November 7, 2023
By Will Novosedlik
Before she signed on with Newfoundland-based Target Marketing and Communications, where she now serves as president, Catherine Kelly had no interest in advertising. She was supposed to be a scientist like her sister, or a mathematician like her father. But, after a few years in Toronto and a stint at telecom Nortel, she decided she missed Newfoundland and headed back to St. John’s to look for work. Halfway through a meeting with Target founder Noel O’Dea she decided she really wasn’t interested in the “fluffy” subjective nature of creativity.
The interview should have been over at that point, but O’Dea managed to convince her that there was an element of science to the art of advertising – even if it is a social science. Kelly decided to give it a shot.
That was 25 years ago, a long time in this business. But Target is the kind of place that puts a premium on retention over recruitment, for both employees and clients. Earlier this year, Kelly was appointed to her current position by O’Dea, who has stepped into the role of “chief storyteller.”
When it comes to employees, one-third of Target’s staff of 40 has been there for 10 years or more. “Between 40 and 50 people is our sweet spot. We will not grow just for the sake of growth,” says Kelly. “We have found that over 50 people demands more administration, hierarchy and layers of oversight. It focuses too much of our attention on managing the work and less on doing it. So we work really hard to stay small.”
That’s not to say there are no new hires. Two years ago, for instance, TJ Arch joined as creative director, after a stint at Halifax-based Arrivals and Departures and then at Toronto’s Juniper Park.
“In addition to TJ, we’ve added two new ACDs, one from BBDO and the other from Lg2,” explains Kelly. “We’ve also added to our digital, media and production teams, including a new head of production. Although we’re well known for high quality Newfoundland tourism videos, which are designed for broadcast, they’re also digital facing. So we’re investing in a team and process that enables us to create more digital and social content. That’s why we have a new head of agency production.”
This year has seen business increase by about 20%. New wins include a brand of seacuterie (the seafood version of charcuterie) called She Sells Seafood, soon to launch in retailers across the U.S. Another is the Atkinson Foundation, a Canadian charity focused on social and economic justice. Then there is a national campaign for Inclusive Workplaces Canada, and work for St. Bonaventure College in Newfoundland. About 50% of Target’s business is local and 50% in other markets.
Target also works hard at organic growth. Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism is the most celebrated example, an 18-year relationship that is still going strong. This year has seen a new chapter in the highly effective “Find Yourself” platform, a new “Get Wild” broadcast spot and a campaign called “The Welcome Desk,” which showcases people in the province.
So why would clients want to work with an agency built on a rock out in the middle of the Atlantic? According to Kelly, that’s Target’s secret sauce. “The fact that we are uniquely and stubbornly rooted here in Newfoundland and Labrador is a benefit,” she says. “We get that it’s the opposite of the mainstream, the opposite of the expected. The view is very different from here. We are literally and figuratively the road less travelled.”
She says Newfoundland’s historically remote location makes it the kind of place where, if you have a problem, no one’s going to solve it for you. “Newfoundland is well-known for its creativity, ingenuity and tenacity. We were never given cookie cutter solutions to things out here,” asserts Kelly. Certainly the pandemic has made geography less of a barrier. When everyone is working remotely, nowhere is too remote, and the idea that you need to go to Toronto or New York for top creative holds less and less water.
So what is Kelly’s vision for the future of Target? “To continue to build on the pillars of what makes Target special: its culture and its commitment to making its clients famous and making their cash registers ring. And, in a world where you really don’t know who or what to trust, there’s something very attractive about the authenticity and credibility of a place like Newfoundland, and, by extension Target.”
Atkinson Foundation, Historic Sites Association of NL, Global Affairs Canada, Indigenous Services Canada, She Sells Seafood, asTech, Repairifys
1. The “Stallmark Collection” campaign for the St. John’s Board of Trade aimed to promote local shopping. Capitalizing on frustration over shipping delays in Dieppe, the final mainland point before the island, the campaign featured Hallmark-style greeting cards for occasions when online gifts were delayed. These cards, designed by local artists, humorously reminded people of the pitfalls of online shopping, encouraging them to support local businesses instead.
2. St. Bonaventure’s College in St. John’s was repositioned to emphasize its traditions of compassion, curiosity and critical thinking. The “What Did You Learn Today?” campaign highlighted its diverse learning offering to boost enrollment.
3. For Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism, “Come Home” enticed expats back to the province to revitalize post-pandemic tourism. The campaign used the social media networks of residents, showcasing local pride through videos, themes, profile filters and e-cards.