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Fun features of the new McCann office in Toronto include a curving staircase connecting the 13th and 14th floors.
Fun features of the new McCann office in Toronto include a curving staircase connecting the 13th and 14th floors.

PROPERTY REPORT

Ad agency McCann Canada rebrands itself Add to ...

The 13th floor didn’t exist, in name, in this building before. When the elevator doors open there, the first thing visitors see are bronze letters embedded in the floor reading: “Truth Well Told.”

It’s an unconventional, but definitely memorable, first impression for clients and employees entering the new Toronto offices of McCann Canada. The advertising agency that for a century has created brand identities for other clients has just rebranded itself in dramatic fashion.

The move to a bright, open-concept office at 200 Wellington West is the final stage of a program to re-energize the company formerly known as MacLaren-McCann.

“There are a lot of companies that put up a new logo and throw a cocktail party and consider themselves new and different, but that’s the worst way to do it and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment,” said David Leonard, the company’s chief executive officer.

Visitors to McCann Canada's new Toronto office on Wellington St. W. are immediately greeted with the ad agency's mantra. (Tom Arban)

Hired in 2015 to revitalize the agency, he began with a shakeup of the executive team. Then he started scouting out a new Toronto headquarters to replace the company’s antiquated warren of dark offices on Bay Street.

“There were eight floors of hallways of closed offices,” Mr. Leonard recalled of the old office. “I got lost many times the first months I was there. I wanted a much more welcoming and collaborative type of environment.”

He rejected the renovated warehouse spaces west of the city’s financial core that have become popular with other creative companies. “I’m not into the clichéd brick and beam with foosball tables and a slide show in the lobby. We’re more mature than that,” he said.

When he found three floors available at 200 Wellington West, a tower built in 1992 for the former Toronto Metro government, he submitted a proposal to McCann’s global headquarters in New York and its holding company Interpublic Group of Cos. Inc.

One meeting room's entire wall is dominated by the question, “What is truth?” (Tom Arban)

Their response was refreshing, he said. “They just wanted to get a feel for what I was proposing and they gave me a budget and then left me alone. I’ve worked in other holding companies that were involved in every decision that was made, even down to what brand of desks to order. That can get frustrating and time-consuming.”

Mr. Leonard brought in Toronto-based designers Bartlett & Associates Ltd. to rethink McCann’s new 60,000 square feet, whose former interiors had been stripped to the walls by the landlord Oxford Properties.

The goals of the rebranding were to create spaces that were open and loft-like and not so corporate, said Inger Bartlett, the company’s president. The McCann logo should be prominent along with the company’s long-running slogan, “Truth Well Told.”

One of the whimsical design features are walls lined with miniature figurines of the 300 members of the staff. (Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail)

“David definitely had strong ideas of how he wanted the space to look and how he wanted to have the McCann brand to show up to clients and staff,” she said. “But he was very open, and when we presented our ideas he had good suggestions so the whole experience was collaborative.”

A circular staircase created to connect the 13th and 14th floors is the centrepiece of the lobby. It also sets up a theme of curves in corridors and in furnishings. Cutting the large circle in the concrete between the floors required an entire weekend and the staircase that was fabricated off site had to be disassembled to get it up the elevators for installation.

A new, simplified McCann logo in capital letters appears on many walls, most dramatically at the end of a lighted hallway on the 14th floor. Its walls are lined with miniature figurines of the 300 members of the staff, made with a 3-D printing process that turns photographs into scale models.

The new work areas are now much more open, with collaboration spaces in the corners of the building as well as a number of glass-walled boardrooms with whimsical names inspired by wrestling moves, such as Spinebuster and Jackhammer.

The open design, created in collaboration with Bartlett & Associates Ltd., is a brighter approach than in McCann's former warren of closed offices. (Tom Arban)

To emphasize the theme of truth, as many of the finishes as possible are organic, including wool and leather upholstery and natural wood finishes, Ms. Bartlett said. Fabrics are in nautical shades of blue. Solid wood tables in the boardrooms were salvaged in the move from the former offices. Conference rooms have glass walls that act as whiteboards and bulletin boards for assembling creative ideas that are nicknamed “walls of truth.” And in one meeting room, an entire wall is dominated by the question, “What is truth?”

There are also design touches recalling memorable campaigns McCann has done for clients that include Coca-Cola, General Motors, Royal Bank of Canada and Wendy’s. The company was also the creator of the Hockey Night in Canada logo. It’s on the wall of the employee lounge nicknamed the Hot Stove Lounge, in honour of a historical space in Maple Leaf Gardens.

What turned out to the biggest challenge was to renumber what had been the 12th floor of the building to make it the 13th floor. When Harrison McCann started his company, he considered 13 his lucky number and McCann offices around the world are on the 13th floor, Mr. Leonard explained.

A steel sculpture of McCann founder Harrison King is on permanent display in the new office. (Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail)

But 200 Wellington was built with floors that skipped from 12 to 14 to avoid the number some tenants find superstitious. “I won’t tell you how much it cost to change the floor number from 12 to 13. You would be blown away by how much you have to change in a modern building – from the elevator controls to the fire systems,” Mr. Leonard said.

The final piece of the rebranding that’s still in progress was to tactfully retire MacLaren from the corporate name.

Mr. Leonard ordered the MacLaren name cut off the wall of the former office, reduced to ash and put in a burial urn. A symbolic amount of the ash will be launched into space later this year by Celestis Inc., a company that blasts the cremated remains of loved ones into low-Earth orbit, to burn up as a shooting star on re-entry into the atmosphere.

The spiral staircase informs the rest of the office design's curving shapes in the furnishings and corridors. (Tom Arban)

What’s in a name?

Today’s McCann Canada has seen a lot of names come and go in a century.

The New York-based McCann advertising agency opened its first Canadian office in Toronto in 1915, with a Montreal division following in 1918. The company merged with another company to become McCann-Erickson in 1930 and was restructured under the Interpublic Group name in the 1960s.

Meanwhile, the Toronto operations of U.S. agency Campbell Ewald was bought by Canadian Jack MacLaren in 1935 and renamed MacLaren Advertising. It purchased the Norris-Patterson Agency in 1942 and Goodis Goldberg Soren in 1975. That agency was acquired in 1988 by Interpublic Group’s Lintas Worldwide and it became MacLaren: Lintas

Another set of Interpublic acquisitions in the 1990s brought together MacLaren-McCann as the second largest agency in Canada. As part of the rebranding that started when David Leonard became the chief executive officer in 2015, the company has reverted to its original name, McCann Canada.

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