business presentations

The art of the proposal

Recently, we created some professional proposal materials for a client of ours, this was the first time they had ever done so. The reaction they got was “Wow! We’ve never seen a XXX organization look so polished! It looks like you really have it together!” The proposal was a success and the client went on to win the RFP.

So we wondered what were they doing before? The simple answer is many companies won’t invest in their internally created documents. Answers like “they all look like that” or “no one’s going to care about how it looks” are pretty common. We think differently, because we’ve seen it. Design matters, design works.

In hard economic times spending money on a proposal may not be high on your priority list. We think now is exactly the time you should be investing in design and exploring every possible way you can to increase your companies success, especially on your pitches.

Good design is not a luxury for a business, it’s crucial. From the client’s first impression of your business (the logo) to the smallest of touch points (email signatures and favicons) a killer graphic identity system can make you stand out in a good way.

So, step back and have a hard look at the things you’re showing to your clients. How are you managing your companies design internally? What areas can you improve upon that your competitors aren’t? Being the first to do something well, is an advantage in any economic climate. This is our proposal to you.

Talk to the brand.

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“The Thingy”

It’s been a while since we’ve blogged, and all I can say is we blame it on our clients. They’ve all been great and they’ve been keeping us very busy since the New Year, so we’re going to take this time to thank and highlight one of them – Diefenbaker Canada Centre at the U of S.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, or have never been there, it is worth a visit. It’s easy to find on campus and is an educational trip through time and Canadian history for people of all ages.

The Centre was initially established to house the personal collection of former Canadian Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker.

The Diefenbaker Canada Centre’s (DCC) mandate is to build on this legacy by celebrating citizenship, leadership, human rights and Canada’s role in the international community. In addition to preserving and interpreting the core collection of personal artifacts of Mr. Diefenbaker at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), the DCC proudly hosts new and changing exhibits that interpret the Canadian experience, with a particular emphasis on the culture and heritage of the nation’s many peoples.

Our involvement with the DCC began with a call to Colin long before National Brand was formed. He happened to be on vacation with his family on Vancouver Island at the time and the trooper that he is, took on a small rush project that he nailed first time out. Amazing what a napkin and an iPhone can accomplish from a distance!

This began a relationship that has led to several interesting projects, which as proud Canadians we are glad to be associated with. Anything we can do to promote the DCC and spread the word of it’s values and exhibits is worthy.

Now… what about the “thingy”?  Yes… the “thingy”. (We’ll get to that in a bit)  Besides being contracted to assist with the design of various exhibits, we were asked to take a serious look at their existing brand and make recommendations to improve and solidify their marketing image. The challenges were many, and besides refining and standardizing their graphic look, the most crucial issue was that few people knew the DCC was actually a museum open to the public. They also have educational programs and do outreach programs into the smaller communities of the province – none of which hints at when you looked at their existing communication material. THEN there was the further consideration of complimenting the U of S and developing an elegant way to deal with the party of various partner logos who contribute to the DCC’s always changing activities. A complex project for sure, but not for National Brand.


The first step was to address their logo, which as you can see, contains actual illustrations within a maple leaf styled logo. This created nothing but production and visibility problems when the logo was anything but LARGE. Colin’s solution to this was simple, – eliminate the seldom seen illustrations from the logo. The second step was to address how the logo communicated their purpose. How could you tell what the DCC offered as an experience quickly, so we needed to make sure people ‘got it’ – hence the addition of a short descriptor – Exhibits • Education • Outreach. Now we were cooking with fuel.

So…about that “thingy”.  The DCC building on the University campus is a low-slug tyndal stone structure perfectly situated within it’s environment and it has a distinguishing architectural feature, a clearstory window/skylight that juts out of the roof. Clearstory window? Few people know what they are called, including Colin who immediately dubbed it “the thingy”.  Colin’s design incorporated this unique and modular brand feature into the graphic design refresh and the results – they speak for themselves.

dcc art thingy

Now they have a fresh and recognizable image. You know it’s a museum, and you have an idea of what to expect when you visit. You even get a hint of the building, which once seen is obviously identified with a “we’re here” moment.

We love projects like these. Not only are the clients great to work with (you know who you are DCC folks…), we are following our hearts and our belief in doing great work for great people and promoting the issues, causes, products and services we personally believe in. Hail ‘the thingy”. Long live the DCC!

– The DCC is a great destination for anyone visiting the city.
– If you’ve never been, check it out.
– It’s grounds, boast THE best view of the city and river valley.
– It’s totally FREE!

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Our thoughts on SUPER BOWL 2016 Commercials

Watch them here

Colin: Pretty funny.
Wes: ‘Follow the chip’ has been done before but this time it’s funny and not just dumb.

T-mobile – Steve
Colin: – Meh. Timely though, or is it? Does anyone still care about this?
Wes – Yes…timely. And no one cares.

Mountain Dew – Puppy monkey baby
Colin:  Catchy, but annoying.
Wes: Puppies, monkeys and babies. Three things that are a chore to tend… and watch.

Hyundai – First date
Colin:  Very funny and I can relate to it.
Wes: Amusing way to highlight a new technology.

Avocados from Mexico
Colin: Pretty funny but the double-dip joke is over and wrecked it for me.
Wes: I agree… uniquely conceived up until that point. Too bad.

Honda – Ridgeline
Colin:  Funny and cute. Good demonstration of a cool product feature.
Wes: I’m just so tired of talking animals, babies, magpies etc. Let’s get back to real ideas and not tired techniques. Next!

Skittles – Steven Tyler
Colin: Pretty good, but Steven Tyler revolts me.
Wes: I’ve never liked this series, and so it continues….sigh.

Audi – Commander
Colin: Really good, sentimental and rocking, but who has the money for an R8?
Wes : Loved it, even if it jumps on the recent Bowie memorial craze. This really connected the excitement of the product to the viewer.
(Thank goodness it didn’t feature Chris Hadfield’s awful singing of the same song. Whewf!)
Colin: I watched them all. A good teaser. I liked the Jeff Goldblum one the best.
Wes: As you should, Colin. It’s the one that revealed where they were going???
Anywhoo…a series that kept me intrigued and wondering where it was going. Liked it a lot. (Piece of the pie…hee hee)

Colin:  There aren’t enough puppies, celebrities or wacky characters to make me like ANY drug commercial.
Wes: Super Bowel? That was the best part of this cute spot, but who wants to listen to 30 seconds of side effects.

Bud Light
Colin: I’ve gotta say, I liked it. Celebrities that I actually like, and a good parody of the ridiculous world of American politics.
Wes: I’ve seen the light. Great writing.

Colin: I liked it. Positive message. Interesting blend with reality. Still not sure of the point…other than overall pokemon awareness.
Wes: My nine year old nephew’s dedication to learning the complications of Pokemon is admirable…yet still leaves me dumbfounded and underwhelmed…like this commercial. I can’t do it. Sorry.

Heinz Ketchup
Colin: Great execution of a simple idea. The best so far.
Wes: I agree. Start with a good, simple idea and execute it well. Nice.

Colin: Pretty good. This series is old but it’s a good idea well executed. Willem Dafoe works pretty good in this spot. Rosie O’Donnell might have been better though.
Wes: A nice follow-up to the Brady Bunch spot. It’s funny how Willem’s legs have such a strong resemblance to his face.

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Wes Fyck saskatoon home magazine advertising agency

Saskatoon Home Magazine features Wes Fyck’s Mid-Century modern masterpiece.

Episode 4

Forward by Colin McFadyen
Saskatoon Home Magazine is featuring my partner’s house as the main feature this month, you should check it out. My partner Wes Fyck is an incredible guy, not only is he creative, funny and a good soul, he has incredible taste. This is one of the reasons I wanted him as a partner in our advertising agency. Even though when I’m in his house he never let’s me touch or move anything (which makes me do it more), his home is something I’ve always admired. Which is why I wanted him to write this months blog entry related to his sense of taste. Take it away Wes and congrats on the home story, I’ll be over later to track mud through the place…

It’s a matter of taste.

Do creatives get into creative work because we “have good taste?”

My business partner tells me he chose me to be his partner because of my taste. Thanks pal. I love being appreciated for that reason. Was I born with this gift? I’d have to say yes, to a degree. But I know it was developed and honed through years of travel, exploration and exposure to new and old elements of design. (more on this later) Also, my home was recently featured in a local home magazine because of it’s demonstration of a lifetime of recognizing and collecting good design. ( visit ) However, some designers, I would argue, also need to work on what they consider tasteful. I’m sorry to say that not all designers have good taste. But how do you know when an ad or a design is truly good or bad? Is it as subjective as many people say it is? I’d say no. Without some guardians of good design in our midst the world would become a free-for-all of visual mediocrity.

It Takes Years
Most people have a pretty good idea of what they like, but actually creating work that’s consistently praised by those in and outside the design community takes many years of practice. You can think your work is good immediately after you create it, then come back to it six months or a year later and cringe with horror at your previous lack of skill.

That’s just the way it works. You build up a level of experience – just as if you were playing a game or sport – and when you revisit old, conquered territory you find that you’re much more equipped to handle the challenge than you were before. You can then go on to “kick your own ass,” so to speak, and create new work that completely overshadows the old.

The important thing to remember here is that all designers, not just you, are doing the exact same thing with their own work. So that designer you admire a great deal may be going through his own hard drive and shaking his head in shame at that design you once found to be amazing.

Get Off The Internet
Seriously. Go outside and look around. Take photos. Read real books in an actual library. Read old magazines to gain an appreciation of past ideas. You’ll be surprised what you find. There are so many sources of inspiration beyond what you find online. Go find them. When you go forth and take in more of the world around you, your ideas of what’s good and bad will inevitably change and improve.

How does that work? You will gain a broadened perspective of what’s out there and what’s been done before, and by whom. Reading, travel, talking to different people from all walks of life, taking a class to learn something different and non-design related – all of these things can help you get that valuable perspective and will improve your taste in design, almost by default.

Remember, design is about ideas and how things work. So the more things you analyze, the more you can determine what’s working about them and what isn’t.

Also, don’t forget to do personal projects. The more personal work you can do, the better off you’ll be, as it’s usually through personal work that your personal taste develops the most. If you get stuck in a rut with client work – maybe your clients have all been demanding the same style and you fear your work is beginning to look the same – a fun personal project may be just the thing to invigorate you and get you excited about design again.

There’s Always Something Better
I thought I knew what good design was, until I saw something that blew my previous notions out of the water. Always be on the lookout for even better designs, and push yourself to achieve greater heights than you ever thought you could.

Your opinions will change the more knowledge you have under your belt, and you may even look back on the things you used to love with a bit of pity. It’s a bit like being a kid and thinking some movie or TV show made for children is the best thing ever. Then, when you become an adult, you realize that it wasn’t so great after all.

The same thing happens to your design taste. The more you take in and grow as a person, the more discerning you will be about what actually constitutes “good design.”

All of the tactics we’ve outlined above can help you get there, but do remember to be patient. Developing good taste is one thing that won’t happen overnight. In fact, it can take a lifetime to truly have a handle on what the best design solution is for any given situation.

See the story at Saskatoon Home Magazine or ask Wes for a copy, but I doubt he will give you one.

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Advertising Pet Peeves

Being in advertising can sometimes be a curse. While writing this we discovered that we could literally write a book about all the things we see wrong in advertising. From awkward design details to huge mistakes in strategy, we are constantly gauging how well an ad has been done.

In this third blog entry it is time to take off the gloves. As promised, this is all about our biggest advertising pet peeves. Both Colin and I have a lot of overlap when it comes to those recurring, irritating, “when will they learn” mistakes we see WAY to often. Will posting this make them stop? We doubt it. But it sure will feel great to vent, and if anyone reading this shares our opinion or is a perpetrator of one of these atrocities, maybe the world can bend to our will. Let us take you on a little trip through some of the terrible themes and trends we see happening right now. Enjoy!


No. It actually isn’t. I’ve had many a heated discussion about this one, and its crazy for anyone to believe this dinosaur of a phrase. The argument that “you saw it, didn’t you?” is irrelevant. Why? Because when I did see it, the message was so off and the ad so horribly executed that I will forever avoid that product or service out of protest. A bad ad can do much more harm than you think.

For years now they’ve been saying that digital is hot, so everyone is rushing to jump on the bandwagon. This includes digital ‘experts’ who often rename many existing advertising tactics in an effort to appear on the cutting edge of something. Terms like Content Marketing or User Experience Design are two examples that come to mind, but in reality they are just the common sense tools of a good designer or marketer. There is a lot of phooey out there when it comes to digital marketing and much of it is now being realized. This is after billions have been blindly spent by companies trying to maximize their marketing efforts in a medium where ‘just being there’ isn’t enough.

There’s a quote on our website that nicely sums up this mess – “Fads come and go, media changes, but a great idea lasts forever”. Digital is a powerful medium, but add the trump card of a powerful idea… and you’re finally getting somewhere.

So how do we feel about the web? WE LOVE DIGITAL. In today’s world it is an essential part of reaching the connected target market. It can be done very effectively, but keep in mind that it can also become a major irritant. Also remember that there still is a demographic out there that is NOT connected to the web. If you’re planning some online ads be careful about what you are hearing, get a second opinion and if you wish ‘Talk to the Brand’ about it first.


I have personally been in this boat and I have vowed never to go there again. Companies all over Saskatoon seem to be searching for this ‘magical unicorn’ of a person in an apparent effort to save money. To a company this initially seems like a good idea, but it usually results in a revolving door of overtaxed candidates. This is inevitable because this poor bastard is suddenly responsible for at least 4 different areas of expertise – areas that are each a profession of their own. They find themselves in over their head, they get horribly overworked and as a result produce some really lame advertising. The employee isn’t happy, the employer isn’t happy and the company’s image is done no favours.

As I have been this ‘magic unicorn’ (and the best damn unicorn there ever was, might I add) I can tell you that for the same price you are paying this unicorn (and for god’s sake if you take this position, don’t do it for less than $65k) you could hire this magical company called an ‘advertising agency’ and they will create some really incredible stuff. They don’t need employee benefits, an office, a desk, computers, printers, and take up much less of your time all for the same money.

To all the magical unicorns out there I say good luck to you, don’t take any shit, and you’re doing great, considering the messy goo you are stuck in.


That’s it for me folks, thanks for reading and please comment if you wish.
Over to you Wes…


So lets get right into it with one of my biggest pet peeves – lowest common denominator advertising. What is this you ask? It is advertising that seems to assume the viewer is a complete and total idiot who’s personal will is totally bendable through repeated exposure to escalating stupidity. Now, don’t confuse this with ads that are actually funny. They succeed because they make us laugh. The trick is to do so while aligning those good feelings with the product. So often a humorous ad is little more than humorous, and when asked we can never remember the product that was being pushed in the first place. Hence it succeeds in getting the laugh, but not in selling the product. Some argue that it’s still building the brand, but to what end?

I’d like to ask the big question “what ever happened to creativity?” How was it replaced by stupidity? In my mind, ads have a responsibility to the viewer. They should inform, educate and when appropriate, entertain.

– Inform me as to what’s new.
– Educate me as to why I should consider this product or service.
– Intelligently entertain me. Leave me thinking I’d be better off with that product.

Most of the ads I’m referring to seem to be aimed at kids and teenagers. There is one TV ad for a candy that appears to be snot streaming from the nose of some blob-like candy creature. There’s another TV ad with adults licking a window in an attempt to get to a chocolate bar display on the other side. Do you really want to eat monster snot? Are you actually too stupid to figure out that there is glass between you and the chocolate bar? If you are, you should be wearing a helmet and under medical supervision, not prowling the streets. What the ad is really saying is this; they think you are stupid enough to fall for anything. They are wrong.

I often wonder how a Product Marketing Manager can be convinced by an ad agency that this is “the” best way reach the target market? If clients that bendable exist I have to wonder what their experience level is. I also have to wonder what agency would allow this poop to float to the top of the bowl they are dishing from.

In all honesty I can’t say that every thing I’ve ever done in this career can be free from ridicule. BUT… I can honestly say that if the project did turn into a gong show you can bet your bottom dollar that it was the result of a client (or even worse, a committee) who had to add their two bits just so they could appear to be earning their keep. When this happened in the past it was often difficult to say no. After all, they are the client and I only work here. Now, with our own agency, we are actually selling candor. It is our responsibility to tell a client what is right and what is wrong. This is why they hire us. If we cannot do our best work for them we are doing them a disservice and compromising our own better judgment and reputation. After all… the last thing we want to produce is another pet peeve.

If you have any pet peeves of your own that weren’t covered here, or you’d just like to elaborate on these, please send us your thoughts. We love being in good company. 😉

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You can’t learn this overnight

Today’s advertisers are faced with more media options than have ever before. Traditional media is still a staple. TV, Radio, Billboards, Transit ads, Newspaper, Magazine print ads and other forms are the norm, but there are so many alternative choices too. Who ever thought we’d see bathroom advertising? How about wrapping round bales with your message? Remember banners flown behind planes? The innovations are endless, but let’s face it…on-line advertising is the beast of the day. If you’re not on-line, you’re not legitimate. So, with all these choices how do you make the most of your advertising budget? It’s not easy, but it’s done everyday. Here is a little wisdom from National Brand.

Successful advertising requires contemplative planning and an integrated approach to each and every communication. When done properly, your business or organization should become talked about. Remember the days of “Hey, did you see that ad for (insert product)?”  Achieving such penetration requires more than just a degree in marketing (no offense intended). It takes a true understanding of your target market, and the ability to understand their needs and purchasing triggers, and the right creative approach to get not only their attention, but convince them that this is the product for them. No school can teach a marketer these skills. They come in combination with education and gut intuition that only years of past experience can deliver. So few marketers understand that their message needs to reflect the business offering and give the viewer a reason to stay involved in the message. Is it informative? Does it make me curious enough to explore your product or service further? Does it teach me something? Is it intelligently portrayed? At the very least, does it entertain me?

As an organization or business experiencing a period of economic downturn, advertising is often one of the first things to suffer cut backs in the operating budget. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that this is the worst move you could make. Why pull back on promotion when you need it the most? Maybe it’s because your efforts at marketing yourself have been ineffective. This is very common and I see it all the time. It’s not too difficult to spot, as it often looks somewhat immature, has either no real concept or such a poor attempt at one that it’s just downright lame. Lame attempts lead to lame response. It’s as simple as that. To these people I say this – if you’ve been handling your own marketing, you are not only diverting your strength and attention away from your business but you are too close to the issues to see your marketing objectively. Regardless of your budget, this is the time to talk to professionals. Get them on your team, let them develop and implement a solid strategy and campaign with the ability to move the needle and allow yourself the time to do what you do best – manage your business. You won’t regret it.

Thanks for your time. Please stay tuned for the upcoming third installment – Our biggest advertising pet peeves. It’s bound to be a hair raiser. In the mean time, talk to the brand, we’ll give you a hand ; )

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Welcome to the inaugural entry of the sure to be amazing National Brand Blog. It is with great trepidation that we take on this task, knowing the effort it takes to deliver meaningful and entertaining content worthy enough to occupy a few minutes of your valuable time. This is the challenge of a blog, and the greater challenge of the Blogger.

That said, what will this blog be about? Well, as we are an ad agency we hope to share a meaningful and honest discussion about the current state of advertising in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and beyond – sharing and giving kudos to great work, as well as highlighting the work that deserves questioning. We will also highlight issues that we feel are worthy of everyones attention, and share the great initiatives of our clients and colleagues.

We at National Brand have established ourselves with a few goals in mind, most importantly, to be selective about who we work with. After decades in the business we’ve been forced to sell our souls may times for the almighty dollar. Now that we have the power to choose, we have decided to be a little more selective. We will only promote companies, organizations, and products we believe in, both ethically and morally. Out of this position we have come up with a statement of beliefs to guide us forward.

Statement of beliefs:
– Support entrepreneurship and good local businesses

– Conduct ourselves ethically, with integrity, and as good stewards
– Show deference for human beings and the natural environment
– Think sustainably, and carefully consider the outcomes of our actions
– Respect others and embrace social, ethnic, and cultural diversity
– Support community and those who value it
– Aim high, and work for continual improvement
– Strive to build long-term relationships
– Do great work that leads to our clients success
– Have a lot of fun along the way

That said, anyone who knows either Colin or myself will know that we like to tell it like it is. We feel that good work only comes out of honesty. As we do in our own creative sessions, if an idea sucks, we say so. We will bring that candor to this blog, so be prepared. Thank you for your time and attention and please check in for our updates. We know you’ll find them enlightening, often opinionated, and hopefully entertaining.

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