Meet 123W

//  04.16.13

I’d like to introduce you to Canada’s newest ad agency, 123W. The agency, founded by Jeff Harrison, Scot Keith, Rob Sweetman and Bryan Collins, is based on a low overhead, business-first model.

One Twenty Three West is a new communications company officially launching today in Vancouver. It’s the creation of four of Canada’s stars of the advertising and design world, all of whom left their prestigious agency jobs to create a new kind of agency.

Jeff Harrison was director of design at Rethink for the past eight years, winning countless design awards including a Juno and a Grammy nomination for CD design. His work played a key role in Rethink landing the heavily contested Molson account last year.

Rob Sweetman and Bryan Collins have been partnered for more than a dozen years in Calgary and Vancouver. In 2008, the pair moved to Cossette Vancouver as creative directors. Within a year they won the network’s first ever One Show pencil. In 2010, they helped the network open Dare Vancouver, getting it ranked eighth in the country creatively just two years after launch.

Director of business, Scot Keith, is most known for his involvement in the Hockey Canada “Relax, it’s just a game” TV ads. In 2010, after running two agencies in Toronto, he founded Kommunity, pioneering the model that has evolved into One Twenty Three West. Scot still runs Kommunity as a separate brand that focuses on marketing strategy and brand activations, but the majority of his time is dedicated to the new enterprise.

When planning the new company, the partners worked to develop a model that allowed them to be more nimble, responsive and efficient while developing world-class work.

The solution starts with having a core team of very senior, world-class talent. If they have to expand their team, they outsource to only the most senior, accomplished talent. This allows them to turn around work quickly while keeping the quality of their work high. Having less on staff talent also keeps them free to partner with the right talent for each job.

Scot Keith says “The movie business was in a similar situation 90 years ago. Everything was inhouse, everyone they needed was on staff. The model was impossible to sustain and restricted creativity. Now they assemble the best actors, directors and crew for every job.”

One look at their office space and you’ll see they take the low-overhead approach seriously. They literally work in a garage on the outskirts of Vancouver. They only make long-distance calls with Skype.

“People in the business joke that the heyday of the 80s are gone, but we say that the heyday of the 2000s are gone” said Rob Sweetman.

Another point of differentiation is that their senior talent are the ones doing the work, not overseeing work.

“When good creatives take management roles, they spend their days doing everything but what got them there. It takes your best players and turn them into coaches” said Sweetman.

The senior staff at 123w do what they do best. Developing strategy, writing, art directing, designing.

Jeff Harrison says “We like to say we’re not the army, we’re more like the navy seals. Everyone is at the top of their game so we can do good work quite quickly.”

Their new website emphasizes their collaborative, low-cost model. To create it, they used – a site where people list what they’ll do for $5. Everything on, from bios to company philosophy, to contact info is performed by fiverr talent.

Bryan Collins says “We were looking for an entertaining way to demonstrate our low-overhead, collaborative approach, and working with fiverr people just made sense.” He added, “Plus, people don’t want to read endless paragraphs about structure, but they might like hearing someone sing about it with a ukulele.”

As of today, they’ve been working together for 6 weeks, but they’re already working with clients like Canadian Pacific, SAXX Underwear and several other brands.

Advertising, Canada, News