Archive for August, 2008

Fisher Langford-Jones

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Engaging the ED Marketing team has been one of the best decisions we’ve made in our company. Their creativity, attention to detail and execution in promoting our company, has been pivotal in helping to move our company to the next level. It’s allowed us to focus on what we know and do best – serving our clients.

Lynne Fisher, Partner, Fisher Langford-Jones

Campaign to Control Cancer

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

I wanted to write and thank you once again for your diligence and hard-work in ensuring the success of the 1st Cancer Day of Action in the Alberta Legislature. This grassroots social mobilization effort really challenged experienced leaders in provinces across Canada – but your efforts in Alberta were an outstanding example of leadership in action. Your willingness to undertake an innovative new project with minimal supervision and resources was remarkable – but your ability to search out, find and engage others around the event demonstrated skills in research, problem identification, resourcefulness, flexibility.You have a skill at “cold-calls” and marketing that makes conquering cancer through social change look easy.I look forward to a long and productive working relationship and I know our organization can rely on you high-energy, high-skill, low-maintenance services for many years!

Pat Kelly, CEO, Campaign to Control Cancer

Optamedia – Branding and Expanding

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Ad agencies are a world unto themselves. Sometimes to me they seem out of reach to many of the business owners I deal with. Creative? Absolutely. Interesting from a marketing perspective? Of course. For the right company that is the right size with the right strategy, they can be a perfect fit. However, my perceptions have been challenged.

I met Chris Bolivar, creative director and owner of Edmonton’s Optamedia, at a downtown networking function late last year. We have subsequently had a number of discussions about marketing companies and advertising agencies: how they differ and how they can effectively work together to complement each other for the benefit of the client. So I though I would share a bit about Chris’ company and the differences between advertising agencies and marketing agencies.

By the way, Chris was profiled in Edmontonians Sizzling Twenty under 30 in 2006. I’m happy to report he and his team are still sizzling. Recently, Optamedia was included on another publication’s list of Alberta Fast 50 companies.

Chris started his company while he was working toward his degree in political science at the University of Alberta. He began programming websites which led to a contract to run a national advertising campaign. Upon graduation, Chris decided to take his business to the next level. The first sizable client was the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo which required complete re-branding—a challenge for a start-up business. I asked Chris how he dealt with this foray into the realm of a full service agency. He wisely “…went out and found the people with experience and talent in areas we needed.” Valéry Goulet, his art director added, “Some businesses start small—we had to ramp up fast.” With their first project under their belts, Chris and Valéry began building a capable team with a diverse set of talents and skills. Over the six years they have been in business, this has created a culture with nearly zero turnover—a blessing in today’s competitive Alberta labour market. Optamedia focuses on individual talents and strengths and looks specifically for work that suits the team. They’re also keen on the value of continuous learning. Valery explained, “It’s serious sometimes, but the way we learn is not under pressure”.

Many business owners are unclear in the various facets of marketing and advertising and the intricacies of the industry. Chris pointed out—and I agree—there are three types of marketing companies: “There are ‘strategy’ companies which typically employ marketing strategists who act as integrators for creative services, media planning, production, etc. They typically source creative, media, production, etc. An example of a company like this would be ED Marketing. “There are ‘design studios, firms, etc.’ which do not have in-house strategy or media planning, but source production. An example of a company like this in Edmonton would be Plumbheavy. “Then, there are ‘agencies’ which have in-house strategy, creative services, media planning. Sometimes, these agencies will adopt a client’s strategy, rather than write it. Examples of companies like this are Optamedia, Red, Calder Bateman. Within this sector, there are small, boutique agencies such as ours, and large agencies such as the DDBs and TBWAs that have a worldwide presence.”

Each of these marketing specialists have a place within a business’s marketing and growth plan – but one without the help of the others is not the strongest route to take. Design without strategy leads to beautiful brochures that collect dust and aren’t out working for the business. Strategy and design without proper, knowledgeable media buying may not attract the attention a business is seeking.

Marketing wise, I love this company’s business cards. The back of each team member’s card is designed based on that person’s creativity. This is so congruent with its branding. Optamedia’s promotional material states, “Creativity is in everyone; it just manifests itself differently with each person.” A business’s brand is not just words. It is a life philosophy… the soul the business is built on… a way of doing business and communicating what you and your team value. These business cards impressively embody Optamedia’s core value of the strength in the individual.

Going forward, Optamedia is looking at expanding its focus from the businessto- business marketing at which it has excelled to include more end-user mass media campaigns. My immediate thought was, will geography be an issue? Edmonton is not known to be the advertising hub for many of the Coca- Colas or Mac’s of the consumer world. Although Chris acknowledged the challenge, he’s hopeful that building on Optamedia’s reputation for quality will encourage more consumer based marketing contracts.

How can Optamedia forge the kind of relationships needed to break into the tough consumer market? I think it will take some travel on Chris’ part. He may have to partner with Toronto, Vancouver or New York design or marketing firms that have already made crucial in-roads with up and coming consumer companies. Why re-invent the wheel? A design firm in Toronto may be interested in the media planning and strategy that Optamedia could bring to the table. Ideally this would enable each firm to go after larger, more high profile contracts. Chris could also look at sponsoring specific events to get some increased recognition for his brand in the central Canadian market… and inspire some curiosity. With a bit of a budget, Optamedia could then host its own event in another market. Exploring such possibilities to build relationships is what marketing and sales are about. It’s common knowledge that we do business with people we like and trust. Stretch those wings, get some frequent flyer miles – go out and build new relationships, Chris.

Marketing Mags

I asked Chris to tell me where he gets his up-to-date industry knowledge. He provided his Top Three choices for marketing publications, explaining, “We read those magazines because it keeps us up on current marketing and creative trends across Canada. Keeping ourselves educated on what is going on in the marketing communications industry ensures that we bring the best and boldest ideas to our clients.”

Top Three marketing magazines that Chris Bolivar reads:

  • Marketing Magazine
  • Applied Arts
  • How Magazine

From Naples, with Love…

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

What do two young Edmonton entrepreneurs and tomatoes grown in the volcanic soils at the base of Italy’s Mt. Versuvius have in common? They all play a part in the success of the city’s newest, authentic Naples pizzeria – Famoso - and its authentic Neapolitan pizza.

Few people know that pizza was invented over 200 years ago in Naples, Italy. But even fewer know that there is a certification program to make authentic Naples pizza.

Justin Lussier, 26, and Jason Allard, 27, have deep roots: They met in kindergarten and grew up in Edmonton together. They also worked together managing pubs and nightclubs during their time at the University of Alberta. Jason graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree and always knew he wanted to be his own boss. Justin earned a degree in political science but loved brainstorming the next best business idea with Jason. So when Justin returned in 2005 from a trip to Europe raving about the amazing and addictive pizza he had while in Naples, the wheels started turning and a business partnership was born.

Their first challenge as partners was researching the pizza and specifically the traditional Naples pizzas. Jason had eaten his fair share of North American pizza but the duo didn’t want to be another mom and pop shop pizzeria. Having spent a week eating Margherita pizzas in Italy, Justin was passionate about its viability in Edmonton. So the search was on to find that kind of pizza for partner Jason and mentor/investor Christian Bullock to try.

After spending a week taste-testing pizzas in local Italian restaurants, they hit the road. They started in Vancouver, then headed to Seattle where there are two pizzerias certified to serve Naples pizza. The three agreed this was the taste they wanted to introduce to Edmontonians. They located premises on Jasper Avenue at 118th Street where The Commissary had been for many years.

Walking into Famoso, I didn’t think of fast food. The restaurant is clean and chic with flat screen TVs and an inviting atmosphere. But the food is fast:A true pizza—in the Naples’ sense—takes only 60 to 90 seconds to bake in the oak-fired oven at a temperature of 485º Celsius. It’s also a healthier alternative to North American pizza because the hand-kneaded, Italian wheat flour crust is less doughy with lower gluten and higher protein. Justin and Jason realized there could be no cutting corners if they wanted to maintain authenticity, so they import many of their ingredients from Italy.


From a marketing perspective, Famoso’s logo—a mountain shape in red and black— is actually a tribute to Mt. Vesuvius. Like the restaurant, it is clean and modern… and looks great on the signage above the door. The legible and imposing sign—incredibly important for a restaurant—is easily seen as you drive down Jasper Avenue. In fact, when I asked the guys what their best mistake was, without any hesitation Jason said, “We put our sign up way too early.” That turned out to be a very good move… apparently, people in the area anxiously awaited the restaurant’s opening.

Since their much anticipated opening, they have mostly focused on one of my favourite ways of marketing: word of mouth, which is reinforced by the large, prominent signage. If customers can’t find you, they can’t tell their friends about you.

The duo has noticed an increasing number of regulars who seem to have found the pizza as addictive as Jason did while in Italy. They began focusing on upscale, young professionals but quickly found that their true market is much more broad. Generally Famoso has a huge audience in people living downtown who are open to a healthy, fast, fresh, reasonably-priced eating experience. One of the challenges Famoso faces is the bitter sweet side of the product. Although the pizza is fast, fresh and healthy, it doesn’t last—and I’m not just talking about on your plate. Delivery is not the best option: Time in the box between the oven and the consumer detracts from the taste of the pizza. Depending on the distance to the consumer, the pizza may need to be reheated. This eliminates delivery from their added services and decreases their market to include only those consumers who want to eat out, or don’t mind reheating their pizza once they get home.

In August, Justin and Jason sent out their first direct marketing mail piece to residences in their immediate area. It consisted only of the menu. Unfortunately, they didn’t add a measuring tool. A simple coupon or “mention this flyer to receive a discount” could have helped them check the effectiveness of this initiative. Also, sending out a menu is what restaurants that deliver do. This might not have been the best way to spread the word and get people into and talking about their restaurant. But, as with all young entrepreneurs, we each live and learn.

Keep an eye on these guys… I bet they’ll be nominated for Edmontonians Sizzling Twenty 20 under 30 in the next couple of years.

Just 2% off the top

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

The Edmonton real estate market has been the topic of discussion and amazement across the country since the fall of 2005. As the economy heated up and more people moved into the province, the market became more competitive, inventory dropped and prices rose, doubling in two years. Things started to cool off in July 2007. According to the Realtor’s Association of Edmonton, the market has been flooded with inventory and prices have remained fairly stable in the past few months. It’s a great time to buy. But, is it a good time to sell? This month’s profile explores a new company in the Edmonton real estate market: 2% Realty owned by Roy Almog.

Born in Israel, Almog moved to Edmonton in 1989 at the age of 10. Favouring the idea of getting right down to work after graduating from Ross Sheppard in 1997, he spent time in retail, and as a dealer in the telecom industry, first with TELUS Mobility then with Bell Canada. All the while, he dabbled in real estate investment.

Almog learned the ins and outs of real estate investment from the trenches—buying, renovating and renting in the Edmonton area. When it came time to sell, he was lured by the potential for commission savings offered by ComFree, but found there “was no traction.” He ended up hiring a realtor and paying commission anyway. This sparked the idea for getting the exposure offered on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) without paying tens of thousands of dollars in commission fees. 2% Realty began in earnest in May 2007.

Other companies offer to list your home on the MLS system for a fee rather than a commission, but the seller is responsible for showings, photos and all the paper work. In contrast, “2% Realty is a full service realty company. We just do it all for two percent.” Almog explains, “The idea is simple: 2% Realty charges two percent on the total selling price of the home without any extra or hidden fees.” At the time of this interview, 2% Realty had five realtors with plans to hire three more in the next few months. I had to ask: Why would realtors want to work for two percent commission when the average commission rates are seven percent on the first $100,000 and three percent on each additional $100,000? “This business is based on volume and it is tough for new realtors to get started,” says Almog. “With a two-percent commission, it’s easier to get listings and more experience.”


2% Realty’s current marketing focuses on signage and attracting website traffic.

Lawn signs are generally consistent and nothing unusual for a realty company. What is different is Almog’s choice of lime green, as opposed to the traditional red, blue and yellow. His signs stand out, but buyers may not be on the look out for or identify with fluorescent green for sale signs. Almog’s website ( is easy to navigate and has enough information to get a buyer/seller’s attention. Nothing out of the ordinary—except for a cashback program: 2% Realty will give back one percent of its commission to all buyers on any MLS listing regardless of who the realtor is or which company holds the listing. An interesting promotion that will inevitably get people talking. The marketing also focuses on “keeping more of your investment.” In my mind, this speaks specifically to investors in rental properties or house flipping, but it may exclude those who have lived in the same house most of their lives. Even though any real estate purchase is an investment, the language could have greater appeal to investors—thus reinforcing Almog’s theory on a volume based business.

Almog also faces a challenge within the industry. He’ll have to build relationships with other realtors who might be reluctant to show his listings because of the comparatively low commission.

To his credit, Almog has engaged a public relations firm to spread the word through business, real estate and consumer publications. Building a reputation and sharing information through trusted sources is a good strategy. Most of us try to do business with people we like and trust. For a volume-based industry that deals with something as important as one’s investments and as emotional as a home, trust is a keystone to healthy sales and a profitable business.

Top Three Ways to Enhance Trust

Speaking of trust, I’m reading an amazing book called The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey, son of Stephen Covey who authored The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The Speed of Trust makes a compelling case for how trust affects business in terms of speed and profitablilty. According to the junior Covey, increased trust equals increased speed of service/production and decreased costs; whereas decreased trust in an organization or between suppliers equals decreased speed and increased cost.

Here are Covey’s top three ways to build and increase trust:

  1. See – Changing the way you see trust will directly affect what you do and the results you get.
  2. Speak – There is a specific language that enables you to speak about trust and articulate the underlying issues that cause a breakdown or lack of trust.
  3. Behave – Integrity is fundamental to building a culture of trust—both personally and within a business—and consequently affects how employees and employers as well as customers and suppliers react to one another.

Taking the Plunge

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

On one of our first cold, blustery winter mornings in December, I brushed the new fallen snow off my car before heading to my interview for this month’s profile. After shivering on my cold, leather seats, I arrived at my destination: Offshores, a boutique owned by sisters Maggie and Dorothy Kozina.

As I entered their store at 109th Street and 102nd Avenue, I left winter behind and was transported to what could have been a chic, beachfront shop in LA. I was dazzled by the showcases of jewelry, piles of purses, and exclusive high-end brands of sunglasses perched between rows of hard-to-find/ never-before-seen this far north swimwear lines. Well, we can see them if we read the tabloids at the grocery store check out. In fact, some of these very pages are posted in the store—I spotted Kate Hudson, Britney Spears, Cameron Diaz and other stars wearing the brands found at Offshores.

The children of Polish immigrants, Dorothy and Maggie came to Canada in 1981. Their parents worked hard to ensure they had every opportunity for a better life. Both women mention they would be nowhere without their parents’ work ethic and continuous moral support.

Dorothy is the younger of the two. At 31, she is the strategist and looks after the financial, distribution and supplier sides of the business. She began in retail in her early 20s, working part-time at Below the Belt before joining her husband in real-estate and managing their rental properties. She knew, however, that she wanted to return to retail and work with her sister.

Maggie is the fashionista. She watches for high-quality brands and does the research on how and what to bring into the store. She has a keen eye for what Offshores’ clientele is seeking and what the local swimwear market is missing. Maggie has considerable retail experience, having also worked for Below the Belt where she discovered her passion for merchandising. It’s where she met the man she considers her “business dad” who offered her the guidance and business sense that she craved.

With all this experience and the desire to work together, it was only a matter of time before the sisters got their vision off the ground. On a trip to Bali a few years ago, Dorothy met some suppliers of purses and other Balinese goods that she saw a niche for in Edmonton. The sisters took a leap of faith and ordered three shipments before they had even secured their first customer. Then, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for Dorothy’s destination wedding, they became convinced their interest, knowledge and passion could fill a void in our market. Two years later—after many fears, tears and concerns—they took the plunge and invested in a storefront.

From a marketing perspective, the Offshores duo is doing a number of things right. They have post cards offering a discount so they can measure how many people pick up and use the cards. They also have a couple of different messages with consistent design: one card is for the destination wedding client and another for those going on a sunny get-a-way. They’ve tried a variety of initiatives in the short time they’ve been open, choosing not to stick to one campaign alone. They’ve had a wine and cheese fashion show in conjunction with a few other area retailers, they have had an ad on the 24K truck (moving billboard) and bought commercials on 91.7 The Bounce. They even developed a cooperative agreement with a travel agency that offers confirmed clients a discount on Offshores’ products.

The only thing it seems they are missing is a plan. Like many business owners, Dorothy and Maggie go with their contacts rather than creating a strategic and timed plan for marketing. I hear it all the time from clients: “I have a friend who does design who will do my cards… and another friend who knows how to program my website… and then I’ll put up some billboards.” I’m not saying it is bad to work with your friends; just make sure what they offer is the right fit for your business and your marketing plan.

In Offshores’ case, they mentioned a foray into television advertising on City TV. When asked why they chose this medium, it was because they have a connection at the station and the cost fit their budget. Luckily, it worked out very well for them and they want to continue, but this unstructured approach—albeit popular with entrepreneurs— is not the best way to get the word out.

Marketing is about building relationships. Relationships need defined, consistent nurturing. A friend who is rarely called upon or rarely calls won’t be a friend for long. This is similar in the case of a client. Although your business may succeed in spite of unplanned marketing, customers who aren’t contacted regularly and consistently will not be customers for long. Shotgun marketing initiatives are incredibly hard to measure for effectiveness. It’s too difficult to pinpoint what went wrong: Timing? Target audience? Message? Placement?

Lewis Carrol once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” To get the best results from your marketing initiatives, know where you are going and plan the most direct route to get you there.

Check the Kozina’s Top 3 suppliers at