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An ad for BMO's community-oriented soccer sponsorship program. (BMO)
An ad for BMO's community-oriented soccer sponsorship program. (BMO)

Ad agency Cossette resigns long-standing BMO account Add to ...

After 10 years as the lead advertising agency for Bank of Montreal, Cossette is resigning the account.

The decision, announced Tuesday, comes amid a tumultuous time in bank marketing in Canada. Last September, TD Bank Group announced that ad agency Leo Burnett had won its advertising business away from longtime agency DraftFCB; and two weeks later, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce moved its ad business from agency Publicis to Juniper Park, following a review.

According to industry sources, Royal Bank of Canada’s advertising account is up for review as well. However, that process may take some time since the bank is a premier national partner of the Canadian Olympic Committee, and is likely tied up with preparing its marketing program for the Games in Sochi this winter. Representatives from RBC did not respond to requests for comment. That would mark four of Canada’s Big Five banks having reviewed their advertising businesses in just over a year.

Cossette received word that BMO had decided to put its advertising business up for review in June, shortly after the bank appointed Joanna Rotenberg as its new chief marketing officer. While this type of review is a fairly run-of-the-mill process for companies, Cossette decided not to participate in the pitch to keep its client.

“It just didn’t feel right,” Cossette president and CEO Brett Marchand said in an interview.

Pitches are costly for ad agencies, which are forced to devote time and resources to creating work they only get paid for if they win the account. Increasingly, many pitches involve creating speculative work – adding to the time and financial cost to an agency. While Mr. Marchand said that he did not know what would be involved in this process, he said that to his knowledge, other recent pitches at competitors CIBC and TD involved spec work.

“Cossette has been a terrific partner and we wish them continued success. We have an agency review under way for our Canadian business,” Paul Deegan, vice-president of government and public relations at BMO, said in a statement. The bank declined to answer further questions.

Word began circulating in the industry about the possible change this summer, after BMO hired Y&R – which handles its advertising business in the United States – to create the “Make the BMOst of summer” ad campaign.

During the pitch process, BMO will likely favour ad agencies that are able to work in the U.S. as well as Canada. The bank has emphasized that it is focusing on acquiring business around the Great Lakes, citing a pool of 71 million potential clients on both sides of the border in that region. Cossette, while it has been making efforts to grow globally, does not have a meaningful U.S. presence. With that in mind, agency management questioned whether the investment in pitching the business would be worth the cost.

“I asked Claude [Lessard, chairman of Cossette’s holding company Vision7 International] and he couldn’t remember any accounts Cossette has ever resigned. It is a big deal,” Mr. Marchand said, adding that the decision was made after a “gut-wrenching five days on the phone” and multiple discussions with BMO.

The resignation of the BMO account will not lead to any layoffs, Mr. Marchand said, since Cossette has recently won new business. That includes new client Intact Insurance and other accounts that have yet to be announced.

BMO moved its advertising account to Cossette in October, 2003, after the bank was impressed by the “Profitez” campaign that Cossette created for the company in Quebec. At the time, it had been working with ad agency Arnold Worldwide Canada (formerly Vickers & Benson Arnold) for 17 years.

Cossette went on to create the “Making Money Make Sense” brand for BMO.

“It’s perplexing, to be honest,” Mr. Marchand said of the advertising shifts in the Canadian banking sector this year. “Not in all cases. Some of the work has been not as good as others. ...

“I came from [Procter & Gamble]. We didn’t change our agency unless – traumatic things had to happen. I never fired an agency in my 12 years as a client.”

Considering BMO’s U.S. focus, however, Mr. Marchand said he could understand why the bank decided to shop around.

“It’s a natural thing to do, given the situation,” he said.

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