It’s a bit of an oxymoron, but lunching with Andy Nulman is a gas. If you don’t know Andy Nulman, he is the über-charismatic president of the Just for Laughs Festival. It’s his second stint with JFL, the first starting after he was fired as a journalist at 23 and then in 15 meteoric years rose to CEO of JFL. Then left to start Airborne Entertainment, sold it for $110 million, then bought it back for way less, and then returned to JFL in 2010. Wow… And what have YOU done in the last 20 years?
Last week, I jammed a whirlwind dose of Montréal into a 27-hour window. It’s amazing to me that despite the fact I go to the village formerly known as Hochelaga quite often, it never feels often enough. That’s good news for Porter, as I need to go back again soon. What I have realized is that it’s more than the charm of the city and the lure of its events that keeps me coming, but rather it’s the people that provide its spark.
Ironically, my Tour de New France started in Toronto at a Tourisme Montréal lunch hosted by mon ami, Patrick Dault. If you ever want to meet someone from the Old Port who is smooth, charming and as witty as he is handsome, then Patrick isn’t your guy. On the other hand, if you want to burst your sides laughing, get plugged into the who’s who of the city and have your hometown badly mispronounced and misspelled (true story: he once wrote me an email about “Orillia,” but spelled it “Aurelia!”), then he is your man.
Patrick and his colleagues were hosting some Anglos (okay, my words, not theirs at all!!!) at Brassaii … and sharing with us the spirit of their current campaign: “à la Montréal.” I would actually sub-title it “sealed with a kiss!” There is a ton going on in Montréal these days including the opening of its own ice hotel, as well as the Fête des Neiges Festival. We had a chance to work with Fête des Neiges with a new event, the Intact Day on Skates, which we produced in conjunction with Speed Skating Canada. Hundreds of newbies got a chance to don the long blades and try out their strides.
Back to Patrick. Who is he and why is he getting such a blatant “plug” in my blog? This man is a connector. I am not sure if that is the correct Malcolm Gladwell term, but if you want to get plugged into Montréal, Patrick is the guy. So, I am sharing a wee competitive secret of mine. But I like PD, so go ahead.
My real tour started when I landed in the real Montréal later that same evening. There, I put myself in the hands of one of the country’s most creative experiential marketing minds, Jonathan Singer. On paper, you could suggest his firm, JSEM, is a competitor to mine. That would not be providing him the proper accolades! JSEM is a smart, smart shop. And I consider Jonathan a friend first, and a foe last! What I love about travelling, is hitting restaurants off the beaten path. It’s the local place, where your host gets the Cheers treatment. JS didn’t disappoint, taking me to Lucille’s Oyster Dive on Monkland Avenue in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce area of the city.

It’s the size of my office, but crammed with an after-work crowd that felt like they had all gone to kindergarten together. The perfect place for two aging men (JS is soon to be 40… but looks 30 – the prick) to talk about the fun and follies of managing agencies, clients, and staff, as well as discussing other industry characters! (You KNOW who you are!)

The Westin
, the site of our 2012 Canadian Sponsorship Forum, put me up in a snazzy room in its new hotel. I love The Westin. Its service levels are out of this world. The “frontside” check-in is a brilliant service move. If you don’t know what that is, you haven’t been to a Westin. (Now Viriginia, there were no sponsorship or referral dollars paid for this blog!)
Prior to my lunch with Monsieur Nulman and his confrere, Stephane Cherpit, at the Buonanotte, I had meetings with the Montréal Gazette, the Westin event staff and Astral Media.

In a few short hours, I learned about the Festival Western de St-Tite, which includes professional rodeos, country music and dancing! It’s voted “Best Outdoor Rodeo in North America” and brings over 450,000 visitors every September. I also met fireball Danick Archambault from Astral, who is going to be a speaker for us at this year’s Canadian Sponsorship Forum. Meeting with Nadia Orobello, the sponsorship manager for the Gazette, was awesome as she shared with me the good news that the newspaper is now a digital-first business – so now I can read it with ease on my iPad during all these travels. After talks of all this media, I realized that we needed to meet with Info Presse, a news portal in French.

I also learned how newspapers are now activating B2B sponsorships to drive their business, and I heard first-hand about the marketing power of Astral’s Teen Idol
property, known as MixMania in Québec. MixMania is an artistic adventure camp lasting a period of nine weeks, from March 24-May 27, 2012.  Broadcast on TV by VRAK, this show has no eliminations and the eight finalists continue together for the entire duration of the show, giving these chosen teens the chance of a lifetime! In addition to all this, Astral’s VRAK TV, in partnership with Yoplait’s YOP, Rogers and Just Dance 2, host the KARV Awards. Known as the “anti.gala” of the year, it’s opposite to other award shows with quirky twists like in 2007 when the stars arrived to a green carpet, following the evenings theme: the environment.
My weekend also led me to hear about the great things that Simon Cazelais from Bleu Blanc Rouge is up to, including work with Lafleur for its 100th anniversary, as well as work on the series Hawaii 5-0 on Series+, where the steamy campaign could be found on billboards and the radio.

Then, I sat down with Andy and Stephane and things hit warp speed. Impossible?

Nulman re-writes the book when it comes to fascinating. I hope he doesn’t mind my little dose of hero worship. It’s just rarer than rare to meet someone who has a sharp business mind, is unbelievably creative and writes in his spare time to relax. I often think I have the magic for the Forum (yes I am boasting) inside of me. But sharing our draft agenda with Andy makes me feel like I was organizing a lemonade stand with sour lemons. Placed in his hands, the Forum started flying on a magical plane, so much higher than I could ever dream of.

Ideation and brainstorming are fun, but there are two fundamental business reminders I took from this session, which I will share. They aren’t rocket science but they are crucial. #1 is old but relevant in this area of email relationships, Skype meetings, and tweeted feedback: Get on a plane and see people. You get more done and more value created in an hour face-to-face than a mega KBs could ever generate. #2 is newer but not new: Content is king. I have always looked at my events like Disney World. Just yesterday at our Nike High School Grand Prix media launch, I reminded one of my teammates that once the event starts he is a character for our guests… in fact, I said you are Mickey Mouse – in a good way! But Andy has taken my perspective on our Forum beyond being an amusement ride, and positioned it as an all-encompassing entertainment experience. There are planned activities that are on the agenda. There are also planned activities that are not on the agenda, so they appear spontaneous. (Yes we can be that contrived). The unplanned activities truly are spontaneous, unless you consider the fact the circumstances were tilted to create some action.

All of us are in the content business. Your next business lunch is not a meeting. It’s a performance. It’s a show. And it should be a laugh!

2 thoughts on “Tour de Montréal

  1. Mark, I totally agree with you assessment of Andy Nulman. I had the priviledge of having him as a teacher for 3 of my college courses (public relations, and 2 marketing courses). Not only was each class filled with Andy’s personal style of entertainment, but we learned to look and think about marketing in a unique and eye opening way. I continue to value what I’ve learned from Andy 25 years later (gosh – he must have been a kid when he taught those courses)!

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