Back in 1991 the advertising team working on Mike Harcourt and the BC NDP’s successful BC election campaign bonded. We liked working together, and I realized something important: there are very specific skills required for political and advocacy advertising – skills that are not usually found in mainstream advertising. Making change is not only about winning arguments, it is also about winning hearts and minds. It’s a lot more nuanced than selling a product.
So, when TV and entertainment producer Shane Lunny pitched the idea for breaking new ground and creating a new kind of ad agency I signed on. He had the creative cool and infrastructure, Dennis McGann and I had strategic campaign experience. The fourth founding partner was Larry Huber, Shane’s business manager. I knew nothing about running a business and wouldn’t have risked it without Larry’s reassuring presence. The NOW Communications Group was born in a funky old brick office on Beatty Street in Vancouver 30 years ago.
We wanted to create an advertising agency that would serve progressive causes and social good right across the country. We wanted to work with clients we believed in. Our very first advocacy campaign was for the BC Federation of Labour. They needed to pave the way for labour law reform and close off potential opposition from employers. We did opinion research, developed a message, and came up with our TV campaign for ‘fair and balanced labour laws’. The client was happy, the reforms were implemented without a hitch, and the rest as they say, is history.
In the mid-1990s our work started gaining international recognition. NOW’s anti-tobacco campaign for the BC Ministry of Health really put us on the map. Then, in 1999 NOW scored a breakthrough with the successful election campaign for Manitoba Premier Gary Doer. And NOW went national.
I’m particularly proud that the mainstay of NOW’s client base over the years has been unions. Making life better for ordinary working people is sometimes hard work, but it is always worthwhile. Thirty years ago, I could never have imagined the many accomplishments we would achieve and the enduring impact The NOW Group would have on causes and policies from coast to coast. Congratulations to the whole team! May the next 30 years bring ever more success for you and your clients.
Ron Johnson co-founded, and is a former partner, of NOW. He remains a source of inspiration and wisdom for our team.