Denise is recognized as one of Canada’s top Creative Directors and again this year ranked in the top five in Strategy Magazine’s Creative Report Card.
Her work has been recognized in every national and international award show for clients as varied as PepsiCo, Johnson and Johnson, Labatt Breweries, Mars, Subaru, Paralympics, Right to Play and Regent Park School of Music. She has won the Grand Prix award for the most effective campaign in the country twice. She has consistently been ranked top writer in Canada.
Prior to founding Broken Heart Love Affair, Denise spent five years at BBDO where she got the agency onto the podium as Agency of the Year twice and was part of the team that won Agency of the Year for four years at DDB. Denise was named one of Toronto Brand Stars. She has twice been a judge at the Cannes Lion Festival of Creativity, along with the One Show, LIA, the Clios and was President of the D&AD radio jury. For the last three years she has won Canadian Campaign of the Year, most recently with Regent Park School of Music.
She has been a moderator for Women of Influence and was honoured to be on the See It Be It Panel. She is Chair of the Board of the National Advertising Benevolence Society. As a mom of twin boys, her ultimate goal is to do a campaign that truly changes the world for the better.
LIA: Take us right back to the beginning. When you were growing up was creativity a big part of your life?
Denise: I thought being creative was only drawing or painting, which I’m disastrous at. I did, however, grow up with a vast amount of boredom and extreme insomnia and spent all my time writing myself out of that crippling boredom and anxiety. But I still don’t feel creative because I can’t draw or paint.
LIA: Denise, you left BBDO after 5 years when you were at the top of your game to be one of five founding partners of Broken Heart Love Affair. Can you tell us why you did that?
Denise: I learned so much at BBDO and was so inspired by the talent around me, but I couldn’t resist this opportunity. When I first thought about this move, I worried there might be too many super talented but also super opinionated partners at BHLA. But then Carlos (Moreno, Partner & CCO) said, “we may have different ideas but we always have the same intention” and that just clinched it for me. I was craving a similar intention. I realized I wanted to argue about ideas, not if ideas are still worth it. It also just felt like the right time. Then a pandemic struck. So my sense of timing might be off (sort of like my ability to draw or paint), but it still feels so right.
LIA: What is the superpower that you offer clients over a large network agency?
Denise: Being owned by four creative, strategic people makes all the difference in the world. Every decision is through that lens. Senior creative strategic attention, laser focus on creative for effectiveness. All our time is spent on our clients’ business. And we are a super super blunt group. It’s not for everyone. Maybe I’m too blunt in saying that, but fuck it.
LIA: The name "Broken Heart Love Affair" appears to come from loving the creative process despite the constant heartache - pitching ideas, getting them rejected which in the end leads to better work. What advice would you give to young talent on how to deal with this on a daily basis?
Denise: You have to love the chase. I don’t know if you can make yourself feel that way. The rejection is tough but we use it as another chance to be better or learn from it. You have to love that, I think. If you naturally do, you will do well. Growing up with an older brother helps too.
LIA: It has been said that Broken Heart Love Affair wants to be "a beacon for Canadian creativity to attract talent so they can stretch their creative muscles". How have you done that?
Denise: We have a structure that is going to allow creatives to run their own version of what we have already, with less hierarchy and bureaucracy. All our decisions will be made for the work. I think that will be very attractive to creative thinkers. The whole agency is really a creative department because every single hire has been an idea loving person, whether they are in finance or accounts. They are in service of ideas, not any person or company. Our fifth, non-creative partner Bev, is the biggest fan of creative thinking of us all. She protects the environment for amazing work at all costs. That is a huge draw. There is an energy that exists in this type of environment that you can’t fake. People can tell when you live what you say.
LIA: Broken Heart Love Affair was founded on "kindness" as one of its driving principles. How do you define "kindness" in an industry where it is so competitive and fraught with pitches to win clients and clients' approval?
Denise: We think you can be competitive and decent. Leading through inspiration, not fear is huge to us. I’m Chair of the Board of NABS Canada, whose whole mission is to put people first. Being part of that board means I have to live it. I have never seen being competitive as having to be anything but kind. But I also think kindness requires attention just like anything else that’s important. It can easily slip and we can’t let that happen.
LIA: Your first piece of work for Kruger Products, titled "Unapologetically Human", showed vividly messy and uncomfortable moments of secretions. This is exceptionally brave especially during the pandemic when people are told that the virus is typically transmitted through sneezes, coughs and even talking. What inspired the idea? Was it difficult to sell the idea to the client?
Denise: Oddly enough, the idea was inspired by a conversation we were all having about New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern – and how in many ways there’s great strength in vulnerability. Our common humanity is our common strength. When it came to these products, there was a shame associated with their use. We realized that what we’re ashamed of is actually what unites us. What makes us human. We all bleed. Then we knew we had it. During these times more than ever, finding something that ties us together in a real way seems critical. And the client felt it too. She was someone we had worked with before at Pepsi. She was new to Kruger, our agency was new, but we had an established relationship of trust. So that allowed us to have very honest discussions about blood scenes that went on for Zoom hours. But that relationship made all the difference.
LIA: The world is collectively going through so many changes at the moment, how has this affected the industry in Canada?
Denise: It feels all over the place. Some people and industries are thriving and others are really hurting, I think there is whole lot of polarization. Which is like a mirror to the world today.
LIA: What do you see as the future battleground for creativity?
Denise: Logic. The pendulum swung too far towards logic and we constantly have to bring it back to emotional connection. Clients have been trained in efficiency vs effectiveness. There’s some untraining to do here. Maybe we should do an “unmaster” class in logic.
LIA: What would be your one piece of advice to a young creative starting their career in advertising?
Denise: I think about this all the time. It’s an old piece of advice, but I would say - you have to get noticed, now more than ever. Keep in mind you are competing against everything. And to get into this business you really have to love it, because I think it’s harder than ever. And make yourself proud, not just in what you create, but also in how you act.
LIA: On a more personal level, your life partner is the CCO of a top creative agency. Do you talk about advertising, insights and evaluate work that you both see on the media at home?
Denise: I’ll never tell. Kidding, Yes, we have been each other’s biggest partners through our careers. His opinion matters to me more than anyone else’s in the business.
LIA: What are you currently busy with?
Denise: Staying sane. My twin boys. And a lot of pitches for amazing clients, whose values are lining up with my own which makes me happier than I have been in the past.
LIA: In a love letter to the industry, the last verse says, "We were told to dream crazy and it's about time we did". What is your "dream crazy"?
Denise: What a great question. To make the world better through my work, not worse. To create work that gets on our own love letter to the industry.