Guy Laurence: ‘It’s time for Canada’

For the record, here’s what Rogers President and CEO told the Canadian Club in Toronto today

Guy Laurence addresses the Canadian Club in Toronto, Sept. 14, 2016.

Guy Laurence is President and CEO of Rogers (which owns Maclean’s). He spoke to the Canadian Club Toronto earlier today:

Thank you. Good afternoon everyone.

First, I’m honoured to speak at the Canadian Club, especially being a “new Canadian.” One who only got his permanent residency just two weeks ago!

I’ve actually lived here nearly three years, bought a house, my wife is doing an MA at U of T and I’ve even got used to raccoons living in my backyard.

I have travelled across the country many times as President of Rogers and have met and spoken to literally thousands of Canadians.

Despite the cold, I’ve learned that Canadians are, indeed, very warm. But probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that the world’s perceptions of Canada don’t match reality.

I’ve gotten to know and love this country. I want the world to see what I see, and for Canada to reap the rewards that come with it. And that’s really the point of my speech today.

Now, forgive me, I know that you are a nice, polite group of people and that you don’t like to wrap yourself in the flag or be too boastful. I admire your quiet patriotism. But I think it’s time for Canada to step out of the shadows and into the light on the world stage.

I’ve just come back from the U.K., and the mood there is decidedly more somber. People there are still shocked by the outcome of Brexit, the resignation of David Cameron, and the virtual collapse of every political party.

Across Europe, the mood is also somber. France, Germany and Switzerland have all had to deal with major terrorist attacks. And of course, there’s the migrant issue. Last year over one million migrants and refugees landed in Europe. At the same time, there’s much debate about the economy and their membership in the EU.

Returning back here, south of the border, it’s not exactly brilliant either.

It’s not just the looming U.S. election. And yes, I think that might even trump Britain’s problems.

It’s the mindless gun violence. Mass shootings, police shootings. It’s estimated this year that there will be roughly 10,000 gun murders in the U.S. Compare that to roughly 160 gun deaths in Canada every year. Whilst there’s 10 times more people, there’s 60 times more deaths stateside.

Plus, it’s the fear of terrorism, the fear of the Zika virus, I could go on.

So what about Canada?

Yes, Canada has its fair share of issues and we shouldn’t belittle them. But they are significantly less than other countries. So let’s just put them aside for one minute and concentrate on the positives.

To start, there’s peace at every border. There’s world-class education and world-class health care.

Canada ranks sixth in the world in the United Nations report on happiness. I know what you’re thinking—how do I get a job at the UN ranking countries based on happiness?

There’s a stable and effective economy. Just look at how Canada weathered the economic meltdown eight years ago; it nicely proves my point.

There’s world class communications networks. Not the patchy, swiss cheese networks that exist in many parts of the world. I have lived all over the world and I can assure you Canadian networks are world class. And that’s because companies like Rogers have invested billions to connect Canadians.

Canada also sets the gold standard for diversity and inclusiveness.

On top of that, there’s a new government led by a visible, socially conscious Prime Minister. A Prime Minister who’s looking to build a positive brand for Canada all around the world–even if it takes a bunch of “accidental” shirtless photos. Something I won’t be emulating in my own PR!

Yes, Canada has always been respected and admired. The country is beautiful. Its people are friendly. Its cities are safe. But I don’t believe it’s ever stood out quite like it does right now.

So amongst all the chaos outside its borders–which is at an all-time high–I believe it is time for Canada. But this isn’t just about tourism or waving the flag, it’s about building a brand.

Allow me to be an outspoken outsider. Sort of like a houseguest who complains about your tea selection.

A woman smiles as she entertains the crowd during the annual Canada Day parade in Montreal, Friday, July 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

A woman smiles during the annual Canada Day parade in Montreal, Friday, July 1, 2016. (Graham Hughes, CP)

Canada has two problems when it comes to its brand.

First, its brand is not well defined in the world–it’s just not clear. In my experience, Canada is most often defined by what’s it is not, and that’s America.

Second, Canada could be a lot more ambitious about promoting its brand, and reaping the economic and social benefits that come with it.

Canada has a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity to define itself beyond just mountains, maple syrup, and Mounties.

It’s an interesting question—what makes a country’s moment? I was in the U.K. the last time it faced this issue. The solution was branded Cool Britannia.

In the nineties, we had a new Labour government led by Tony Blair, the youngest prime minister in almost two centuries. Remind you of anyone?

London was reasserting itself as a global financial centre. It was also a stable place to invest, like real estate. Remind you of anywhere?

But perhaps most importantly, there was a cultural renaissance in the U.K.

Even now we remember Cool Britannia mostly for the media and entertainment personalities, the artists, actors, writers, singers, fashion idols, and brands who defined the nineties.

There were the Spice Girls and Oasis.

There was Alexander McQueen and Kate Moss.

David Beckham, Naomi Campbell, and Hugh Grant. The list goes on.

All of them international superstars and unmistakably British. All of them wrapped themselves proudly in the British brand, some of them quite literally. You’ll remember Geri Halliwell in that Union Jack dress, and Noel Gallagher with his Union Flag guitar.

It wasn’t just about the icons. It wasn’t just about waving the flag. It was about creating an overall brand. A brand under which all things cool and British could live.

I was there working in the media business whilst all this was happening.

It was a great time to be in Britain, and the momentum begun in those years, carries on till this day.

I see the same opportunity here in Canada right now.

I don’t know what the Canadian equivalent to Cool Britannia is–maybe Cool Canadiana?

But you shouldn’t have an Englishman define your national brand, the last time we did that we ended up with “I’m a lumberjack” by Monty Python.

If there ever was a time for Canada to wrap its arms around its cultural icons and support them–to leverage them to help build a brand for a nation–it’s now, and I mean right now.

Canada might be small, but it’s mighty. Take the music scene.

Last winter, seven of the top 10 songs on the Billboard 100 were Canadian.

And the most streamed album of 2015? It wasn’t Beyonce, Taylor Swift, or Adele. It was Beauty Behind the Madness, by The Weeknd.

This summer, four of the top 10 songs on Spotify’s Global playlist featured Canadians–that’s the most of any country outside the U.S.

And we can’t forget Justin Bieber–whilst he’s only 22, and still acting like it–he’s now in the midst of one of the most successful international tours by any recording artist, ever.

It’s even more impressive when you put these figures into context. There are over 35 million Canadians, and 320 million Americans. You don’t need to be a mathematician to see Canada punches above its weight class.

But it’s not just about music. There’s video, too.

Canadian stars like Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, and Ryan Reynolds are so ingrained in Hollywood that they’re not “that Canadian actor” anymore.

The Ontario film production industry had a killer year, with productions delivering $1.5 billion to the provincial economy. In total 55 movies were filmed here last year. And one of them, Spotlight, won an Oscar.

Meanwhile, Vancouver had a record year producing 353 film and TV shows. And two of the top U.S. box office films—Suicide Squad and Sausage Party—were produced here.

There’s also VICE. Born out of Montreal, it runs in 30 countries around the world with more than 340 million viewers. My company has a joint venture with VICE, building a studio in downtown Toronto, whilst exporting the Canadian-made content around the world.

It’s also about publishing.

Two Canadian authors, Madeline Thien and David Szalay, are among the six nominees for this year’s Man Booker prize.

And Texture, one of the first digital magazine platforms in the world, features Canadian magazines like Maclean’s and Today’s Parent. No other non-U.S. brands stand beside the likes of Vogue and People.

Speaking of Today’s Parent, a magazine published by my company, 40 per cent of its web traffic comes from the U.S. Not bad given we don’t advertise or promote it there.

There’s also the gaming industry.

Over 20,000 people now work in Canada’s gaming industry, making it the third largest in the world. There are now about 470 studios operating in the country, and 85 per cent of them are Canadian-owned.

So whilst we’ve been chilling at the cottage, sipping our Steam Whistle, Canada has become one of the world’s most important cultural powerhouses.

There are more than one million jobs in the Canadian cultural industry. And over 260,000 are related to film and TV production alone.

REUTERS/Ammar Awad

(Ammar Awad, Reuters)

Earlier this year the OECD released data ranking countries by the value of their cultural production.

Canada ranked eighth in the world.

That might not sound like much but when you look at cultural production on a per capita basis, Canada shoots up to fourth.

It gets better. Canada is virtually tied with Germany, which is in third, and not far behind the U.K., which is in second place and sliding.

So close to being the second largest cultural producer in the world, just inches away from the number one spot.

Beyond a branding exercise, you’re probably wondering why all of this matters.

It matters because Canada is missing out. It’s missing out on reaping the benefits of selling its cultural products to the global market.

Let’s look at the U.K. They export $21 billion of cultural goods each year.

Canada exports about $2 billion.

That’s twenty one to two. If you were at a ball game, you would have left the stadium.

I’ll save you the Google search–the U.K. has 1.8 times more people than Canada. So a sizeable advantage.

But not a ten times advantage … and the gap between the two countries has doubled–and it’s widening.

This gap lays out the challenge–but more importantly, the opportunity–for Canada’s cultural sector.

Let’s use the opportunity in video as an example—one of the fastest-changing sectors of the cultural economy. Online services like Netflix and YouTube have created global channels of video distribution whilst expanding the number of programs available to viewers.

Some people in the conventional TV and cable businesses fear this development. They see it as a dog-eat-dog, zero-sum game. It’s not.

Here are some results from a Boston Consulting Group study into the impact of online media in markets around the world.

The study shows that online services aren’t cannibalizing traditional TV production dollars. They’re making a half-a-trillion-dollar global industry bigger. Content creation is up. Content consumption is up. There’s an extra $25 billion available in the global video ecosystem.

The study also shows that Canada is losing out when it comes to selling its content abroad. U.K. TV content creators are getting four times the income from foreign sources versus Canadian creators.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a demand for Canadian content; there is. The study shows investment in Canadian productions is growing 14 per cent each year. But there’s potential for so much more if we could build Canada’s brand.

There are some great examples of Canadians doing well on digital platforms. There’s Lilly Singh, better known as Superwoman. She has roughly 10 million subscribers to her comedic YouTube channel and her videos have been watched more than 1.4 billion times. She’s even made Forbes top 10 list of YouTube stars in the world. Her story shows there’s appetite for Canadian talent outside of Canada.

So it’s time for Canada to enjoy it, embrace it, and most of all capitalize on it. Not just for the sake of the cultural sector but for the nation as a whole.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m a brand guy. I believe in strong brands, and I believe a strong brand can do as much for a country as it can for a company.

But you can’t just leave it all to Ryan Reynolds and Rachel McAdams. There is a role for policy too.

Canada hasn’t made a substantive change to its cultural policy in 25 years. 1991—one of the top rated TV shows that year was the last season of Dallas. Did you know that J.R. Ewing went on to mentor Donald Trump after the series ended? Sorry–I digress.

The focus of Canada’s cultural policy has been on the domestic scene, telling Canadian stories to Canadians, whilst protecting itself from Americans.

That’s meant protecting and nurturing Canadian talent through content quotas and subsidies.

This made sense in the early stages of Canada’s cultural development. But it’s 2016.

We live in a global content market. There are over one billion content creators in the world. And cultural industries are measured in trillions, not millions or even billions.

It’s time to stop being defensive, and it’s time to start being offensive. To be clear I mean going on the offence (not being offensive!). I know Canadians wouldn’t do that.

Canada needs to rid itself of the idea that it can’t compete globally, that somehow you’ll be overshadowed by the Americans.

I have to say, it’s good to see the new government appreciates this opportunity.

Mélanie Joly, the minister of Heritage, has shared an outward looking vision for Canada’s cultural policy. And it is clear Prime Minister Trudeau is determined to raise Canada’s profile globally.

They recognize the value of a strong Canadian brand, the role of culture in building it, and the pay-back for trade, tourism and many other parts of the economy.

Through trade policy and diplomacy, the government can do this. They can help sell Canadian content around the world. And they can enlist Canadian talent as brand ambassadors.

Leading media companies, like Rogers, also have a role to play. So we look forward to participating in the minister’s upcoming consultation. I’m glad to see that her consultation paper is promoting Canadian content globally, and if it’s not clear from my remarks today, we support a funding model that exploits this huge opportunity.

We’re asking the government to recognize that there is enough money in the system already. We don’t need more funds–we need to consolidate the alphabet soup of funds so we can reduce complexity and administrative costs.

We’re asking for content to be funded on a platform neutral basis…for content to be created for all distribution platforms, whether it’s a TV screen, a movie screen, or a smartphone screen. Consumers are going digital. Rogers is going digital. Canada needs to go digital.

Content should end up anywhere and everywhere it makes sense.

The government should cultivate a creative identity that the cultural sector, government, and diplomats can sell. It should redirect its focus from selling Canadian content to Canadians to selling Canadian content to the world.

We think there’s a huge opportunity for the government, and the Prime Minister, to leverage their fresh appeal and launch a clear brand for Canada.

Canadian companies can support this movement. At Rogers we can amplify this brand through the $580 million of Canadian content we create and fund—and use it to open up new conversations with international distribution channels.

When Canadian content gets out there, the world laps it up. It wants more Canada.

Canada can, and should, take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Whilst the rest of the world deals with its challenges, there’s never been a better time for Canada to define its standing on the world stage.

And once the country’s brand has been defined, there’s more than enough talent to carry the message forward. Trust me, Drake can help Canada promote a lot more than the Raptors.

And this will mean more jobs, more tourism and more export dollars.

It’s time for Canada.

Thank you.

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