Holistic (business) thinking

When I graduated from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, now Ryerson University, in my early 20’s I thought I knew it all. My teachers had taught me how to spot a problem and solve it and I thought I was ready to solve the world’s worst dilemmas - especially those caused by poor advertising design + copy. I soon learned that spotting a problem was one thing, getting to the whole root of it another. So much for my simple text-book cause + effect solutions.

In my 40’s my Veterinarian introduced me to the concept of Holistic Health for Charlie, my constant companion + creative muse. It changed how I look at life – and business.

Last night I took my client to dinner at a restaurant I really like + that he likes as well. Here's why:

  • The menu is unique, carefully + thoughtfully prepared.
  • The food is predictably good.
  • The service is unique + predictably good.
  • Lighting is soft but good enough to read the menu with.
  • The layout enables you to have a good conversation with your guests while the conversations of others are muted.
  • Prices are reasonable.
  • There's ample street parking.

Can you see where I’m going with this? I give this restaurant my repeat business + refer others to it for a variety of reasons that together conspire to make this a predictably great evening - not just a great meal. Brand loyalty is a complex thing - and so is the brand's story. That changes the way I take a creative brief, look at the competitive landscape and how I evaluate the communication options that I come up with. Holistic thinking invites me to take into account as many direct + oblique variables as possible when I look at what's working, what's not and where we can go from here.

It's a better way to build a team and a brand because it applies to traditional, contemporary and disruptive brand work.


It ensures you see the tree, the trees, the forest as well as all the surrounding terrain.




Affordable Creative Solutions


I’ve been in the communications business for about 40 years now and the story is always the same: everyone wants to  work on the new big budget (TV) ad series, but no-one has the time to come up with a bunch of “cheap + cheerful” ideas because they add nothing to the creative's resume.*

Oddly enough, I don’t know a single ad agency that doesn’t use entry level pro-bono work to get their feet in bigger doors. 

What I love about this solution – is the “humanity”.

Most of us have entered a hospital through the Emergency department and invariably we feel that we’ve been there far too long, that the care is too slow + impersonal. We forget that the universal health care we enjoy in Canada comes with time and budget contraints that affect every aspect of our experience there. But despite the tight budgets and the multitude of challenges that our health care system faces, someone at this hospital identified a bite-sized problem with a bite-sized solution that helps this hospital show that it does care - even if you don’t think so. 

It’s a simple, affordable, long lasting solution that says “we care” in a language that everyone in the world can understand.

Nice work!  

*Actually . . . . it does. When I see this kind of stuff in a portfolio I see that you’re a media agnostic thinker + that you’re not a prima donna. 






Matvey Natanzon, world backgammon champion, died February 14th, age 51. Matvey was born in Russia, spent his early childhood in Israel, and moved to Buffalo with his family when he was around 14. He loved chess and initially hoped to make a living playing chess until he moved to New York and noticed that hustling backgammon, playing tourists who were wandered through New York's parks, was easier. So backgammon became his consuming passion. Like chess, it was a game of strategy, but it's also a game of luck thanks to a pair of dice and a doubling-cube. 

I got into backgammon in a big way in the summer of 1977. I was twenty-two and had just graduated from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto. I was working as a construction laborer during the day, played backgammon at night and on weekends, and when I didn’t have anything better to do, I looked for work in my field of study; management and marketing. One Sunday afternoon I went to visit my friend Jennifer, a lifeguard, at a local pool. While I was waiting for her to finish her shift, I got into a game of backgammon with one of her friends, Rick Pudwell, who was a Sales Representative for Marquee Magazine at the time. Before I left Rick gave me his card and asked me to call him on Monday. He promised to put me in touch with a few people who could help me get a job in advertising. On Monday he gave me three names.

  • Bill agreed to see me although he didn’t have job for me. The hour Bill gave me was invaluable because he helped me understand what to say and what to ask in my next two interviews. 
  • Mary didn’t have a job either but was so impressed with my performance in the interview (thanks to Bill’s brilliant coaching) that she promised to create a position for me if I didn’t find work elsewhere soon.
  • Peter didn’t even look at me in the interview. But a few days later he offered me my 1st white-collar job as a Media Estimator at Foster Advertising, Toronto.

The rest is history. I’ve been in the advertising agency business, on the agency and supplier side, in Canada and the U.S., in Media, Account Service, Creative Services, Management and Consultant capacities for forty-three years now. 

It’s been a very long + interesting journey. It began by chance over a frivolous game of chance with Rick - who I’d never met before. 

Rick decided to take a chance on me.

It was a long shot for him that is still paying dividend for me.      




Migration Marketing 2.0


In 1954 my parents left Germany and came to Canada. They passed up invitations from South Africa and Australia because, at the time, Canada’s invitation was more enticing.

In 1997 Professor David Foot was a very popular guest speaker at business conventions across Canada. 

His book, Boom, Bust & Echo, a Canadian bestseller, promised to help us profit from the coming demographic shift. I was 42 at the time and had one nine-year-old son. 

David helped me understand why my parent’s fresh start in Canada seemed to go so well, why my future looked so bright, and why things were about to become a bit more complicated for my son + his kids. 

Professor Foot was asking questions like these 23 years ago:

  • What are the best investments? 
  • Where are the new business opportunities? 
  • The job market? 
  • Education? 
  • Health care?
  • What are the prospects for real estate? 
  • What will become of our cities? 

In 2020, from an advertising perspective, this book, and how it invites you to look at demographics is pure gold because it enables you develop a superior perspective on the business opportunities before you, how to find them, and how to evaluate them.

In my mind, one of the biggest untapped opportunities for social media agencies lies buried in the last question: the future of our cities because birth rates the world over are plummeting. While the covid-19 epidemic may assist birth rates a bit (in some countries), depopulation, and immigration barriers in the U.S. are already forcing small states like Vermont to pay workers to move there. In seven Vermont counties, more people died than were born. The remaining population can no longer support the local restaurants or hardware store. Imagine.

Social media is incredibly well placed to promote regional migration because, unlike traditional media, social media needs a large cast of characters and a never-ending flow of back-stories to keep the messages + the media fresh, relevant and engaging. 

This can become a whole new business category for your agency.  

Read this post, the book, think about it and then act on it.




I once knew a man who sold hotdogs.

I once knew a man who sold hotdogs. He had inherited the recipe from his parents, made each one by had and sold them on a busy Toronto street corner for 25¢ each. At the end of each long day he took his earnings, paid his bills + reinvested the balance in his business.

Because people loved the man and his hotdogs, his sales grew quickly. One day the man had saved up enough to build the restaurant of his dreams. It was located on the same corner that he sold his first hotdog on 20 years ago. Now the man was able to sell his wonderful hotdogs all day, all night and all year long. And to ensure the old man could sell all the wonderful hotdogs that he could produce he began to advertise.

He advertised everywhere. He advertised all the time.

On the day the man’s son left for college, he stood in front of his beautiful restaurant and cried because he was so happy. Because he was thankful for that little hotdog recipe that his parent’s had given him + because it had enabled his wife and children to prosper. 

One spring morning, many years later, the old man’s son returned from college and sat his father down. He explained to his father that there was a war on, that people were not spending money the way they used to, and that the recession, which was projected to follow, promised hard times for everyone. 

His son told him to stop wasting money on advertising. “No more TV, newspaper, radio or outdoor billboard ads. And no more big search lights on the roof all night long. O.K. Dad?

All that advertising shit’s gotta stop right now!

And the old man thought; “Wow - my #1 son must be right. He just came back from university where he studied business and economics for six years. What do I know? I’m just an old man now - even though I still love to sell my wonderful hotdogs.”

So that night, for the 1st time he bought them 15 years ago, the big searchlights on the roof were turned off. The next day he cancelled all of the advertising contracts. 

And the next week sales fell for the first time in all of the years that the man had sold his wonderful hotdogs.

The man went to bed in shock + disbelief. Then he + his wife counted their blessings and thanked God for every single one of them. Especially for their smart son and his amazing business foresight.