Shooting star faded too fast
Friends remember Cossette exec, who passed away after scoring McDonald's win

Advertising is a cutthroat business. Some of its players become so ruthless, that it seems doubtful, whether many executives' own parents would show up for their funerals.

But the 500 people who attended Miville Ménard's funeral in Quebec City earlier this month, and those who attended a similar service in Toronto five days later, show how different he was.

Ménard, a vice-president at Cossette Communication Group, was just 35, and celebrating his key role in the biggest story of 2000 - the agency's win of the $50 million national McDonald's account - when he was cut down by a heart attack on December 29th.

"He was one of the most beloved figures in the industry," said Rem Langan, vice-president (marketing) at McDonald's Canada, who worked with Ménard for the past decade. "He touched people, and made a difference in (their) lives."

Ménard's rapid rise through the ranks, to vice-president in charge of the McDonald's account, signaled him as an industry comer. He joined Cossette's Quebec City office in 1989, straight out of university.

His first job was as a junior field account executive, a highly coveted position that Ménard pursued aggressively. At the time, Cossette had been McDonald's Quebec ad supplier for years. But the agency was seen primarily French player, with little hope of winning the English account.

Ménard was put in charge of dealing with the chain's restaurants, where he worked on developing promotions at the franchise level. Mostly drudgework, it consisted of simple projects such as developing strategies to draw amateur hockey players to the local McDonald's after their games.

But Ménard -- an amiable fellow who loved people -- excelled at the flesh pounding, and soon developed a strong network of contacts throughout the restaurant's Quebec franchises.

Although he was frequently known for his "gift of gab," said Paul Lavoie, president of Taxi Advertising and Design, who worked with Ménard at the time, "Miville was much more creative than many would think."

Once, when McDonald's franchisees were complaining that there were not enough product shots in the company's ads, Ménard put together a ten-minute long commercial - featuring nothing but product shots.

It was a joke. But Ménard played the reel with a straight face to a stunned audience. Only when they were getting restless after watching several minutes of hamburger after hamburger shot, did Ménard let up. He then explained his philosophy: people don't visit McDonald's for the hamburgers, but rather for the entire experience, including consistency, cleanliness, quality, openness to children and so on.

Ménard also had a quick sense of humor, said Lavoie, who worked in Cossette's creative department, before starting his own firm. "At one point, department employees set up a chart, where -like little kids - everyone traced lines indicating their height."

"There was one line, far above the rest, with Miville's name one it. This was strange, since he was barely five feet tall." But there was also a line far below everyone else's. Written beside were two words: "Miville's chair."

As his successes accumulated, so did Ménard's promotions. First to field account supervisor, then as account director, and finally vice-president. At his peak, he oversaw all of Cossette's work on the McDonald's account. This included managing 35 full time employees directly assigned to the burger franchisor.

It was a very stressful job, for a highly demanding client. McDonald's squeaky-clean ads have huge visibility, and anything slightly out of the ordinary immediately gets noticed. For example, one ad that featured a divorced man picking up his kids for the weekend generated enough complaints, that the subject is now taboo.

But it was in large part due to Ménard's success that last year Cossette was finally given its big chance: to pitch for McDonald's huge Canadian English language business. When the agency was awarded the account, it set Ménard up as a key figure to watch. Already, he had been offered a top marketing job at McDonalds. But he stayed loyal to the agency that had given him his start.

"He was a real shooting star," said Daniel Rabinowicz, president of the agency's Montreal office. But this shooting star faded too fast.

 

E-mail can be sent to Diekmeyer at: peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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