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How Leo Burnett and the Toronto Star Are Championing Journalism



Leo Burnett’s Kirk Round and Torstar Corporation’s Michael Beckerman on repositioning a brand, client/business relationships and inviting readers to involve themselves in the city, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

How Leo Burnett and the Toronto Star Are Championing Journalism

What is good journalism? While the question has been played out in recent years, there is no doubt that it remains a highly relevant point of discussion. For the Toronto Star, good journalism means several things. It means keeping readers informed about what matters most to them. It means delivering trusted news on a consistent basis. And, it means focussing public attention on injustices of all kinds, and the reforms designed to correct them. 

But sometimes, good journalism alone just isn’t quite enough. You need a little extra push. And according to Torstar’s chief client officer, Michael Beckerman, while the Toronto Star enjoys some of the best brand recognition in all of Canada, that doesn’t always translate into active readers. Enter Leo Burnett. Marking the start of a new client/business relationship, the two have recently launched a 360 creative campaign to support TorStar’s brand repositioning. 

The most noticeable aspect of this new campaign has been the installation of melting versions of the paper’s recognisable blue newspaper boxes, across Toronto’s 416 and 905 areas. Done in collaboration with Blue Noise Studio and The Greater, each newspaper box invites viewers to consider the significance of climate change and the importance of reporting on such matters, and comes equipped with a large QR code, which when scanned, links to the climate reporting section on the Toronto Star website.

Leo Burnett’s group account director Kirk Round and Tortstar’s Michael sat down with LBB’s Josh Neufeldt to speak about how this project came to life. 

LBB> The relationship between the Toronto Star and Leo Burnett is a brand new one.  What was the pitch process like for such an iconic Canadian brand? And for Torstar, why was Leo Burnett the right choice?

Kirk> It was a partnership started by shared ambition and passion. The Star, under new ownership, has big goals for the brand, its role in people’s lives and in the life of the country. Nobody understands people more than Leo Burnett. With Leo’s help that internal vision could become consumer-facing, start that perception shift and lead to the ultimate goal - ‘Create the world we want’.

Michael> There is a creative renaissance in Toronto and Canada, with many world-class agencies. We had been watching the work come from Leo Burnett and really valued the ideas and innovation they were producing on behalf of their clients. We just connected with them and they shared our values, and were very passionate and informed on the role of Canadian-owned and operated media. 

LBB> According to the press release, the new partnership is designed to give greater meaning to one of the country’s most recognised brands. What was the research process like that led to this strategy? Why is this greater meaning needed? 

Kirk> Research for the brand strategy was led by The Greater. However, there was still an opportunity to strategically increase the chances of the work shifting people’s perceptions of the Toronto Star. Our strategy team worked on a unique communication plan that tapped into the Toronto Star’s consumer research and third-party consumer data to develop a layer of communication that served up relevant topics and bespoke call to actions.

Recent research completed by the Toronto Star revealed that the brand is widely known but not well understood. 80% of people could identify the Star’s iconic blue ribbon, however, brand attributes and perceptions were inconsistent.

Michael> There is a lot of world unrest and uncertainty right now, and there are many important local issues. From mental health to climate change or affordable housing, it is very important that citizens are informed and engaged. The greater meaning is around not just the Toronto Star as a place to get trusted journalism, but also as a brand that shares our citizens values of challenging and championing our city, province and country to be better. We love our city and country, and love it unconditionally. We will call it out when it falls short, and advocate for it when it’s at its best. We all play a role, and our campaign was rooted in getting people to pause and reflect on their role in active citizenship. 

LBB> What was the brief for this brand campaign like? 

Kirk> From our first meeting with the team at the Toronto Star, this opportunity felt different and special. There was a sense of camaraderie, of us coming together to achieve a common goal that would benefit the citizens of Toronto, Ontario and Canada.

We were invited down to the Toronto Star newsroom for the brief, along with their other media and strategy partners. We spent two hours together, being brought behind the curtain to understand their business. In the process, we also looked at the challenges each department faced - from their marketing team to members of their editorial and analytics teams. All in all, it was an extremely engaging process.

There was a lot of great work that our team was able to share with the ownership, editorial and marketing teams at the Toronto Star during the creative development process. As our stakeholders at the Star were included in the journey, the work that you see in market is about as true to initial concepts as can be.   
Michael> We spoke a lot at the outset of the process on the role of the client and agency. As a client, we wanted to be a 'great client' - clear decision making, clear direction, inclusive process, honest and timely feedback, and have an open mind and heart to big ideas. We wanted Leo Burnett to push us, make our palms sweaty and to make us a little nervous to be bold and courageous clients. We spent a lot of upfront time on the brief. Leo Burnett gave some push back. We debated and got to meaningful strategic insight. One of my brand mentors, Dan Wieden, used to say a good brief is like a riddle, and it is up to the agency to solve the riddle, so we kept that in the back of our minds.

LBB> What were your main aims and ambitions with this project? And how did they factor into the overall goal of ‘brand repositioning?

Michael> Toronto Star is 130 years old and one of the most recognized brands in Canada. We wanted to capture the attention of the people that knew us, but perhaps hadn’t read us in a while, or indeed ever. It was a metaphorical tap on the shoulder - informing people we care deeply about this city and country. We are rooted in trusted journalism. We wanted to say, ‘If this is of interest to you, why not give us a read’? We know our product - our journalism will stand on its own. 

LBB> The melting newspaper boxes are a really powerful sight to see across the city. Can you tell us more about how this idea came to pass?

Kirk> We knew early on that the Toronto Star ‘banner logo’ was instantly recognizable to people. We started to talk about other assets we could use or find a new life for. We kept coming back to the blue newspaper boxes that had lined nearly every street in our province for decades. They were iconic. However, as the world shifted to digital, the brand lost that physical footprint in our communities and with it, maybe some of its local relevance for people. So, we wanted to bring back the boxes as social commentary about what’s important to our city, while also providing a QR to connect people to that content. 

Michael> Like everyone, we had a finite media budget and put an emphasis on creative media ideas. We have media planning and creative development working hand in hand. The team landed on a number of great ideas and many we will roll out in future campaigns. The Toronto Star paper boxes are an iconic image. And we knew that leveraging that image with powerful messaging would break through the media clutter and capture hearts and minds. It was one of those ideas. When we first saw it, we knew it was a good one.

LBB> On the Toronto Star end, what was the execution process like? Was it hands-on all the way?

Michael> As a client, we felt we could add value by playing a role in the creative process, and so it was certainly a team effort. An outsider would not be able to tell who worked for Leo Burnett and who was the client. We were one team who collectively rolled up our sleeves while working towards the same objective. 

LBB> Who designed and manufactured the newspaper boxes? What was that process like?

Kirk> Our creative concepts were shared with the team at, who specialise in vehicle and building wraps. Their extensive experience meant they were able to share multiple approaches to the execution with our team, ensuring that the final executions were true to concept. The process of working with them was a collaborative one. Their team welcomed our input throughout, which included email reviews, phone calls, in-person visits to their studio and agency presence and input during the installation. 

LBB> Obviously, replacing multiple newspaper boxes across the city with these new ones would be no simple task. How was this accomplished? Were there challenges that you faced while doing this?

Kirk> For the initial installation, we were only working with three boxes strategically located around the city in high-traffic locations. Instead of removing existing Toronto Star boxes, we were fortunate to be granted access to Allied Properties locations, of whom the Toronto Star are tenants. It seemed like a rather easy arrangement thanks to the work supporting relevant and timely civic issues.

Michael> We picked high-traffic, high-impact locations. It was less about the number of boxes and more about where the boxes were located. We asked our landlord if we could put some boxes in front of their building. The landlord, Allied, said yes, as they really support conversation about climate. This is just a small example of this being a true team effort. 

LBB> We love the print work. It feels in line with the qualities of good newspaper journalism, while also being really copy heavy, with super simple visuals. What was the writing process like?

Kirk> Writing is exactly that, a process. Often, simple is not that easy to achieve. The teams worked long and hard to find the right voice. In the end, the lines that stuck challenged people to rethink their involvement (or lack of) in our city, and by doing so, invited them to subscribe as an act of caring. Visually, white space is powerful. The world is noisy and the ads were a moment of clarity and contemplation.

Michael> Thank you! We love it and are very proud of it. To your point, we are rooted in journalism, so the copy was carefully crafted as it was an area in which we needed to strive for perfection. Personally, I love the call to action and the lines, as they cause a moment of reflection about our city and being an informed and engaged member of the community. We wanted simplicity in the art direction and to focus on the power of the words. 

LBB> The Greater and Blue Noise studios are also helping with this campaign. Can you tell us more about them? How do you split the work between the groups, and why were they the right companies for the job?

Kirk> The Greater worked with the Toronto Star to develop the master brand strategy and initial agency brief. They were great partners - essentially an extension of our team - happy to answer any questions we had and were actively engaged throughout the creative development process. There was further collaboration between them and our strategy team as we worked to develop a strategic communication plan.

Blue Noise Studios were responsible for the production of the creative concepts, as well as the creative extension of the new platform into select placements with the guidance of Leo Burnett. Their team consisted of seasoned professionals that provided leadership and solutions to achieve the creative vision. Similar to The Greater, our teams naturally gelled, relying on each other to bring their skills to the project to achieve the task at hand. 

Blue Noise Studios and The Greater have established relationships with the Toronto Star. They were part of the integrated team during the initial brief, and held as much enthusiasm for this initiative as we had. Their experience with the brand and their appreciation for what we could bring to the table made it clear from the beginning that this was going to be a successful and rewarding partnership.

LBB> Why was now the right time to do this? How does this campaign fit in with the Toronto Star’s marketing strategy for the summer, and in the long-term?

Michael> The commercial success of our business is dependent on subscribers and advertisers. The advertising community has really supported the Toronto Star as we have great reach, digital footprint and can find our advertising clients’ audience. All of our marketing efforts are driven towards growing subscribers. We have had record growth of late, and it’s due to a combination of factors - mostly the quality of the journalism combined with the really positive impact of the marketing campaign.

LBB> Do you have any interesting anecdotes or lessons learned from this new campaign?

Kirk> This experience was a testament to the quality of work that can be created when all members of an organisation and agency team are working together to achieve one common goal. There were no silos with individual objectives. From top to bottom, the entire group kept their eye on the prize and the result was amazing.

Michael> Same lesson as always - if you are having fun and working with talented people and no one cares who had the idea - good work is going to be the output. We left our egos at the door and just strove for great work. Some of the most junior people had some of the best ideas. That was very rewarding. 

And, I don’t think clients often reflect on how to be a great client - how to line up internal decision making, being inclusive with strategy and timely with constructive feedback. But, I think we were a good client, and when you work with a world-class agency like Leo Burnett - you will get great work.

LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them?

Kirk> The project team was composed of members from five separate organisations. Decision making and the fallout from those decisions affected all those teams. Having a clearly defined integrated agency lead at each stage of the process (Leo Burnett during creative development and Blue Noise during production) allowed each team to implement their existing processes to ensure all stakeholders were involved and engaged throughout. 

Michael> We had a finite budget, so each interaction and element of the campaign needed to work very hard. We sweated the details.

LBB> What has the response to the campaign been like? How has perception of the Toronto Star changed since you launched this campaign? 

Kirk> Internally at Leo Burnett, the campaign is one that we are proud of. It’s purpose-driven and meaningful work that we have received a lot of positive feedback on from colleagues. Measurement of public perception of the Toronto Star brand is under-way, and we’re excited to see the results and how effective the campaign has been in challenging people’s behaviour to reconsider their involvement in the city.

Michael> Public response, business results and level of engagement with the creative have exceeded our expectations. And perhaps most rewarding has been how proud our Toronto Star colleagues are about the brand and what we stand for in the city and country.

LBB> What comes next in this Leo Burnett-Toronto Star relationship? Are there any interesting projects coming down the pipeline?

Kirk> Planning is underway for a second wave of the campaign later in the year. There are some great ideas and extensions of the campaign and brand platform that we are excited to pursue. 

LBB> Is there anything you’d like to add?

Kirk> This campaign is a great example of work that has a clear brand purpose at its core - a purpose which can help Canadians move forward and take part in creating positive change. I can’t help but reiterate how well this opportunity fit with our agency purpose of strengthening the relationship between people and brands. As Leo Burnett continues its evolution to a creative consultancy, we are always looking for new opportunities with existing and potential clients to help define their purpose. Two exciting new IPs from the agency that can help spearhead those types of initiatives are 'The HumanKind Study TM' which launched at the start of 2022 and will be followed by the second edition in January 2023, and the 'Think Forward Innovation Method'. Combined, they can provide a roadmap for brands to help solve human problems through boundary-pushing creativity in the form of innovative new products, services and customer experiences.

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Leo Burnett Toronto, Thu, 25 Aug 2022 16:00:30 GMT