martin scorsese. EDDIE GREENSPAN
DOMINICK DUNNE. harvey weinstein
BARRY AVRICH – the beginning
Barry Avrich’s father told his only son at the age of eight: “I don’t care what you do with your life, but make sure you
never blend in”. And for the last 42 years, the son of the gregarious Montreal dress salesman never blended in for a
minute. As he grew up, Barry watched the sizzling salesmanship of his father sell ice to Eskimos across the country, and
his education included learning the art of the pitch and the role showmanship plays in building a business.
Through the power of the arts, business and the media, Barry Avrich has created an unparalleled connection with
people around the world and managed to make a difference. As a leading marketing executive, film producer and
arts philanthropist, he has entertained, enlightened and helped millions of people for the past twenty-five years. His
accomplishments as a marketing professional, producer and philanthropist have established him as one of the most
respected public figures in Canada. His recipe is simple: 4 hours of sleep and an unyielding passion for what he does.
Barry was born on May 9, 1963 in Montreal, Quebec. His later, pioneering business tactic of combining art and commerce –
”Madison Avenue meets Hollywood and Vine” as he would call it, was instilled at an early age. His family home was
filled with Broadway music, jazz legends and trips to the movies. Although money was scarce, his parents ensured his education
continued by exposing him to theatre. They attended the Stratford Festival every summer and Broadway in the fall. He has
come full circle, serving on both the Stratford Festival Board of Governors and the Toronto Film Festival board, and his work on
dozens of Broadway hits is “beyond thrilling” for him.
Barry’s father encouraged him to go beyond the pixie dust and the footlights to try to understand
how the business of entertainment worked. At the age of eight, Barry picked up a copy of Variety
(the leading entertainment business trade magazine). The numbers and the moguls transfixed
him. He would follow the movie and Broadway grosses each week and discuss them at the
dinner table. The deal making he read about entranced him and he would bore his friends with
anecdotes about movie production and who received a percentage of the gross profits on a
movie. This was an unusual obsession for a young child who had no time to play baseball or
street hockey. To Barry, playing baseball or street hockey was simply a
waste of time. He had a career to plan.
While spending his days researching film production and dreaming about
being a movie producer, his uncle, an owner of a small printing company,
explained to him that his prospects for a film career in Canada would not be
strong. He encouraged him to think about a career in advertising. He showed
Barry ads in magazines and encouraged him to research the ad pioneers of
the day such as David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett and Bill Bernbach. It was not show
business but the ability to creatively convince people to buy things through
advertising intrigued Barry. At the age of 12, he began his marketing career
at his uncle’s printing company. The business was losing money distributing
self help health and diet brochures to drug stores. Barry realized the model
was flawed as the brochures were given to the stores on consignment and
most often returned at a staggering loss. Barry suggested that they fill
the brochures with ads and the revenue would surpass any printing and
distribution costs. He cancelled his summer camp plans, put on a suit and
went door to door to ad agencies and pharmaceutical companies with a
mission to sell ads. Every day he would amaze his uncle as he returned to the
office with insertion orders for ads. The subsequent issues were now wildly
successful. Barry had no intention on returning to school that Fall until his
father intervened and said he still had a lot more to learn.
Two years later, Barry’s father collapsed in Quebec City and suffered a
massive brain aneurysm. Barry took an overnight bus to Quebec and watched
his larger-than-life mentor and life coach wither away. His world had collapsed and the pain was excruciating. While he
knew he was on the right path, and was a different kind of kid, he still craved his father’s guidance and that wink to help
him win the race.
His father would make a small recovery but he was never the same. The tragedy had robbed him of his huge sense of
humour and larger-than-life personality. Barry knew that his family and his father’s friends expected him to take his father’s
passion for life and laughter and run with it. Five years later, when his father died, Barry summoned whatever strength he
had to speak at his funeral and make a promise that not only would he honour his father with greatness, but also he would
never waste a minute of his life with regret, sleep or missed opportunities.
At the age of 18, while attending both Ryerson and University of Toronto, Barry went to a rock concert and saw a massive
group of boisterous fans waiting at the stage door for David Bowie. He loved the energy and excitement and realized
that if he could harness that power for marketing new products, he might be on to something. He created a company
called RENT-A-FAN CLUB that utilized out-of-work actors to simulate fan club excitement for sales with custom-made
fan clubs. The company was an instant success. Barry found himself in the spotlight and in demand for hundreds of
international media interviews. He was even hired by McDonald’s CEO George Cohon to create all-day sizzle for a group
of visiting Japanese McDonald franchisees. Barry sold RENT-A-FAN CLUB two years later for $42,000 following his initial
investment of $250.
While in university, Barry learned about servicing customers and going the extra mile. His part-time job selling sheepskin
coats in the summer for a retail chain in the Eaton Centre brought back memories of his father and he used his father’s
tactics to become the top salesman for the chain even though he only worked 2 days a week. His secret sauce: a blend
of art and commerce that gave his customers added services like theatre tickets and restaurant reservations. He loved
making a sale and especially making people happy.
With the warm glow of the media spotlight fading, Barry decided it was now time to make a movie. After watching
a breakthrough indie film called Blood Simple by the emerging Coen Brothers, he decided to send his script to the
film’s star and legendary character actor M. Emmet Walsh. Barry had written a dark comedy called THE MADNESS OF
METHOD and he invited Walsh to come to Toronto and shoot the film for 72 hours straight. Walsh shockingly accepted
and brought along his friend, Richard Kind, the star of Mad About You to be his costar. Barry’s savings at that time
amounted to $6,500. He had planned to travel to Europe that summer with friends but decided to risk the money in a
business his uncle had said was a crap shoot. But he heard his father’s voice pushing him to the light. It was his directorial
debut and he was shaking as he gave the seasoned actors their direction. Barry found his stride and the film won a
gold medal for best short film at the Bilbao Film Festival in Spain. That same year, Barry would sell the film himself to
10 different television networks making a huge profit on a hard-to-sell short film.
In 1985, after graduating from university, Barry had three job offers that included mega ad agency McLaren McCann,
Foster and a very small advertising agency called Ken Borden Advertising. Borden was the only agency that would allow
him to be creative and to sell at the same time. The owner asked him what title he wanted on his business card: writer or
account executive? Barry asked which one paid more, and took the account executive job. He immediately gravitated to
the agency’s entertainment clients, Royal Alexandra Theatre and Cineplex Odeon Films. On his first day, Barry was told
that the agency owner had left town on holiday without telling anyone he was starting. He was directed to an empty office
where the phone started ringing. He picked up the phone and the Mirvishes told him that the theatrical production of
A Chorus Line was coming to Toronto and they needed a media strategy and marketing plan for a $100,000 budget by the
end of the day. Barry had no idea what a media plan was, but after finding a few old documents in a rusted filing cabinet, he
winged it and bought the media buys himself by cold-calling radio and television stations the next day. He had cut his teeth
on a powerful campaign for the record-breaking run of Les Misérables and pioneered marketing techniques by customizing
the campaign for each city on the show’s tour and driving ticket sales with hype-driven, box office opening stunts.
Borden was a sleepy agency that Barry outgrew in four years; although he had become like a son to the owner, he knew
it was time to go. Three other Canadian moguls were rising quickly, and Barry wanted to work with film and television
tycoon Robert Lantos, concert promoter Michael Cohl and Cineplex founder Garth Drabinsky. While at Borden, he
attracted new clients and tripled the billings to $12 million, but the owner was unwilling to finance expansion or take on
any risk for newly introduced computers. He believed that it was a solid business and could make them both a decent
living. Barry invited the owner to lunch to offer his resignation. But before he could say anything, Borden offered him a
partnership. It was too late. Borden wept in front of Barry. Barry felt that he had crushed his mentor and first employer, but
he knew he had to move on as he was blending in.
pioneered marketing techniques by
customizing the campaign for each market
In 1989, at the age of 25, he joined a medium-sized agency called ECHO. The firm had been after him for the last three
years and they offered him control of the country’s biggest entertainment accounts. Two of the moguls he wanted to
work with were using ECHO. Barry would later bring Robert Lantos to his shop where he would grow that account to over
$30 million in billings. Barry began as an account director and immediately utilized his Madison and Vine strategy and
combined his entertainment clients with traditional corporate accounts like American Express, Coke and Labatt’s. He
helped to develop unique sponsorships and promotions that would create consumer traffic by offering them unheard of
access to great seats and behind-the-scenes action and ticket opportunities. Programs like the American Express Front
of The Line, where Cardmembers receive preferential access to entertainment events became legendary and the model
for international expansion. Barry used his niche for entertainment marketing as a base to expand to non-entertainment
clients. Using the principles of entertainment marketing that dictated instant results, co-branded promotional tie-ins and
out of the gate massive launches, Barry and the agency would attract new accounts such as American Express, Dynamic
Funds, Delta Hotels, Fairmont and the Toronto Stock Exchange. In fact, when he won the re-branding assignment for the
TSX, the advertising community was in shock. How could this “unheard of” agency win this most coveted new account?
Barry would spend the next 15 years moving from Account Director to President and then Chief Executive Officer.
The staff grew from 45 to 152 people and the annual billings had grown from $21 million to $75 million. Barry would lead
hundreds of campaigns for movies such as The Lord of The Rings and hundreds of sporting events and mega concerts like
U2 and The Rolling Stones. Under his leadership, new marketing ideas such as the globally successful sampling programs
for Starbucks were born. He also created massively successful marketing programs for international theatrical productions
such as The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Les Misérables. He would pioneer new media channels for marketing
entertainment with powerful campaigns utilizing James Earl Jones and Jack Palance. Additionally, Barry’s highly creative
marketing for the Toronto International Film Festival would win him awards for eleven straight years. ECHO became the
largest and most successful independently run entertainment marketing agency in the world.
In 1998, the world came crashing down for Barry and ECHO. Garth Drabinsky’s LIVENT, a theatrical production empire
that had been ECHO’s premiere client since 1989, suddenly went bankrupt. ECHO was stuck with a staggering $4 million
in unpaid bills. The pain was excruciating: Barry loved the theatre business and LIVENT had given him the opportunity
to practice his craft of selling art from Broadway to Singapore. As he met with his partners to decide on how they would
survive and how many people would lose their jobs, the phone rang with a surprising offer. A USA-based vulture fund
offered to buy ECHO’s debt, thereby giving them the opportunity to settle the debt and move on with very little collateral
damage beyond replacing the billing. The next year was tight as the company barely broke even. But success would
return and the phenomenal growth of our clients propelled ECHO back to profitability. High-profile campaigns for
The Rolling Stones and Alliance Atlantis attracted the attention of CSS Stellar, a publicly traded UK marketing agency that
needed ECHO in order to fulfill its North American expansion.
Barry stayed at ECHO for two more years. Although the agency was profitable and growing, the entrepreneurial glow
was gone for Barry and he was again starting to blend in. After 15 years, Barry said farewell to his staff and many good
memories and walked out the door. The thought of a new venture scared the hell out of him, but he believed that two
decades of goodwill and heeding his father’s initial advice of “keep the dice rolling” might help him attract new clients.
Barry’s sizzle had grown the
agency into a blockbuster
In the early summer of 2005, through the financing of a majority shareholder, Barry opened a new advertising agency
called Endeavour. They found a tiny space on Bay Street and sat on file boxes for two weeks as they recruited staff and
watched a long list of clients follow them into their new space. The firm was created as an agency without departments
so that everyone participates in creative and strategy. The firm’s secret sauce would be borrowed from one of the three
books that Barry authored; he would offer his clients the alchemy of magic and logic with each campaign. He was
determined not only to specialize in entertainment, but also to broaden his scope, as he was now attracting many new
blue chip clients. In just three years, the agency became one of the most talked about firms in the country. In nearly eight
years, the agency has attracted many high-profile clients such as American Express, Dynamic Funds, East Side Mario’s,
Stratford Festival, and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Four years after starting the agency, Barry won the Ernst &
Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award.
In 2013, after a near eight-year run, it was time to roll the dice again. Barry left Endeavour with his partner Tori Laurence
and opened a new boutique firm called BT/A Advertising.
clients can’t refuse the
passion and service
As an avid reader of biographies and business books, Barry observed there were no books in print that demonstrated
how the principles of entertainment marketing could be applied to any industry with greater success than traditional
marketing tactics. In 1996, after two years of research and hundreds of interviews, Barry and Wiley Publishers launched
Event and Entertainment Marketing in the US, following up with two more top-selling marketing books including the
most recent Selling The Sizzle: The Magic and Logic of Entertainment Marketing (2006). The books have become required
reading at several universities. The discipline of writing each book was excruciating for someone who juggles way too
many things and sleeps just four hours each night, but the reward of completion was exciting. What he wanted to achieve
was to fill the books with case studies, anecdotes and success stories so that each book was an easy and entertaining
read. The books allowed Barry to confirm his own space as a marketing specialist and respected lecturer in Canada and
the USA. Barry has also written extensively for Marketing Magazine, The Globe and Mail and Smithsonian Magazine where
he has declaimed against everything from the marketing tactics of Porter Airlines and XM Radio to cinema advertising.
Although Barry was warned that the likelihood of sustaining a film career in Canada is doubtful and that he best focus on
advertising, he never put down his camera. His need to tell stories, much like his father, found its way into his advertising
and his 20-year career in filmmaking. Through his film company, Melbar Entertainment Group, Barry has produced and
directed over 17 documentary films that have sold to over 100 countries, and have won awards and critical acclaim. Using
his camera to meet sensational personalities (as he did when he produced a short film in 1980 called Models to meet
girls), Barry directed and produced powerful biographies on subjects including show business mogul Lew Wasserman,
criminal attorney Eddie Greenspan, and many others. Barry has also produced several top television specials for PBS and
CTV including BOWFIRE, a Celtic violin concert and the One X One Gala 2007 starring Richard Gere and Matt Damon.
When Barry realized that, after making 15 films, he was still an unknown brand in Hollywood, he set his sights on the Holy
Grail. Producing a biography on Lew Wasserman, the founder and reclusive powerful chairman of MCA Universal for six
decades, was considered career suicide. Wasserman had told everyone that he would never participate in any kind of
biography and threatened anyone who dare try while he was alive (or dead). Barry waited until he died and commenced
production. In spite of family threats of both legal and physical harm, Barry’s film, The Last Mogul, was a massive success
garnering rave reviews in Variety (his early bible) and The New York Times. He would go on to produce other highly
acclaimed films like Unforgettable, Satisfaction, Bowfire, Guilty Pleasure, A Criminal Mind, and several television specials.
Barry’s passionate profile on billionaire concert promoter Michael Cohl put him face to face with Bono and Mick Jagger.
Barry went on to produce acclaimed feature films on Winston Churchill, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and
disgraced theatre mogul Garth Drabinsky. Barry has also produced two Stratford Shakespeare Festival film adaptations of
Caesar and Cleopatra and The Tempest with Christopher Plummer.
Barry has also produced and directed two biographical docs on legendary comedian David Steinberg and Penthouse
founder Bob Guccione.
Over the years, Barry had been donating his time and money to many philanthropic causes, but his greatest act of charity
would not happen until 2007.
Barry has long believed that the arts are the door to freedom, offering a chance at a brighter future. Inspired by his warm
childhood immersed in the arts, through his company and his own personal charity, Barry has spent thousands of hours
giving back through many charitable undertakings. Amongst his favourites has been the establishment of the Irving Avrich
Fund at The Toronto International Film Festival. Named after his father, the fund helps emerging but poor filmmakers
access the resources of the film festival. Barry has also donated his time producing lavish events for Best Buddies Canada
and One X One, raising millions for developmentally challenged adults and impoverished children in Canada and Africa.
He has used his relationships with major Hollywood stars to make an immediate impact for those less fortunate.
In 2006, while visiting a terminally ill friend in the hospital, he walked past a hospital room and saw a young child wrestling
with a small DVD player. It dawned on him that a child should not have to miss out on the “go big” screen magic of
movies while staying in a hospital. The next day he made a godfather style offer to Sick Children’s Hospital. He would
raise close to $2 million to build a Hollywood style movie theatre for terminally ill children inside the hospital: the hospital
had only 48 hours to accept the offer before the restless Barry would move on to the next idea.
In May 2007, Barry expanded his humanitarian efforts as The Hollywood Theatre at Sick Kids opened with Shrek 3. It was
the world’s first dedicated movie theatre inside a hospital where sick children can escape to the movies. Barry raised over
$1.8 million to build a state of the art movie theatre. Thousands of sick and terminally ill kids have experienced the magic
of movies at The Hollywood.
Barry continues to use his entrepreneurial skills to power his commitment to the arts by creating many programs to sustain
the viability and power of cinema and theatre in this country.
Barry was a founding director and the creative force behind the ONE X ONE Foundation that has raised over $5 million for
charities locally and globally and that has attracted supporters like Matt Damon and Richard Gere. These funds have gone
toward providing food and a better education for children who have merit but no means. He has also used his talents
to produce star-studded galas for many charities including Best Buddies and the Canadian Centre for Diversity that has
resulted in global awareness and millions raised for such issues as intellectual disability, racism, starvation and poverty.
Charity events Barry Avrich
has produced and to which
he has donated his time
ONE X ONE Gala 2005-2007
Best Buddies Canada Gala 2003-2010
Reena Foundation Gala 2007
ORT Gala 2003, 2010
Pencer Brain Trust “Noir” Gala 2008, 2011
Canadian Centre for Diversity Gala 2007-2010
Breast Fest Cancer Gala 2008
Young Presidents Organization
The International Emmy Awards
Writers Guild of Canada
The Stratford Festival of Canada, 2004-2010
The Toronto International Film Festival, 1998-2012
Canadian Opera Company, 2008-2012
Best Buddies Canada, 2004-2013
Glenn Gould Foundation, 2005-2007
One X One Foundation, 2005-2008
Culture Days, 2009-current
The Academy of Canadian Cinema
& Television, 2012-current
Hot Docs, 2012-current
On a personal note
Through what has been the greatest juggling act ever, featuring a relentless career in two fields, endless philanthropy,
and a patient wife, the fuel has been the ability to exist on only four hours of sleep.
The entire equation changed with the birth of my daughter. This little blockbuster in my life has, for the first time, dictated
tolerance, relevance and devotion.
The good news is that she needs way more sleep than I do, but is already exhibiting very strong marketing skills.