Optamedia – Branding and Expanding

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
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