Lifelong Crush charts new course with addition of Christina Yu and Derek Blais

Lifelong Crush confirmed Wednesday that Christina Yu and Derek Blais have been named chief creative officers, as the agency looks to move up into a new competitive bracket.

Broken Heart Love Affair created Lifelong Crush as its content and production arm in August 2020, just a few months after opening at the start of the pandemic. With its team of top creative and strategic partners, BHLA wanted to focus entirely on brand transformation, while Lifelong Crush would handle the other creative and communications across the consumer journey.

Since then, BHLA has grown to more than 50 staff, building a reputation for brash, ambitious creative and strategic thinking. Lifelong Crush has grown to 24 full-time employees, but has for the most part remained in the background, overshadowed by BHLA’s high-profile successes.

Hiring Yu and Blais (left and centre in top photo, along with Lifelong Crush managing director Caroline Kilgour), two of Canada’s most well-known and widely regarded creative talents, reflects the larger BHLA operating philosophy of “talent hoarding”—adding as much top talent as possible and trusting that the work to support it will follow.

But it also suggests Lifelong Crush could step out of BHLA’s shadow while still working closely with the agency on some projects—”two distinct but complementary centres of creative excellence,” is how they are describing it. There’s a new visual identity, agency ethos/tagline, “Unconstrained ideas forever,” and a manifesto: “Crushes are not rational. Are not stoppable. They don’t sleep. They are a pit that live in your stomach. An ache in your heart. They are 3 am. They are more powerful than thought. They have no fear… Crushes are the muse to write songs, books, sculptures, movies, buildings, letters, ink on arms.”

“The desire was to always create something where [Lifelong Crush] was equal in terms of its presence, if not bigger [than BHLA],” said Yu. “Now, by hiring us and probably a few other people, there’s a true desire to build the place.”

“Lifelong Crush continues to share clients with BHLA, and will continue to provide content and production support,” said Beverley Hammond, founding partner and chief business officer. ”But with the addition of this strong creative leadership the organization is evolving to a full-service creative agency with a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving.”

While the addition of such high calibre and accomplished creative talent may seem to blur the lines between BHLA and Lifelong Crush, the distinction is clear for Yu and Blais: BHLA focuses on brands requiring a total overhaul, while Lifelong Crush focuses on big ideas for established brands.

Advertising is about promoting and sustaining brands, said Yu. But the focus these days tends to be on tactical executions driven by short term promotions. “Everything is so 15 minutes,” she said. “And I think a lot of people have forgotten about the longevity of a brand.”

That is where Lifelong Crush plans to excel. “We want to create brands with lasting impressions… Brands with pulses, where it’s not just one big blip or one big thing, it’s like a continuation of some great work that goes on and on and on,” she said.

“If you go binary, Broken Heart Love Affair will kind of build that brand, and then Lifelong Crush would keep that heartbeat beating,” said Blais. “Are we ever going to do our own brand work? Of course we will… But there’s definitely going to be a focus on continuing to put out really culturally interesting and culturally relevant work for our clients.”

Yu, who emerged as a star of Canadian advertising during the mid to late 2000s, was most recently with OstrichCo Ltd., though she also had her own creative consultancy. She also started directing more in recent years, and was on the roster for production company Merchant. She will become a partner in Lifelong Crush with the acquisition of her personal business, which will see Kelseys Original Roadhouse, Truss Beverages, and Lee Valley Tools added to the Lifelong Crush client list.

Blais has been SVP and executive creative director at BBDO for the past two years, and with BBDO for more than 10 years in total. Like Yu, he has a long list of creative awards on his shelf,  including creative lead on “Missing Matoaka,” which just won 14 Pencils at the One Show in New York, making it one of Canada’s most successful campaigns on the world stage in recent memory.

Career progress is mostly viewed as a path leading upwards, with an unending pursuit of promotions and increasingly more senior titles, said Yu. But a trusted client told her recently that at a certain point, your career isn’t about going up, it’s about going sideways. “And when you go sideways, it means you’re finding the people that you love working with and the clients you love working with.”

Both Yu and Blais have crossed paths with the key partners at various points. Yu even hired Lifelong Crush managing director Caroline Kilgour as a young account supervisor at Red Urban. “I just remember thinking how amazing she was and thought she’s going to be someone I really want to work with, no matter where she goes,” said Yu.

And despite reaching the upper echelons of Canadian commercial creativity, both are enthusiastic about being part of this high-powered creative collective, at an agency with ambitious goals, and by the prospect of working with young creatives at a time the industry is facing unprecedented change.

Work that can sustain a brand has become more difficult as media fragments, budgets get tightened, ad blocking technology becomes ubiquitous, and most of Gen Z tunes out anything that looks like traditional advertising, said Blais. “The work has to get even more creative in the way that we show up in the marketplace,” he said. “That’s the kind of work that creatives love working on… that’s the stuff that really gets my brain going and gets Christina’s brain going.”

David Brown