Camden picks Lyon for its European debut
In an ever-changing media and advertising landscape, as many agencies are swallowed whole by major international networks – and many others disappear – Camden, founded in Montreal in 1991, seems to be hitting its stride. After launching its Toronto office last year, the agency decided to export its human-scale model to international markets, creating an agile, decentralized advertising group strategically leveraging the combined expertise of its offices for existing and potential clients. To that end, Les Distilleurs, the Lyon-based agency headed by partners Thomas Ardisson, Fanny Mounier and Lionel Farget, has become Camden Lyon.
Camden Lyon will work closely with the group’s Montreal and Toronto offices to offer a broad range of services in European markets, marking an exciting milestone for an agency that credits its longevity to strategic creative and a superior client experience.
Les Distilleurs’ three founders will stay on as partners and shareholders, deploying their unique skillsets to help Camden shine on the international stage. Thomas Ardisson will serve as VP Business Development, while Fanny Mounier will take on the role of VP Strategy and Client Services, and Lionel Farget will hold the position of VP Creation. Marie-Michèle Jacques, senior VP of the Camden group, and President Mathieu Bédard, will be senior partners at Camden Lyon. Anne-Christine Normand, who previously oversaw the Montreal studio, will head operations in Lyon.
After a period of steady growth and the expansion of Camden’s service offering, these appointments will boost the agency’s production capacity. With extended resources and a clear way forward, Camden Lyon’s management team is ready to develop new markets.
“Everyone was onboard from the get-go,” said Ardisson. “From our very first meeting with Marie-Michèle and Mathieu, we knew we wanted to sign on the dotted line. Everyone felt that fusing our agencies was the right thing to do, that it would get us where we needed to be – from a business perspective, of course, but for our clients too.”
Les Distilleurs: a timeline
Les Distilleurs is the story of three students at Lyon’s ISEG Marketing et Communication Business School combining their talents to better serve their clients.
2009: Advertising agencies struggle to stay afloat as the financial crisis rages on. Meanwhile, three marketing students launch their own micro-agency, eschewing the expected series of internships that mold budding talent to fit industry fads (until the next big idea comes along).
2011: With a growing pool of clients, the newly minted graduates officially partner as a co-op, ready to put their business model to the test.
2012: A year and a half into their co-op project, the business partners notice that clients are staying, projects are growing, and their brand is gaining ground. Les Distilleurs becomes a business partnership, and steadily gains market share in Lyon and France.
2013–2017: Gaining 20% year over year and onboarding a steady stream of new employees, Les Distilleurs continues adding new clients to its roster, including storied soccer team Olympique Lyonnais, Vivaservices, Maped and Student Factory (global parking and toll giant Vinci group).
2018: Les Distilleurs decides to focus on digital marketing, product design, motion design and ad creation, resulting in a TV ad and poster campaign for green electricity supplier Mint Énergie – a turning point. Poised to expand its offering, the agency jumps on the chance to join an international advertising group.
Les Distilleurs + Camden
Camden set its sights on Europe in 2014 and developed a long-term strategy to create an advertising group with the agility and expertise to serve small businesses and organizations with complex, time-sensitive projects. The plan mapped out an acquisition and a new office in Canada or the US – an essential prerequisite to crossing the Atlantic. Most importantly, the plan would keep Camden’s (genuinely) full-service model intact, along with the agency’s values of honesty, integrity, rationality and introspection.
Camden acquired Montreal-based design firm CGCOM in 2016; the company had a proven track record stretching over three decades. Nearly all CGCOM employees made the move to Camden, which employed 25 people at the time. The agency launched its Toronto office in October of 2017 to better serve the Canadian market. Camden Toronto went on to work on large-scale projects for several major clients, cementing the group’s position as a truly bilingual agency.
Everything was coming together. Camden was primed for the next challenge.
In the summer of 2017, with the CGCOM and Toronto projects moving full steam ahead, Camden carried out market research to pinpoint the best location for its European debut. The agency saw a clear winner in Lyon after looking at cities in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. They combed through a list of about 100 Lyon-based contenders, reviewing them on the basis of a complex evaluation grid. A dozen agencies were contacted, four made the cut and were approached for a first meeting with Marie-Michèle Jacques and Mathieu Bédard in November. Les Distilleurs charmed Camden’s management team – and the rest is history.
The parties sealed the deal after a series of meetings in Lyon and Montreal. Camden Lyon launched on May 23, 2018 on its home turf, with 120 people in attendance.
Camden Lyon is the ambitious result of careful planning and thorough analysis – the foundation for what Camden hopes to be a significant and enduring feature of the industry landscape. More importantly, it’s an object study in the transformational power of shared values and a common vision.
“We really hit it off with Thomas, Fanny and Lionel,” said Mathieu Bédard, President of the Camden group. “When we looked beyond business objectives and partnership criteria, we saw like-minded people looking to grow – gradually, steadily, together. As an agency, Les Distilleurs showed boundless creativity and potential. They won accounts, even when they were pitted against the big guys; they were hard-working and real. They walked the talk and delivered tangible results. It was a win-win situation.”
People may wonder why Camden chose Lyon as their European basecamp.
- Lyon’s vibrant atmosphere and forward-thinking outlook
- Lyon’s fascinating history and tight-knit community
- Lyon’s top-notch schools, producing first-class marketing and communications professionals
- Lyon’s position as a leading technology hub in Europe
- Lyon’s competitive clusters and business development opportunities
- Lyon’s openness, innovation and creativity
- Lyon’s “culture fit” with Toronto and Montreal
- Lyon’s strategic location
- Lyon’s beauty… and its food
Pivotal thinking: more than a motto
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
Don’t be surprised if we ask questions. We might raise objections – we might even say no.
We call it pivotal thinking: the self-imposed duty to set the deliverables list aside and dig deeper before saying yes (scratching the surface just isn’t our style).
Pivotal thinking is taking things apart and putting them back together. Filtering each project through lens after lens – holding each process up to the light. It’s a steady, steadfast commitment to awareness, understanding and expertise.
“The concept of pivotal thinking really speaks to me.” said Lionel Farget, VP Creation. “Maybe because it’s what we’ve been doing all along.”
“We launched our agency in a very competitive market,” added Farget, “at the height of the financial crisis, in 2009. It meant we had to swim against the current. Our approach has always favoured reality over convention, creativity over canon. We challenge industry paradigms to break new ground. We stay focused on project goals while remaining agile and true to our core beliefs. And that has a name: pivotal thinking.”
Offer more? You bet.
Working to build a human-scale, international network – together.
Camden Lyon is the first step in a “best of both worlds” scenario combining the full-service model with boutique expertise within a seamlessly integrated network of specialized teams working toward a common goal. With media pros in Toronto and motion design experts in Lyon, that network is primed to grow. The future is bright.
Camden Lyon is the first step in the group’s European expansion, and a new phase in the agency’s plan to build an international network of offices capped at 50 employees each (to preserve what makes it unique).
Strategic planning, upstream marketing, naming, branding, ad creation, funnel marketing, film production (TV, web, corporate), as well as IT, artificial intelligence, programmatic, social media and digital marketing expertise, Google Partner certification… Camden manages to stay completely independent while offering every service a brand could need – with a single contact person and an agile, user-friendly structure.
Camden Lyon stresses proximity, collaboration and results-oriented performance analyses to streamline the client experience – from mapping customer journeys and monitoring trends, to understanding audience psychology and uncovering original insights. Camden’s experts ask all the right questions and hit on effective solutions that challenge the status quo.
Camden is rethinking the full-service agency model, which could never really compete with digital and niche agencies or meet the evolving needs of small businesses. How? By breaking down silos. By prizing shrewd knowledge management and seamless integration.
“Flanked by Camden Montreal and Camden Toronto, we feel we can finally do justice to our cross-disciplinary service offering and really give our clients what they need,” said Fanny Mounier, VP Strategy and Client Services. “Each agency brings its own unique skillset to the group and, as the saying goes, ‘if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.’ That’s our philosophy – that’s the Camden philosophy.”