Downtown Partners shutting down

The Toronto agency announced this afternoon that it will cease operations on February 15. Although no specific reason was cited, the seven-year-old division of Omnicom Canada was believed to be struggling after losing Labatt's business in November.

In an abrupt announcement this afternoon, Downtown Partners revealed that it will close its doors on Feb. 15.

The Toronto boutique agency, which is a division of Omnicom Canada, was created in 2001 to handle assignments from Labatt Breweries of Canada – which represented nearly 40% of revenue. But since the agency’s six-year relationship with the beer biggie ended in November, industry speculation was that Downtown Partners was struggling.

Commenting on the agency’s demise, Philippe Garneau, ECD of Toronto-based GWP Brand Engineering, tells MiC: ‘They were so hot at one point. But as an owner, no one wants to have an over-dependence on one client.’ While Garneau agrees that launching an agency brand around a major account is a great base, he warns that it can become too dominant in the agency’s development. ‘You need a focus on new business development and growing the culture.’

Garneau adds that the advantages of boutique shops’ relationship to the mothership can also be their Achilles heel. ‘Does it foster an indie culture?’ Garneau observes that Downtown Partners’ ‘product sure had a feel to it, a house style of edginess,’ but he questions whether the live-or-die-by-awards culture of the traditional agency, and especially the beer category, is a unique enough positioning in today’s more specialized environment.

While Labatt was the agency’s biggest account, Downtown Partners also recently served a number of other clients including the Red Cross, Pepsi QTG and Anheuser-Busch. Discussions are underway with existing clients to determine if some accounts can be rolled into sister Omnicom agencies, said spokesman Robert MacLean.

In a news release, Dan Pawych, interim managing director and CD at Downtown Partners, and one of its founding members, explains the closure: ‘The agency is a victim of consequence. We’ve gone down fighting. We tried everything we could to restructure the agency and fortify its existing business. The remaining accounts didn’t provide a strong enough revenue base to continue long-term operations. Minus the account and creative talent, it became impossible to secure the kind of future commitments from clients or new business opportunities that would allow us to continue to be a force.’

Except for a small team, Downtown Partners’ 40 staffers will lose their jobs on Feb. 15. In the short term, Pawych will continue in his role as managing director and creative director, working to complete the agency’s existing client work and help transition some of remaining business to selected Omnicom sister agencies. Pawych is considering a number of options afterwards, including remaining within Omnicom.

Downtown Partners is the only Canadian agency ever to create ads and have them run during US broadcasts of the Super Bowl. According to USA Today‘s annual ‘Top 10 List,’ the agency’s ads for Anheuser-Busch were among the most popular in America during the 2003 Super Bowl broadcast, and its cheeky ad ‘Good Dog’ took the number-one spot in 2004.

At the 2002 Cannes International Advertising Festival, Downtown Partners was the only Canadian agency to win in the TV category, taking home a Gold and Silver Lion. ‘Fridge,’ created for Anheuser-Busch, received the gold, while the K-tel parody ‘Ulterior Emotions’ for Labatt Breweries received the silver in the film category. The following year, Downtown was the only Canadian shop to take home Cannes TV Gold for ‘History’ and ‘Greeting Cards’. And in 2004, the agency’s Bud Light haul included a Silver Lion, and a Bronze Lion for ‘Good Dog.’

As well, the agency’s campaigns for Labatt, Anheuser-Busch, Gatorade and other clients garnered top accolades at the Clio Awards, One Show Awards, Bessies and London International Advertising Awards. Downtown Partners created the ‘King of Beers’ cap flip symbol and landmark campaign for Labatt and Anheuser-Busch, which went on to gain international recognition in 2001.

With files from Mary Maddever