How Salt XC became the second fastest growing company in Canada

Toronto-based marketing and commerce agency Salt XC launched in the fall of 2019. By the start of 2020, they had grown to 15 employees and were picking up momentum. And then, just five months into business, the pandemic hit.

Other agencies cut back and laid off staff to preserve themselves during the historic global crisis that brought unprecedented economic uncertainty. But not Salt. It’s founders were so convinced of their model and their vision that they pushed ahead and grew month after month right through the pandemic. Today, the agency has expanded to 200 full-time staff in Canada and around the world, and was just named one of Canada’s fastest-growing businesses.

In the fifth annual Report on Business list of Canada’s top growing companies, The Globe and Mail put Salt XC second out of 425 companies. Measured by a three-year revenue growth rate, the ranking requires companies to apply after a minimum of four years in business. Salt applied for the first time this year, with a three-year revenue growth of 20,315%.

The achievement also makes Salt the first marketing services agency to enter the top 10 since the inception of the ranking in 2019. The only other agency to come close is No Fixed Address, who ranked 20th in 2020.

When founder Jeff Rogers (pictured above with colleagues Leanne Bernardo, Jil Lohnes, Matt McCoubrey, Allan Regan, Steve Medcalf and Chloe McKenzie) launched the company in 2019, he had taken a year off after leaving his post as president of experiential marketing agency Mosaic Canada, and COO of Mosaic North America.

He took the opportunity to travel the world and when he returned, he partnered with three industry professionals who had held senior posts with him at Mosaic: Leanne Bernardo, formerly VP of client services, Jill Eisnor formerly VP of strategy and measurement, and Matt McCoubrey, formerly senior VP of creative.

But the plan wasn’t to start another experiential agency. “We wanted to do something new, different and special, that wasn’t handcuffed by big company stuff,” said Rogers.

Their plan was to excel in strategy, creative and account service, while outsourcing finance, HR, and IT, so that they could be laser-focused on solving their client’s business problems. And while they came from agency known for more traditional experiential marketing, they launched Salt with a five-year vision that combined customer experience (CX), ecommerce and commerce.

Today, Rogers attributes their success to that experiential commerce model, which enables a full funnel approach to consumer engagement, using a combination of data, media and real life experiences.

An example of the model in action can be seen through Salt’s work on the launch of SmartWater’s alkaline product. The brand approached Salt with an objective to build brand awareness by targeting influential members of the fitness community. Salt created an experiential platform called the 9.5ph Club, leveraging fitness influencers to create UCG content, both organic and paid, as well as distribution, trial and brand experience opportunities in local gyms across the country.

Initial clients that were integral to the company’s success included Labatt, and RBC, followed by Kraft Heinz, Coca Cola, and Microsoft Xbox. “Having those first five in the first six months of our journey went a long way in terms of building energy, excitement, and momentum within the marketplace, so while most companies were furloughing people in our industry [because of Covid], we were doing the opposite,” said Rogers.

As much as possible, Salt has also tried to manage all strategy and creative in-house, leading to the development of specialist teams in media, creator, social, omni-shopper, XM and sponsorship. And they have taken an aggressive global approach to acquiring talent, securing senior team members including managing director of media, Alex Buckby, in Australia, managing director of influencer relations, Sarah Krafman, in Israel, and VP Zak Cosman in the US.

Salt has also set itself apart by embracing technology, seen notably in the development of its proprietary products, Media Mob, a closed marketplace of vetted production freelancers, and Front Runner, a paid social boosting platform.This year, Salt also purchased a company called Outpoint, an automated media mix modeling platform that empowers brands to grow revenue, and launched a company called Nectar, which helps build in-house media solutions.

New clients this year include Toyota Lexus, protein bar brand 1440, and beauty company Luxe, which recently launched Ariana Grande’s new perfume. Salt was also selected amongst RBC’s agency roster to support the brand’s 14-month plan around the Taylor Swift Eras tour.

This week, Salt welcomed 15 new employees, with another seven expected in the next two weeks, including ECD, CD, head of 3D-design, head of production, director of HR, and director of recruiting. “W’ell probably add another 10 in the month of November,” added Rogers.

As for where the growing team will direct their efforts, Rogers said the US is the frontier for Salt’s goals. “This year, we’ve added new clients in the US that have allowed us to really supercharge that business,” he said. While the main Salt office is here in Toronto, smaller hubs are in Montreal, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Austin, and as of recently, Brisbane, Australia. “The world has become borderless since Covid,” said Rogers. “And we have fully embraced that reality, which I think has been a key part of our journey.”

The other key to Salt’s continued growth, and what Rogers calls “the secret sauce” is investing back into the company’s employees. “The great thing about when you’re growing is it allows you to invest back in your people and invest back in your products. It allows you to have new and challenging roles for your employees that build a great culture,” said Rogers.

Emma Johnston-Wheeler