Tony LyonsPresident & Chief Strategy Officer


awards & events

Winning With Soul: The Necessary Harmony of Data and Story

When you live and breathe digital marketing and content development, it’s easy to become weary of our industry’s obsession with data analytics. It’s not that we don’t love to curl up in front of a good data dashboard with a glass of wine (okay, nobody does that), but what about the purpose of our work? What about the story? It’s the connection to the story that ultimately drives action.

That was the topic of discussion during “Winning with Soul,” one of the 2021 keynotes at AToMICon (we didn’t come up with the spelling), a virtual forum on insights and ideas fuelling next-level content marketing.

The speaker was Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Growth Officer at Publicis Groupe and author of Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in The Age of Data. It was a fascinating presentation, affirming our position on the role of human connection in business.

Source: Rishad Tobaccowala

Here are the main takeaways from Tobaccowala’s talk as it relates to business, data, and human communication:

1. Spreadsheets vs. Story
Tobaccowala opened with an anecdote about Microsoft recording an astounding 300% growth in stock value in the past five years.

Key to this growth was a shift in leadership in 2014, from CEO Steve Ballmer to Satya Nadella. Under Ballmer’s leadership, Microsoft was an IT powerhouse specializing in desktop licenses. The money was there, but the value of the company had stalled. When Nadella came in, he established a “mobile first, cloud first” mantra, shifting the company to become more agile and, most importantly, more consumer focused

This mantra brought a renewed focus on customer satisfaction and collaboration. For example, Nadella didn’t see the value in making Microsoft a closed platform that didn’t play well with other devices and apps. He recognized consumers’ need for flexible cloud computing. Because of this, Microsoft embraced open-source code and partnered with its competitors, including cloud-services rival Amazon, for the benefit of its customers.

Source: The Software Report

As Tobaccowala put it, when you only work in data and fail to recognize the importance of human empathy, everything suffers, from customer satisfaction to employee churn to a decline in reputation.

2. Spoken Like a True Leader
There are many leaders like Satya Nadella who understand the importance of emotion, curiosity, and empathy in conjunction with data. Tobaccowala proposes the following as the five key characteristics of a good leader:

  1. Competency: Know your job, and know it well.
  2. Integrity: Make decisions based on logic and trusted sources.
  3. Empathy: Don’t stop at logic; look beyond it to form connections.
  4. Vulnerability: Know your strengths and weaknesses; they will help you grow.
  5. Inspiration: Speak honestly; people make decisions with their hearts.

3. Rage Against the Machine

“Anything that can be done by math will be done better by a machine.”

A blunt quote by Tobaccowala, but an important one. Although it stings our human hearts, automation and AI are simply better than us at certain things. Anything that requires math or predictive logic is better handled by a machine than a human, which brings us back to the importance of storytelling. 

It’s intangible and may sound fluffy, but as marketers, we simply can’t sacrifice our ability to craft compelling narratives in lieu of data-driven directives. It’s a qualitative asset, one that truly gets to the heart of a message, and it shouldn’t be replicated by an algorithm.

According to Tobaccowala—and we agree—any great storyteller can do the following:

  1. take us to places we didn’t know we wanted to go;
  2. tell us things we can’t express ourselves;
  3. inspire us to grow.

4. Change Sucks, but Irrelevance is Worse

Embracing change is easier said than done. The rate at which technology and trends evolve is hard to keep up with, and it’s only going to get harder. Nevertheless, change is a constant, so it’s better to embrace it than stay cozy and become irrelevant. 

Tobaccowala suggests taking an hour every day to learn something new. A new skill, topic, platform, etc. Or to learn something new as a group. If you’re an agency leader, for example, empower your employees to learn new skills. Incentivize them or cover the expenses of a training program. Host monthly trend meetings or designate one of your team members to be the official lookout for relevant insights.

The Takeaway?
It’s no secret that data is here to stay. And for good reason: it’s a valuable tool for planning and measuring marketing efforts. As data-tracking tools become more sophisticated, so does the information collected, which results in better decision-making.

Similarly, a well-executed, empathetic message that speaks directly to an audience’s wants and needs can transcend platforms and metrics. The question isn’t which method is best, but how they can work together.

Tony LyonsPresident & Chief Strategy Officer

Tony LyonsPresident & Chief Strategy Officer



A Recipe for Seduction or Salmonella? An Opinion on KFC’s New Mini-Movie

Their gaze entangles through a forest of strangers. Trapped like animals, they struggle to break away, impossibly ensnared. Silently, in lockstep, they rhythmically reach for a drumstick. And they devour it, savouring the visceral juices trickling down their chins.

Yep, nothing says romance like a bucket of greasy fried chicken. Who knew the dirty bird would make its way into entertainment? Will 2020 ever stop surprising us?

Now, I’m not judging how or where people get their freak on – it’s a free and open society – but when I saw the trailer for Kentucky Fried Chicken’s new advertainment effort, A Recipe for Seduction, it was more WTF than KFC. My first reaction was to check the date – but April has long passed. So yes, this is a real thing.

Obviously, KFC isn’t the first brand to embrace entertainment as a way to connect with its customers (see: BMW, Lego, Red Bull, and Procter and Gamble, to name a few). Hundreds of brands have moved from traditional advertising to a longer form of storytelling. In this case, it’s a 15-minute mini-movie.

Who knows how this attempt will unfold? The internet can be a cruel place where everybody has an opinion and everybody is a marketing expert (insert rolling-eye emoji). But there’s a fine line between genius and madness – so maybe, just maybe, this thing will take off. KFC, after all, is a massive global brand, and I’ve no doubt it’s done its research; it’s not unimaginable, after all, to think of a buff Mario-Lopez-as-Colonel-Sanders appealing to the brand’s audience. That said, in my humble opinion, it’ll take some dumb luck and remarkable execution for this one to sizzle.

What I do know, with relative certainty after a career in advertising, is that brands that stand still get run over. Content is here to stay, and even what we know today as content will be different in a few years. We should all, as marketers, be constantly looking to our audiences’ changing behaviours to ensure we continue to serve their best interests – today and tomorrow. And, regardless of the medium, a good story will always win. It’s just that now that story doesn’t have to be 30 seconds long.

Now, where’s that bucket of chicken?

Tony LyonsPresident & Chief Strategy Officer

Tony LyonsPresident & Chief Strategy Officer


awards & events - campaigns

CIRA wins 1st place for Marketing Campaign Excellence

Congratulations to our friends at the Canadian Internet Registration Authority for their 1st place win in the Marketing Campaign Excellence category for their brand awareness and lead generation campaign at the 2017 CENTR Awards!

Through the efforts of a brand refresh, re-vamped paid search program, digital and social marketing campaign, and more, CIRA had one of their best years in a continuously challenging and evolving market.

CENTR ( is the Council of European National Top-Level Domain Registries, an international group responsible for over 80% of all registered domain names worldwide. The CENTR Awards are held annually to celebrate ccTLD (country code Top-Level Domain) projects, teams, and people making a difference online.

We’re proud to be part of a team bringing great Canadian ideas to life online!

Tony LyonsPresident & Chief Strategy Officer

Tony LyonsPresident & Chief Strategy Officer



Alphabet®? That’s a good name. Sergey and Larry think so too!

“Good morning DMB&BDDFH&B – how can help you?” the receptionist said firmly and politely. My 20 year-old brain couldn’t help itself, the laughter just poured out at the absurdity of what she’d just said. It was at that moment that I decided that if I ever owned an ad agency I’d just call it Alphabet® – you know, to cover all the bases – so I did.

It was the late eighties in Dublin and local agency DDFH&B had just merged with a large international firm called DMB&B and I had called to speak to a friend who worked there. For those glorious, precious few days before they changed their name to something equally ridiculous I’m sure – DMB&BDDFH&B in all its pomposity – lived. A veritable conga line of Pete Campbells genuflecting to their own initials as they filed past the brass plaque on the door.

Okay admittedly, I’m being a little unfair to agency owners. But historically the advertising industry has always gravitated towards these self-referential acronyms as agency names, you don’t have to be a MadMen aficionado to figure that out.

Alphabet®, at the time, seemed to be a perfect name. it imbued all the brand attributes of a modern, progressive advertising agency – welcoming, familiar, friendly and casual. It was conversational – a nice balance of sophistication and industry self-deprecation. Alphabet® had a story that was authentic – the foundation of any brand.

Fast-forward 25 years and it turns out we are not the only ones to like the name. Google, or as we like to call it ‘The Internet’ … recently announced that it’s changing its corporate structure and re-naming the company Alphabet Inc.

For a small advertising agency, this obviously presents some not insignificant challenges.

Alphabet® is a registered trademark in Canada for our company, a company that works in the digital marketing space, a company that sells web advertising services.

Hmmm … this could be a problem.

As a matter of fact, Alphabet® is already seeing some brand confusion as we track numerous Linkedin requests from people who apparently think that we own Google.

For the record, we do not own Google.

We do however own a registered trademark for an advertising agency called Alphabet® that helps our clients find new customers by using all the digital, traditional and experiential channels at our disposal.

At this point we are just going about our business and keeping a close eye on proceedings. There’s nothing to suggest that Google will present any direct challenges to us. Google is an incredibly innovative company and a tremendous steward of The Internet – offering many invaluable services to the world – for free. But it is a ‘company’, publicly traded, profit-minded and beholden to its shareholders, and a Canadian ad agency would be considered a mosquito on the windshield of that juggernaut.

The moral of the story? For small business – own your brand. Understand what it means both from a customer relationship point of view and also from an administrative and legal point of view. Your shingle isn’t just hanging on Main Street anymore. The world can be your marketplace so you need to get out there and be seen. But make sure you’ve done your due diligence, make sure you’re not infringing on any trademarks and empower your brand with good marketing and by making sure you’re good at what you do.

Just like Google says – Do no evil.

Tony LyonsPresident & Chief Strategy Officer