In the second week of August, I got a rather strange meeting request. It was lacking nearly all details. It was at the end of the day, a Friday. This was the sort of timing and specificity that usually suggested an imminent change in one’s employment.
The meeting opened with a fairly simple statement: “This is going to sound insane.” And it was, so much so that I laughed at the prospect … but not because I thought the situation was bad, it was because I could see many advantages, and I was moderately excited to dive in.
By the time you see this, it will be public news (I’ll be posting this sometime after it’s all done, supposedly in a week or so), but Arlene Dickinson (owner of Venture Park and its subsidiaries, whom I technically report to) is … merging? Combining? Fusing? I’m not sure what the right word for this is (it’s not “acquiring”, or any variation thereof), but taking five companies and making them into one.
All at the same time.
I was being drawn into what was being called “The Tent”. (Though I later found out “Project Venus” was also a codename in use.) But this wasn’t a simple tent, with everyone in the same space. This was a multi-room affair, with antechambers and central spaces where people spoke in low tones while wearing elaborately hooded robes. I was at the edge, just enough inside to get a sense of what was going on, hearing only dim mumbles from those beyond, periodically confirmed when someone came out to talk to the few of us.
At least, that’s what it feels like to me. It’s no big deal – I know there’s some pretty heavy dealings going on, because I can see the rippling effects, sort of like when two black holes collide – it’s even entertaining to watch.
Then, almost out of the blue, I got a message saying I needed to go to Toronto. For … things. I chuckled at the thought of even more secrecy, though I came to understand it was because it was so hard to pin down all the things we had to do while we were there. Or here, as it is. As I’m currently in Toronto. Amazingly without a hangover.
We came in on Wednesday. Flying out of Calgary has never been a challenge, save for the odd delay. But we had a dinner date planned for Wednesday night, for the team, and Greg and I were the last ones to arrive in Toronto. In theory, we’d have been fine, but I somehow managed to miss seeing Greg during boarding, despite him being many rows behind me – I should have seen him.
The flight came with an unexpected meal – part of the flight passes Elaine (our resident Superhero) uses, because plans have a habit of changing and the passes make it flexible. I was going to buy a meal anyway, so it was very much appreciated. I think the Israeli couple next to me were a bit jealous.
Arriving in Toronto, I did my best to weave around everyone in front of me, to to get to the UP Express as quickly as humanly possible. Arriving towards the end of rush hour, I knew that the highways were still going to be a mess, and taking a taxi wasn’t going to be an ideal scenario. The train, however, isn’t affected by traffic.
That said, there was a Jays game that night, and apparently the Union-Pearson (that’s the UP) Express is also an evening shuttle from the airport’s massive parking lots to the SkyDome, er, Roger’s Centre.
The trip takes about 20 minutes. Even in a car, you’d have to be moving well over the speed limit at 3am to do that kind of time. And we had station stops along the way, too.
Walking from Union Station to Bathurst and Wellington is 20 minutes, ish, if you hit the lights right (jaywalking in downtown Toronto isn’t wise), and you don’t have too many people in front of you. I was a bit winded when I arrived, so much so I hadn’t realized that I was 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Barely in the lobby for 5 minutes, Greg arrived by taxi.
Dinner that night was The Keg. Yeah, I know, why did we go to The Keg when we were in Toronto, which has immeasurably better culinary prospects. I don’t want to blame Carley, but I will, since she chose it. In all fairness, it was still a good meal, with all nine of us (Carley, Greg, Brendon, Dan, Randall, Allan, Michael, yours truly, and of course, Arlene herself) around a large table. It was the longest I’ve spend with Arlene since starting almost a year ago, and definitely the longest in person (as we’ve been largely on-camera any other time).
It started with Arlene asking if she could make some recommendations. Like any of us would object. Two bottles of Dom Perignon. Like, actual Dom Perignon. (I was actually slightly surprised that The Keg even carried it.) I think Arlene got a kick out of my first reaction. “Okay, I get it.” And, to be fair, if you’ve never had Dom, I recommend trying it just once.
Following dinner, we ended up at a nearby bar – Belfast Love – which looks like it’s seen more avant garde days, though still had a table for us to have a drink before checking in for the night. It was going to be a long next day.
The dress code was black, white, or grey. This requirement had sent me into a tizzy Tuesday night, trying (desperately) to find anything that fit, and sending me into a tailspin at The Bay, where I couldn’t find a damned thing that fit. (Honestly, what is with all the slim fit shit, eh? Some of us ain’t “slim”.)
Allan and I shared an Uber to the Broadview Hotel, which is only about six kilometres from our hotel. I could walk that in an hour. And it might have been a better option, given the difficulty in getting a car from Bathurst to Broadview in the middle of the day. Over a half hour, we barely made it on time.
The Lincoln Hall is on the second floor, and there we would remain for the day: lunch to well after dinner. Tables were all laid out, name tags for everyone arriving (merging all these companies together is a bit messy), and a photo area on the north end (we all had to get headshots, which is why there was a dress code). I met, in person, a bunch of people I’ve only seen on camera for the last few weeks: Naveed, Jeremy, Gabi, Christian, all of whom (with Ben, who stayed in Halifax) have been instrumental in getting the websites stood up.
Yes, sites, two. This is where things need a bit more explanation, I think. Five companies into two companies. First is the marketing agency, which will be known as Believeco. This is where Venture Play (the marketing arm of Venture Park), Revolve (from Halifax), Brightworks and Zync (both from Toronto) will come to live in one family. And dare I say “happy”, as (so far) every single interaction has been like working with the same people for years.
The second company is actually the parent for Believeco, which becomes a sibling agency to Argyle, which is an engagement, communications, and relationship management firm (don’t say “PR”, because that comes with a load of nasty baggage). That parent company is Believeco:Partners, which is where all the founders of the companies coming into this mix will live as ongoing participants in this new world.
I know this because we got the deep-dive in all the details throughout the afternoon (after a rather wonderful lunch), including backgrounds on all of the companies coming into the mix. And I have to say, hearing what all the other companies have done, I feel like the poor cousin. (In fairness, we didn’t market ourselves to the other marketers as strongly as they did to us.)
Three impressed me considerably. The first was Argyle, the “PR” firm. Because it’s not PR – it’s planning and understanding and strategic work; PR is usually equated with dealing with the mess after everything implodes because you neglected to plan.
Then there’s Castlemain, a newly-acquired arm of Argyle [Ed note: Castlemain remains as its own name; we now have three companies under Believeco:Partners] that focuses specifically on engagement that involves First Nations. Their work to work on Truth and Reconciliation and building the foundation for proper Indigenous rights is not only inspiring, it makes me want to seriously consider changing my career direction…
And then there’s Neil Follett, Believeco’s first CEO (he’s the founder of Brightworks). He’s a marketer. He’s funny, he’s energetic, he’s personable, and it’s been a long time since I’ve had a leader like this. I might be most excited about Neil as our CEO than anything else.
Cocktails came on the terrace, overlooking Queen Street East. We had our requisite photos, a complicated group shot on the terrace, before we were all called for dinner. Our seats were shuffled and I ended up seated at a different table with entirely different people (with 35+ people in attendance, it’s not hard). I got into a conversation with Arthur, who leads the PM team at Brightworks, and found that he and are both old school web nerds. We talked freely, mostly because the ninja-class waiters kept refilling my wine glass. Who was I to refuse?
But we shut the Lincoln Hall down, in that “you don’t have to go home, but y’all gotta get the fuck out” sort of way. Which just sent us to the rooftop bar, annoying the hostess as she was unaware that 35 people were going to appear on the roof. She found a place to shove us all, which worked rather well for the group of us.
We closed down the rooftop. At this point, we started to look towards getting cabs back to the hotel … until Neil came to the rescue and suggested we all go to his office – almost across the street from the Broadview – for a beer. A small flotilla headed over and we might have cleaned him out. Admittedly, I’m not sure.
The Brightworks office is pretty nice, and the trophy wall is among the most impressive I’ve ever seen. I found out I’ve gotten a lot worse at pool from lack of practice … and probably the glasses? I think they’ve thrown off my depth perception.
Allan, who had an early morning flight, left as we headed to the rooftop (he spent the night at the airport, the poor guy), and Randall vanished after the rooftop, leaving the five Venturians to collect themselves around 3:30am to finally head back to the hotel.
I won’t lie, I was proud I lasted that long. I’m the oldest of the group and I’ve definitely not my prime anymore. I was still going strong when the car finally pulled up and we filed out for our rooms.
I having a Barry White morning. My voice is easily an octave lower than normal, the result of me drinking (which destroys my volume control) and having to shout over the noise. The guy at the hotel restaurant laughed as I powered back two macchiatos trying to ease the roughness.
But, amazingly, I have no hangover. Zero. Not even a fuzz. I cannot figure that out. The red wine at dinner alone should have reduced me to tears. Never mind the … um … three Kronenbourgs, two Octopus Wants to Fight, at least two gin and tonics, and two? three? beers at Brightworks. Given, that’s over the course of a day, but still…
Wrapping work up, then I’m heading out for lunch and heading to Oakville to annoy my family for a couple of days. I don’t get out here very often and I have to take those opportunities when they come.