Canadian Agency Goes from Garage to Cannes in One Year

By Patrick Coffee 

The four creatives behind Canadian agency One Twenty Three West (123w) have a long history in the industry: they each have “roughly” 20 years of experience with big-name north-of-the-border shops like DDB and Lowe Roche along with the awards to match.

The questions: why did this group decide to start their own agency just over one year ago? How did they end up presenting at this year’s Cannes Festival? Most importantly, what do East Vancouver natives have to say about their decision to begin operations in a principal’s garage?

More info from co-founder/Managing Director Scot Keith after the jump.

Why did you decide to start 123w?

“We all were creative directors or managing directors and partners at Canadian agencies…We created this agency because we wanted to get back to the basics of doing great work. Most agencies take their best writer or art director and them make them a creative director one day where they spend more time managing then creating. Rob, Bryan and Jeff wanted to do more work.”

How is your strategy different from that of agencies where you worked in the past?

“We run our business like the movie business. There’s the four of us, and then we cast the rest of the talent based on the project…The clients only pay for what they need.

Geography is not a limitation. We’d rather work with awesome people in the UK then mediocre people across the street.”

What’s up with the garage?

“We…believe in high talent and low overhead. We started 123w in Jeff’s garage: a pimped out garage, but still a garage.

Our clients actually loved it…As we started picking up more accounts, we outgrew the garage and now we work in a working linen factory that is very similar to the meth lab in ‘Breaking Bad’. Again, our clients love it.”

And what about your roster?

“We now have 18 clients. It started with doing project-based work…[and grew] into something bigger.

We picked up clients such as Mercedes-Benz, Smart Car, 7-Eleven, Kal Tire and a bunch of national Canadian clients and regional Western Canadian clients.”

Have you had to expand your staff?

“We’ve hired more full time people and we still contract out great talent so that we can expand and contract quickly depending on the work we get.

Clients love the talent we’re able to put together for them. They love how efficient we are…Think Navy Seals vs. the larger Army.”

How about the work itself?

“Our website ( won a Cannes Cyber Lion just nine weeks after we started…and just won a Silver Pencil at the One Show Awards. We used talent from to tell our story versus doing the same boring thing most agencies do.

[Our deck includes work for] 7-Eleven, Muskoka Brewery and a bunch of other clients.”

Why is Cannes featuring you? How did that come about?

“They asked us to present. They’re showcasing a couple of independent agencies from around the world. They liked our website and the work we’ve been doing.

I constantly help and encourage great people to start their own agencies…Part of our presentation is talking about collaboration and pointing out how our industry really isn’t evolving like others.”

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

“We love other really talented creative people. We want to collaborate with more people… And we’re doing really well so far because great clients want talent.”

Finally, in case you wondered what they all look like in real life (pic via Strategy):

123w pic