Restructuring the Nexus of Advertising Excesses: ADC Board Member Philippe Meunier, Creative Chief and Senior Partner of Sid Lee

As Ignacio exclaimed at Portfolio Night 11 in NYC, Philippe Meunier, our Board Member and Creative Chief/Senior Partner at Sid Lee, was doing Portfolio Nights before Ignacio had even come up with the name! Philippe’s also been a huge supporter and participant of past PN’s. We thank Philippe and Sid Lee for being our New York City Host: recruiting Creative Directors, supporting and spreading the word about PN11, and leading and organizing the event. City Hosts are the local and national heroes of the event. Together, we break down the walls between agencies and up-and-comers.

And Philippe really empathizes with juniors. Heck, he basically cofounded Sid Lee with his partner, Jean-Francois Bouchard, when they were both juniors! After his university studies, Philippe moved from windsurf instructor to creator of one of the most innovative agencies thus far because he couldn’t find a more creative place to work. Philippe is truly our board’s Renaissance man, and we want to know how he manages maintaining his sun-kissed glow and yoga studies while regenerating advertising’s approach.

ADC: What you did before you founded Sid Lee?

Philippe: Before Sid Lee, I was teaching windsurfing as a summer job after college.
In 1993, I co-founded Sid Lee with my partner, Jean-Francois Bouchard. We launched the agency at a small studio in Montreal, with no clients, no money and no great works yet!

ADC: Why did you choose to open an agency rather than join one?

Philippe: In the early ‘90s, we tried to get hired in advertising agencies as a team, but it was impossible because there was a recession and Montreal’s economy was very poor. Also, most of these advertising agencies were boring and weren’t creative enough for us. Instead of having no job, we decided to create our own job.

ADC: Who was your first client?

Philippe: We launched Sleeman beer in Quebec. It was our real first advertising client. We successfully launched this beer on a small budget through a radio campaign, and it had an amazing impact.

ADC: How did you approach this client differently than other firms at the time?

Philippe: Everyone in advertising was doing the same things, TV spots and billboards, so we went in a different direction. Launching a beer brand on radio had not been done before. We had nothing to lose, so we took a risk.

ADC: What was the response?

Philippe: Everyone was drinking beer on terraces in Montreal and Quebec, so they sold so much beer that they eventually ran out that summer.

ADC: Since this success in 1993, how has Sid Lee exceeded your expectation?

Philippe: It’s really hard to start an agency because you just want to survive every campaign, every year. The first day of Sid Lee, we were all about breaking boundaries between disciplines. We learned a lot in the 90’s by making many mistakes because we intended to create “the model agency.”

This remains true to Sid Lee’s philosophy in 2013. It’s all about pushing advertising outside of its comfort zone. We’ve moved from classic advertising design to architecture and to live entertainment because we believe that’s the next step of a brand experience.

ADC: Could you describe a project that exemplifies this ideology?

Philippe: The Bota Bota project. We designed a spa and a boat, essentially a floating spa. The client asked us to design a spa. We came back with the boat. But it’s not really about designing the boat; it’s about using all creative disciplines to build one novel project.

Everything is so well done: architecture, interior design and branding. The product is so unique that it doesn’t need advertising: the product itself is advertising! Bota Bota breaks boundaries by creating a new experience for a brand. It introduces the unexpected.

What happens when you have an architect, writer, designer, and interior designer working on the same project at the same time? They create a unique brand experience that is really well done and crafted to all media aspect of the project, like Bota Bota.

ADC: What’s the greatest task that you’ve had to overcome while working on these multifaceted projects?

Philippe: I think that money and time are always big issues because you’re rendering an idea that doesn’t yet exist. It’s always stressful and all about exerting yourself until the very last minute to make it perfect, to make it happen.

The most challenging part of what we do is the unknown: you never know what to expect when you’ve never done it before. When you’re all about innovation and excitement, it’s the unknown that’s surprising and stressful.

ADC: How do you deal with the stress?

Philippe: I try to stay balanced. Since I’m traveling a lot, I try to eat well, exercise, do a little yoga and have fun in life. I need to make sure that I’m not going to the extreme. At some point, taking on too much is not going to work.

ADC: Let’s talk about C2MTL. Could you describe it for us?

Philippe: C2MTL is a creative and business conference based in Montreal. We bring the most creative people and the most inspiring business people of the world together in Montreal. We believe that creativity is the new currency in business. It’s rare when business people meet creative people. You have many conferences for either creative people or business people, but you don’t have a conference where both of them are on stage talking and resolving business problems creatively. So that was the big idea for C2MTL Montreal.

It’s not just advertising. We’ve invited the whole creative industry: entertainment, film, architecture, design, business startup, and hotel design. Advertising and business need creativity to flourish.

Additionally, Montreal is a beautiful city and no one knows about it, so we thought why don’t we do that in Montreal and invite speakers from around the world to discover the city too. Since we’re based in Montreal, we’re happy to give them a little tour of the city.

ADC: Who are some of the most exciting of speakers at C2MTL this year?

Philippe: Richard Branson is a man who believes in creativity. He’s got balls. We scheduled the French designer Philippe Starck. He’s an inspiring, creative mind who conquered different industries: restaurant, hotel and pure design.

ADC: This relates to ADC’s recommitment to art and craft. Could you talk about how this philosophy applies to Sid Lee?

Philippe: Art and craft are what we do. Even with technology today, it’s all about crafting the work. When you lose contact with craft, you’re losing business. All we want to do is bring emotion to the screen or into a piece of paper or into a space or into a packaging when you open it.

ADC: What would you say your greatest pleasure is working with the ADC board members and Ignacio?

Philippe: This club has history. It’s a shame that today we don’t care much for history. Although, it’s not only what ADC has done in the past but also what they’re going to do in the future that’s exciting. Something is happening right now; something is changing. Of course, it is not always perfect, but everyone at ADC works really hard to make a difference. What I love about it is the energy.

ADC is accomplishing a lot in this world full of creative clubs and award shows, similar to Montreal’s being a small city compared to other major cities. However, both show us that energy and passion of people around one cause and one community can change everything. I felt this way in Miami at the 92nd Annual Awards + Festival of Art and Craft in Advertising and Design, with a lot of people to listen to and learn from. We need more energy directed to our shared passions.

Don’t miss out on the future of the industry: stay apprised of Philippe and his team’s next-level branding at Sid Lee.

If you’re a member and want to share your story, upcoming event or a new project, contact for more information!