Checking in with direct marketing companies based in Quebec’s largest city

Fundraising across Canada and around the world from Montreal

Howard Golberg, president of Pinnacle Direct, has been at the helm of his pioneering direct marketing company for over 30 years. “We certainly have to think smarter and more strategically,” observes Golberg. “When I started doing direct mail fundraising, we could send out a letter that said “hi, we exist” and money poured in.”

Primarily focused on direct response fundraising for not-for-profit clients, Pinnacle Direct is unique in that about half of its clients are international (primarily the U.S. and UK), with the other half comprised of Quebec-based business.

“We’re very proud of one thing—that we were the first Canadian agency to go to the United States,” says Golberg. “Not only have they got a market that’s 10 times the size, they have a market that is essentially 25 times the size—Americans are much more generous than anybody else on the face of the earth. Whereas our total giving is in the eight, nine billion dollar range, the Americans give over $300 billion—that’s $1,000 for every man, woman and child.

“Some of it is accommodated of course by differences in our political taxation system, so education and universities and hospitals are the two major areas of that change, but that doesn’t account for all of it. The biggest difference is America is a much more religious society than we are. Their donations to churches, and I use ‘churches’ in its broadest sense—is a much more important part of their giving network than it is to Canadians.”

The vast majority of work that Pinnacle Direct does in Canada is bilingual. Golberg explains that most of these are Quebec-based companies with a national presence.

“The response rates these days are, give or take, about the same [between French and English Canada], which is different from what it used to be when I started in the business,” Golberg observes. “The francophones are coming clearly to understand more about their responsibilities to help those in need. Average gift rates are still probably about $10 per gift less [in French Canada]. The anglophones, particularly in Montreal, are a very generous community and also a very proud community.”

Golberg notes that a key aspect of bilingual and multicultural marketing is proper customization and offers the following example: “We have a street [in Montreal] called Mountain Street—we pretend that that thing in the middle of the city is a mountain. The original name of the street was Mountain Street. It is now officially Rue de la Montagne. Canada Post says that is the mailing address. However, there are anglophones who have been living on Mountain Street for 50 years who live on Mountain Street no matter what anybody calls it. So what we’ve done is after Canada Post has verified the files we then take them back and for those people we convert it back to Mountain Street. It still gets delivered.

“You want to give the client what they think is right. That’s how you maximize donations on every level. You try to put that additional service into it, that additional cross-process into it to make sure you do the absolute best and you find your way around the problems that are thrown at you.”

Montreal’s multiculturalism offers a huge advantage

Simon-Pierre Trahan, vice president strategy and corporate development at Voxdata.

Voxdata supplies outsource call centre services for a roster of national clients serving a bilingual clientele. With a business office in Mississauga, the company’s main centre is located in Montreal, with currently about 700 employees.

“We used to have a call centre in Mississauga which stopped probably about five years ago,” notes Simon-Pierre Trahan, vice president strategy and corporate development. “That was mainly due to the fact that, in terms of a unilingual English person or program, you can find that in Montreal at a lower cost. The cost of man power will reduce if you get out of the Greater Toronto Area. Just in Mississauga, where we have our business office, you have Purolater, FedEx, all sorts of large operations. It has created some more demand for customer service people, so the salaries are definitely up.

“If you’re talking about getting a bilingual person in the Mississauga area or the Toronto area, this is definitely possible but the cost of those people will be way higher than in the Montreal area.”

In addition to lower operating costs, Montreal offers other important benefits to Voxdata related to the city’s linguistic diversity. “If you look at the province of Quebec, Montreal is the only true multilingual city,” says Trahan. “By multilingual I mean by that if you want someone who’s mother tongue is Spanish, you’re going to find them in Montreal. Russian? You’re going to find them in Montreal. There’s no limit to the assembly of languages that you can do.

“If you go back to just the national languages, French and English, I don’t think you could assemble an accent-less workforce in Quebec city, as an example, which is the second largest city. I think Montreal is also providing the labour from students—I think in Montreal we have have five universities.

“We have some programs here that cover North America, so Spanish and other languages which they can provide from Montreal. Maybe there’s some people speaking Russian in Quebec City, but in Montreal you can be confident that you can staff a call centre to provide multi-lingual service.”

As the contact centre industry evolves, so too does the important of access to a workforce who can not only speak fluently in a variety of languages but, increasingly, also write well. “We started email processing in 2014 and even more interestingly we started social media presence management in 2015,” notes Trahan. “So we are fortunate to work with some leading brands in Canada and I think from a generational point of view, even though the email and social media are not necessarily the predominant way for people to contact a service provider, it is something growing and it is very interesting for us because it allows us to add value and change a bit the ground rules that applies to telephone customer service. It requires a higher skill set as there is more latitude in how the interaction will be performed.”

True relationship marketing starts with adept cultural fluency

Mark Morin, owner of Strategies Marketing Direct.

It is obvious that Mark Morin, owner of Strategies Marketing Direct, is excited about the evolution of the direct marketing industry. He cites cognitive technology and marketing automation as the most revolutionary technologies at play and notes that they are opening doors for breakthroughs in customer centricity, including a vastly expanded understanding of the customer journey and true relationship marketing.

“People are starting to understand, yes, getting someone to place an order is great but that’s only the start of the relationship,” notes Morin. “How do we move it forward? What do we need to put in place? And marketing automation allows you to do that, technology allows you to do that very effectively. I think that is really cool.”

Beyond the classic definition of direct marketing, getting the right offer to the right person at the right time in order to drive a sale, today Morin believes that sequence is only the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship.

“The sale is not the end goal,” says Morin. “The relationship is the goal. Instead of focusing on that one transaction you’re focusing on the customer’s lifetime value.
“I find that marketers don’t think enough about the fact that every single time you transact or interact with your customers you have an opportunity to consolidate the relationship or destroy it totally.

“Every time you send an email for something that’s not relevant to the customer because you just want to do ‘batch and blast’ because it’s simple, then you are depreciating the value of your brand in the eyes of your customers. You’ve just said, ‘you know what, I don’t really care if you want this or not. I’m gonna stick it your mailbox and hope that you’ll buy because all we want is your money, not your loyalty, and we don’t really care who you are.’”
The level of sophistication required for post-campaign thinking is naturally multiplied in the context of bilingual campaigns, which Morin says applies to almost everything Strategies Marketing Direct does. “You want to be idiomatic, you want to use expressions that people will understand and that will trigger emotion as opposed to just communicating the ideas effectively,” says Morin. “That’s really important. You have to have that sensibility to understand how the wording and even the imagery can change from one market to another. There are significant differences between the Quebecois and the rest of Canada or the United States or the world, as you can appreciate. Just as there’s a difference between Toronto versus Vancouver. There are regional differences as well as cultural differences—TV shows, movies, music. You want to draw on that cultural environment in order to build that resonance in your message. It’s hard to do.”

When asked if he believes marketers who grew up in Montreal have an advantage when it comes to effectively addressing multiple cultures, Morin answers in the affirmative: “I think that because we live in a culture where there are two languages—of course French is dominant but the reality of the English language is very present—we do understanding that there are differences. A lot of our culture focuses on the French language and its beauty and how it’s different and unique. We’re brought up understanding that reality. For us, it’s obvious that you would need to go that extra mile to create a powerful message in French. Whereas, for many of our clients located outside of Quebec it’s an afterthought.”

From coast to coast, happy employees lead to happy customers

John Dinardo, president of Nordia Inc.

“Right now we are the fastest growing company in Canada; we have 5,000 employees across 13 centres coast to coast,” says John Dinardo, president of Nordia Inc., from the road as he zooms to make a staff presentation at one of the company’s centres.

Nordia operates two francophone call centers in Rouyn-Noranda and Saguenay, four bilingual centres in Laval, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Montreal and Moncton, as well as six anglophone centres in Nanaimo, Kitchener, Lindsay, Orilla, Peterborough and Saint John. Dinardo notes that Moncton is currently the largest centre, through the company’s corporate headquarters are located just north of Montreal, in Laval.

“Because we operate centres with large amounts of people we need to diversify geographically to be able to be able to hire that many people,” notes Dinardo. He says that Montreal’s main advantages in terms of being home to a call centre are threefold—location, language and public transportation. “What we’re looking for in the Montreal area is, being in an urban centre, you have access to a lot more public transit which gives you a lot more openness in terms of applicants. Attracting people is key for us. More attraction gives us a better selection process because we have more choices. Montreal is a market where you can get English only, you can get French only and you can get bilingual, which makes a big difference in our decision-making process.”

Dinardo believes that the principles of good customer service are equally applicable in both official languages, but that customers do appreciate being served by agents from their own region.
“I think the expectations of a customer are fairly similar [in French or English] but what we’re noticing is if the customer is answered by a rep who is in his or her province or region, the customer will open up a lot more and there will be a satisfaction on the customer’s side, knowing that they are speaking to somebody from Quebec if they are from Quebec,” says Dinardo. “What we do is we ask the rep to say who he is and from where. So, for example, if you’re calling and you’ve selected French and you’re answered in Saguenay, the person will answer, ‘Hi, my name is John and I’m proud to serve you from Saguenay.’ I think that’s where the big difference is.”

Beyond personalization, Dinardo believes that happy employees are the company’s greatest differentiator. “We focus a lot on employee satisfaction,” he says. “We have two key metrics that we focus on to be different than the industry—in order to be successful, to provide good customer service for our customers, there are two things we strive for. First of all is attrition, we have that the best employee retention in the marketplace, and [second is] employee satisfaction. We survey our employees and basically ask one question: would you recommend Nordia to your friends and family as a place to work? For three years in a row over 80% have said yes.

“The only way to deliver good customer service for our customers is to maintain low attrition and high employee satisfaction. That’s our business model—we offer good wages, opportunity, state of the art facilities and really nice working environment with decent square footage per person. We’re really focused on that and that’s what makes us different in the marketplace and that’s really why we’re growing so fast.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Sarah O'Connor

Sarah O'Connor is the editor of Direct Marketing magazine.

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