Q&A: John Gagné, SVP and executive 
creative director, Proximity Canada

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John Gagne, SVP and executive creative director, Proximity Canada
John Gagne, SVP and executive creative director, Proximity Canada


John Gagné, SVP and executive creative director at Proximity Canada, explains why even in a digital world, classic DM strategies remain key.

Q: How do you break through the clutter when it comes to digital?


A: My first answer would be strategy. The only success we've had has been when our strategy and our creative are fully aligned.


Q: Is an interactive element an almost 
vital component of any campaign today?


A: Definitely. The iPhone and the iPad are starting to open things up. There are a number of devices that people use every day, and all day, which makes it essential to have a digital component. There is always something coming at you now, so 
you need the digital aspect in order to engage.


Q: Proximity says it works to solve complex business problems with a simple strategy, to "change consumer behavior." How do you accomplish that?


A: The essence of strategy is sacrifice. What happens very often around brand activity and campaigns is that people want a lot of things to happen. They want moms or students to do these three things. When we hear that, we generally say that's probably two things too many. What is the singular focus? What do we need to solve for? If we can prioritize that and make the goal something as simple as a trial — picking up a particular chocolate bar — then we can go from there. But it's hard to get to simplicity. It takes a lot of rigor, discipline and ultimately sacrifice and you work on that for every job you do.


Q: Is it important for digital creatives to also have a traditional background?


A: You still need the skills you've always needed to communicate. In traditional media, you want to communicate clearly: For the photography to be good, there needs to be a call-to-action. All those principles don't go away when you go to digital. Grabbing attention with the singularity of an idea and communicating the unique benefits is as true today as it ever was and for as long as advertising has been in our culture.


Q: How do you bring direct marketing and response-driven components to the digital campaigns you create for clients?


A: Everything old is new again. You still have to speak well, present clearly and put a promise out there that is hopefully relevant to the consumers. We call that a conversation, but it's 
really engagement, [like] holding hands for a while. 


Q: Do you find that clients are generally receptive to new ideas related to digital marketing, or do they sometimes have to 
be convinced to take a chance?


A: Yes, some clients are well-versed, and some need to be convinced. There is always a risk with a piece of creative and the client weighing that risk needs to ask what it will do for the business or the brand. [Proximity has] an entrepreneurial culture and we always try to bring something new and innovative, while also being mindful of the real business that is allowing the work to happen. You can go too far and that won't sell the idea — but worse is not going far enough and ending up with work like wallpaper.

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