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Canadian Invasion: Taxi adds creative firepower in New York

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By Audrey Kemp | Junior Reporter

July 15, 2022 | 5 min read

In this series, The Drum speaks with a collection of agencies hailing from the Great White North to learn about their origins, their goals and their secrets to success. Check out our coverage of the Canadian great, No Fixed Address, here.

taxi cabs on a street in new york city

TAXI plans to bring back creativity in a big way / Adobe Stock

In June, Taxi celebrated 30 years in business.

That’s “like 150 years in advertising years,” jokes Rob Guénette, who has served as Taxi’s chief executive officer for the past 18 years. At this point, the Toronto-based firm has outlasted many of Canada’s independents. “We’ve seen these great agency brands come and go. We’re still here, still TAXI, and still have the same intensity, desire and appetite to change the world.”

With offices in Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and New York, Taxi has previously delivered campaigns for Campbells V8, Blue Shield, Cap One and CIT Bank. It currently operates as part of the global VMLY&R network. Between Cannes Lions, D&AD, One Show and Clios, it’s nearly impossible to quantify how many awards TAXI’s work has earned, but Guénette estimates that number to be in the hundreds.

The trick is to ‘keep showing up’

In 1992, Paul Lavoie and Jane Hope established Taxi in Montréal wirth the goal of building a combination of an advertising agency and a design firm — a “revolutionary idea” at the time, Guénette says. Its name was derived from the idea that a small team of senior leaders, small enough to fit inside of a taxi, delivers the best work. Over the years, Taxi expanded its frootprint from Montréal to Toronto to Vancouver.

In 2004, while still independent, Taxi made its first foray into the US market by opening an office in Manhattan's Union Square. It was an exciting time to be in New York City: agencies Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Mother and Anomaly were also setting up shop in the city.

One of Taxi NYC’s very first gigs was a campaign for wireless phone provider Amp’d Mobile, which scored the agency a Cannes Bronze Lions. Taxi NYC’s office still remains and has grown to a team of about 40 people today. “Just like Woody Allen said, ‘The trick to being successful is to keep showing up,’ so we’re still there – 17 years later,” Guénette remarks.

Today, Taxi is no longer independent. It traded hands from advertising network WPP in 2010 and is part of the VMLY&R network today. According to Guénette, being acquired has been auspicious for both Taxi’s growth and creative product. “That’s what all independents worry about – they fear that if they sell, there will be an overwatch that kills your culture,” says Guénette. “We kind of won the lottery with these guys. They understand our role in the system, let us run our own show, and as long as we deliver, we get a lot of freedom and autonomy.”

TAXI NYC’s new creative direction

Last month, Taxi brought on Graham Lang as chief creative officer. Lang most recently served as CCO at Juniper Park/TBWA, where he worked with major brands like Nissan, Apple and PepsiCo. Lang has “big plans for New York,” says Guénette. “Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal are all humming. We want to bring some of that focus to the US market in New York.”

Guénette says he has enlisted Lang to lead Taxi NYC’s team towards a steadier, more predictable creative output.

“What is old is new again, I find. Through Taxi and VMLY&R, we’ve been through a big deployment change. Everything is faster, smarter, and data-driven. I think what’s going to come back is old-fashioned storytelling and brand persuasion. When the whole world has changed, CRM and data-driven everything becomes the norm... distinguishing your brand will come back as the most important thing. Creatives will keep the high-performance machinery – that’s here to stay – but there will be a refocus towards what we put into the machinery and how we deploy our ideas.”

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