PHD plays in downtown Toronto

Fred Forster and Fred Auchterlonie of PHD talk about the impact their participation in 'World Creativity and Innovation Week' has had on the agency, while celebrating it with whimsical consumer-facing OOH.

As the sun streams through Fred Auchterlonie’s window in PHD’s downtown Toronto office, the EVP’s thoughts on having an elementary school-inspired creative ‘recess’ during the work day seem particularly apt – who wouldn’t want to be swinging on the monkey bars on a 20-degree day like yesterday?

However, the recess being discussed is not so much about monkey bars as the creativity they inspire, and how an internal skill-building program at PHD called ‘Passport to Innovation’ has inspired both an official sponsorship of ‘World Creativity and Innovation Week’ and helped the agency contribute to campaigns in a greater capacity, as well as win a few awards along the way.

The focus on creativity began as an 18-month management program designed by Toronto-based creativity consultant Marci Segal, who started World Creativity and Innovation Day in 2001 and expanded it to a week in 2005. Segal works with companies internationally but PHD is considered the official sponsor of the week, thanks to their advocacy and support of the program, and the promotion they give it every year.

They started working with Segal in 2005 in order to help management and employees to help build creative skills and approaches to work. However, as the years have gone on, it has spread down through the company into an annual event that starts April 15 (the date was chosen to pay homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday) until April 21. This year, the theme at PHD is ‘Recess’ and since Thursday, PHD employees have been taking short breaks during their work days to draw, write, show and tell, and take a break from the daily grind.

Although the program’s success is hard to measure, Auchterlonie, who is EVP director, client operations at PHD, tells MiC that the work PHD produces has been ‘dramatically different’ since the company embarked on the process, and that the agency is now more often brought in at the beginning of the campaign creation process, instead of at the end.

‘I think the results have been pretty impressive from our perspective,’ he says. ‘I think there’s been a transformation in terms of our priorities and thinking differently about our role in the whole [creative] process and the fact that we do play a role in terms of ideation, creativity and doing things differently.’

‘It’s just keeping [creativity] top of mind for people,’ says PHD president Fred Forster. ‘Now when they produce work, there’s always this underlying ambition to do something creative. Whereas, if you don’t have that, the tendency is just to put the work out.’

This year’s World Creativity and Innovation Week at PHD had a consumer-facing element in the form of Astral OOH. The PHD team contributed doodles to TSA-size murals, which were then posted at Queen and Spadina, and King and Bathhurst. It was nice to have the brand out in the public sphere, Zoryana Loboyko, VP client services director, PHD, tells MiC.

‘I think it garnered a lot of attention. There were lots of people looking as they were waiting for the streetcar – they seemed quite intrigued by the graphics,’ she says, laughing. ‘So hopefully they got Creativity Week out of it, and the big PHD logo out of it, and connected the two.’