Since Sid Lee’s modest beginnings a quarter-century ago, the agency has become one of the top digital design and creative agencies known not only in Canada but around the world.
Sid Lee was started by a group of students struggling to land interviews at traditional agencies. Armed with $6,000 each, they formed their own agency with no experience, portfolio or clients—yet. Originally named Diesel, the company quickly rearranged the letters into Sid Lee, cementing an even stronger brand (and avoiding copyright issues in the process).
The agency’s creative work encompasses traditional agency capabilities like advertising, design, content social, experiential activations and branding, but also has an architectural design business. Completing the ecosystem is a robust technology team building out digital experiences for their global client roster.
Today, co-founder JF Bouchard sits as Sid Lee’s chairman, while co-founder Philippe Meunier is the agency’s chief creative officer. Flanked by seven partners on its executive team, Sid Lee has become a brand builder and global powerhouse with a team of 600 working in Montreal, Toronto, New York, Paris and L.A. The once-independent firm was acquired by Kyu in 2016, a unit of Japan’s Hakuhodo DY Holdings and the second-largest agency network in Asia.
Headquartered in Montreal, Sid Lee has 370 professionals working with clients like North Face, Loto-Quebec, National Bank, Air Transat and Videotron. The agency also created and curated C2 Montréal, one of the largest innovation events in the world.
Sid Lee was the first major tenant in what is known today as Montreal’s Cité du Multimédia, a cluster of some of city’s most notable and innovative business and technology companies. In 2019 the firm is moving into a new home in the heart of downtown Montreal within the iconic Place Ville Marie building.
Chiefly designed by the agency’s own architecture branch, Sid Lee’s offices embrace a homey vibe with open floor plans. There’s no real division between Sid Lee’s disciplines and its people: art directors jam with back-end developers and account executives scheme with architects.
The office boasts two communal work areas where employees gather for informal meetings and meals. These bistros, and Sid Lee serves up breakfast every morning until 8:45—not a bad reason to get up early. The space’s original wall murals and chalk art are updated every month by new artists.
With concrete floors and painted brick walls, the space’s unique lighting fixtures liven up the minimalist feel. Sid Lee gives provides new meaning for the term green room in a vibrant emerald space.
When a bigger space is required, Sid Lee hosts employee events and conferences in their multifunction room across the street. 8 Queen, named for its address, is a natural extension of the business and is a marquis event location in the city.
Sid Lee’s bistros are the heart of the office, and rightly so—it’s where the entire team gathers for breakfast, lunch and even a quick afternoon coffee thanks to barista-quality espresso machines.
The agency’s full-time chef serves up hot meals every day, including a buffet breakfast every morning and take-away dinners for purchase. Sid Lee keeps their food healthy, mostly local, and vegetarian twice a week.
The lunchroom is kept stocked with teas, sparkling water, snacks and fruit. Impromptu tasty treats are often concocted in the kitchen by the in-house chefs.
Sid Lee is also surrounded by some of the city’s most loved lunch spots like Olive + Gourmando, Lola Rosa and Café Titanic.
Sid Lee’s founders are fully dedicated to the well-being of the agency and the people that work there. Every few months, the management team hosts a catered ‘Naked Lunch’ session. These company sanctioned townhalls offer staffers a chance to share their feedback and ideas in an open and transparent environment.
The Montreal office offers Summer Fridays when employees can sneak out early to soak up the sun and get a head start on their weekend. New parents are given a reduced workload to ensure there is plenty of time to care for their little ones.
With an evolving list of options, the wellness menu has offered yoga classes, running clubs, meditation workshops and even boxing lessons (with their boss). The building offers underground bike parking and showers for the hot Montreal summers.
Sid Lee hosts a stream of enriching, amusing and educational events—from monthly lunch and learns to sleep workshops. The agency also sends its people to events like SXSW, Cannes and Sitecore Symposium.
The creative firm launched a back to school program where they help employees pay for courses and professional development opportunities. They are also flexible about when you squeeze in the time to focus on your own advancement, letting employees split their daytime between work and school or even taking a full semester off work to pursue an intensive program.
The agency also offers a creative incubator dubbed Sid Lee Collective that helps fund, produce and exhibit employee passion projects.
Sid Lee’s managers also select a Rock Star of the Month to honour a standout employee with their very own photoshoot and magazine cover.
The agency also has it’s very own Sid Lee Day, where employees have to come to the office but aren’t allowed to work. The day is naturally capped off with its own award gala and dinner party.
Photos by Matt Odynski
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