lines of business and sub-brands. (Telus said nine agencies in total work on its business.)

While its mandate will evolve, The&Partnership will not have to participate in the review, remaining as lead creative and strategic agency for the Telus brand and mobility work. Cossette, however, is being asked to pitch to hold onto the media business.

In an interview with The Message, Lisa Mack, vice-president of brand marketing at Telus, made it clear that the “transformational journey” is less about the brand itself, and more about how the brand goes to market in terms of efficient creative production and media.

In its latest brand ranking, Kantar concluded that Telus was the 5th most valuable brand in the country, behind Bell at #3, and ahead of Rogers at #9. But Telus will not “rest on the laurels,” said Mack, and is looking for ways to innovate and grow the brand.

The context for review is largely shaped by three key interconnected dynamics. First there is the expansion and diversification of the business into new verticals and territories. Telus reported $13.4 billion in revenue in 2021, and has moved aggressively into areas like healthcare and agriculture in recent years.

Second, Telus will continue to put a much greater emphasis on purpose and how it is contributing to Canada and society at large, said Mack. Finally, there are the changes to advertising, media and marketing itself. “We’re evolving the agency model to address our diverse needs, and really making sure that we are equipped with the right best-in-class partnerships across the ecosystem to help us on that journey,” she said.

Working with a search consultant, Telus has already extended invites to the agencies it wants to take part in the reviews. In a release, it said it will be “augmenting” its roster of agencies for tier 1 strategic and creative work—while The&Partnership remains lead on brand and mobility, Telus will look for a new agency to lead its home solutions line of business, for example.

Mack said it’s unlikely the search for additional strategic and creative agency partners will lead to a shift away from its famous “critters” advertising platform, which Telus has used for more than two decades.

In early 2021, Telus tweaked its longstanding tagline slightly, from “The Future is Friendly” to “Let’s Make the Future Friendly,” as part of its efforts to emphasize its commitment to brand purpose. But even with that change, it continued to rely on its animal advertising.

“That really helps us bring the friendly elements of our brand to life in such a powerful and recognizable way,” she said. “I wouldn’t expect you to see our critters go away anytime soon. I think they’re a core part of our brand iconography.”

Instead, Telus is more interested in transformation in terms of its media and creative execution (which Telus calls Tier 2 and 3 creative and production), with an “extended workbench” model, meaning agency resources working inside Telus.

“Our media business is up for review. And we are structuring that to make sure that we’re focusing not only on innovation, but also on data, analytics, attribution—all of the things that you would expect us to want to continue to focus on,” said Mack. “We want to make sure that we have best-in-class understanding of our media and efficiency across the full funnel.”

The motivation is similar in the search for new creative partners. “When you think about creative in the performance space, and being able to leverage technologies to churn out better, more audience-targeted, specific creative, faster and cheaper, [it] augments that media efficiency,” she said. “It’s efficiency through creativity, and efficiency through innovation, and efficiency through data and technology and analytics and attribution.”

David Brown