MD Allen Oke on expanding the agency by 20% and Toronto’s vibrant creative scene
Huge Canada is on a bit of a roll. Opening just three years ago as a studio, the Toronto office has since evolved into a full service agency and its growth is showing no signs of slowing down. To support existing and future work, Huge has made a bunch of new hires and expects the office to continue growing by 20% in the next six months.
LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with Huge Canada’s interim managing director Allen Oke to find out more about the agency’s success and get the lowdown on creativity in Toronto.
LBB> Huge’s Toronto office is still relatively young, opening as a studio in 2015. When would you say the office became a “full service agency”?
AO> Shortly after we established our presence in Toronto, we began to see a demand in the market from clients looking to combine the work we were doing to design places and spaces with brand strategy and really compelling creative and integrated campaign work. We quickly made the move to diversify our offerings in Canada as we continued to get briefs that asked for a new spin on ‘traditional’ marketing or for product and service design that touched both physical and digital, for example like what we did for the Mark's brand, which necessitated a bolstering of hiring in the strategy and creative fields, to accompany our core digital design offering.
LBB> Huge Toronto is experiencing a lot growth at the moment and you expect the office to increase by 20% in the next six months. What’s driving that growth? Has there been a lot of new business? And is this something that you’ve consciously set out to do or has it been more fluid?
AO> We have been strategically hiring during this expansion period to build more cohesive teams that meld our creative, social, and strategy experts alongside the best talent in product and experience design that has existed since Huge Toronto’s establishment.
We have had a great deal of organic growth with our current portfolio, as well as net new business wins in the region like that of Harley Davidson. This particular client is primarily active in the digital and social space, with the business goal of attracting the next generation of riders, which ultimately resulted in the need for integrated communication capabilities out of Toronto. In addition to the senior creative team we brought on board in March, these new hires have allowed us to offer clients the fullest range of capabilities.
LBB> With that in mind, how do you approach new business at Huge Toronto?
AO> At Huge, we have always approached new business with a laser focus on user-centricity.
Clients often come to us when they need help in more than just one way. Some are feeling the effects of the changing retail industry and want our deep knowledge in this space to create a direction they can survive on in the digital age. Others want to completely rebuild their brand by making it stronger, fresher and more relevant in a rapidly evolving world.
Because we always come at the business problem from a user’s point-of-view and are able to combine our capabilities in a way that focuses on transforming the experience with a brand, regardless of mode or channel, we are able to help solve challenges our clients didn’t know they had. We like to think we help businesses see further into their future than they could have ever visualised before.
LBB> What kind of roles are you looking to fill and how do they fit within the evolution of Huge Toronto?
AO> Though we always are looking for talent in all areas, such as program management, business strategy, visual design and experience design, we often find ourselves attracted to people who are ‘unicorns’, a term we use to define people with the ability to think in disciplines beyond their own.
Designers at Huge think about brand planning as much as they do logos and VBLs (visual brand language). Planners think about storytelling and brand narratives as much as the strategy. We have people who can design web products as well as industrial design and have UX skills that make them perfectly suited to solving the problems brands are having today with unmatched fluidity.
LBB> What do you look for in talent and where do you look for it? Is Toronto an appealing place for people to move if you’re looking to bring an international person in?
AO> We are looking for people who are excited about making and building ideas and solutions that disrupt categories. We look for people with a passion for creation and innovation. We're also looking for people who have empathy for those they work with and the user themselves. These kinds of people come up with ideas that drive real results because they come from a place of meaningful user understanding.
Toronto is also becoming a large magnet for international talent. It has a great tech scene and excellent culture in the form of music, art, and film. It's a big city that gives you lots of options for things to do, or get lost in whatever your personal and professional interests may be. We’ve seen interest from great talent from abroad, especially Europe.
LBB> Tell us more about the industry in Canada. How do you see it?
AO> The Canadian market is rapidly changing. We have many startups popping up and so many people with great ideas disrupting all sorts of categories. At Huge, we are lucky to be asked to help many of them, and planning to do more of this type of work. Whether it's building products, designing online or in-store experiences, or creating campaigns, there will always be the need for people to know about who a brand engages with, how to make their engagement with that brand the best it can be, and lastly finding a way of letting them know it exists. So as long as we at Huge are delivering better experiences to solve business problems, we will always drive results in the marketplace.
LBB> You expect to increase the workforce by 20% in the next six months - where do you see yourself six months after that?
AO> Though it is a high number, it's a number we need to meet to match our current growth, new business wins, and foster more cross-discipline teams in Toronto. We have many great career-defining projects we will be executing over the coming year, and we are so excited to see them come to life in market. We are also hoping to get more involved within our community using our experience design, storytelling and tech capabilities to improve people's daily lives.
I'm hoping that this growth will be just as much personal and professional for our teams as it is in the business sense. I'm hoping next year we will be doing even more work that challenges us, and forces us to apply our skills in new, inventive ways. This is a new era for Huge, and we're planning to deliver more transformative experiences for the world's largest brands and businesses, in places and spaces we never imagined we'd be playing in.