Recipe for branded content success: An inside look at Chef Artois

Chef Artois is the new culinary web series SJC produced in partnership with the Bokeh Collective for Stella Artois and Toronto Life.  With a goal to reinvigorate and support Canada’s restaurant scene through Rally for Restaurants, it contains all the ingredients of a successful branded content collaboration.

Chef Artois is airing weekly on Wednesdays on Toronto Life‘s Instagram and Facebook channels and Stella Artois’ YouTube channel until October 28, 2020. If you haven’t yet caught one of the first sizzling episodes, here’s a quick synopsis: Each 10-minute episode is filmed in a Toronto restaurant with a live audience and hosted by acclaimed Canadian television and radio host, Pay Chen. Two dinner guests are randomly selected to recreate the restaurant’s iconic dish (Marben’s exquisite modern take on a Scotch Egg, for example.) In a heated battle, the contestants get less than an hour to cook up the delicious entrée. Each signature dish is judged by the restaurant’s head chef and a victor is crowned, earning them a prize pack from Toronto Life and Stella Artois Canada valued at over $1,000, including a gift card to the featured restaurant.

The results from Stella Artois’s YouTube channel following the first two episodes speak for themselves:

  • Average total views: 170,164
  • Average earned views (based on those who view your video ad, then later watch another video on your linked YouTube channel, within 7 days of the initial view): 64
  • Average completion rate: 22.5% (against a benchmark of 18-22% for videos 10 minutes in length)
  • Average watch time: Over 4.5 minutes
“These are the highest YouTube engagement numbers Stella Artois has had to date,” says Michelle Skea, Senior Brand Manager for Stella Artois and Hoegaarden. “We are impressed with the incredible production quality and clever alignment with our Rally for Restaurants initiative. And knowing that the program would be syndicated through SJC’s media brands, it saved on the investment required on our end. Thanks to the SJC team for all your work day and night to drive such a strong execution!”

Here are some of the ingredients that make the execution so unique:

Brand Alignment for Stella Artois

While producing a Safe Set Studio video for Covid-19, Carmen Lago, account director for SJC Content along with team members from the Bokeh Collective, were inspired to find a way to create an original web series that would help restaurants at a time when they couldn’t open their doors to the public. When Carmen heard Todd Allen, VP of Marketing for Labatt speak on a podcast about the launch of the Rally for Restaurants initiative, they knew they had found their match.  After a series of big ideas with Labatt, SJC and Bokeh, the competitive culinary concept of Chef Artois emerged as the initiative that aligned best with the Stella Artois brand. Toronto Life joined as the ideally suited platform and co-branded partner to deliver the message and amplify the idea across its channels.

Community Outreach

The culinary competition is in continuation of Stella Artois’ Rally for Restaurants – an online gift card program that provides restaurants and bars across Canada with immediate financial relief as a result of the global pandemic. The program encourages Canadians to purchase a gift card valued at $25 or $50. Stella Artois adds an additional $10 to the value of every gift card purchased, which goes directly to restaurants, bars and pubs. To date, Rally for Restaurants has sold over 14,000 gift cards and has injected over $600,000 into the restaurant industry.

Multi-platform promotions across SJC brands

As momentum for the series increases week over week, episode views on Toronto Life more than tripled from 92,000 views for Episode 1 to almost 300,000 views for Episode 3. A huge benefit for Stella Artois has been the ability to syndicate the series through SJC’s portfolio of trusted media brands and tap into its existing audience nation-wide. While the episodes are released each Wednesday on Toronto Life’s Instagram and Facebook channels, as well as Stella Artois’ YouTube channel, we run promo spots, digital ads, eblasts and social content across our other brands including Maclean’s, FASHION, Chatelaine and FLARE. Each episode also airs weekly on Toronto Life’s YouTube channel.

Here’s a look at some of the promotional multi-brand, multi-platform content:

Promo videos: 15-second, 30-second and 60-second versions

Social posts

Toronto Life articles

Prior to each episode, Toronto Life publishes a promo article with 60-second teaser video that is pushed out on social and across other SJC Media brands. With the release of each new episode, Toronto Life runs an article with the highlights and full episode embedded. Here’s a sample for Episode 2 and all episode recaps are filtered to this Chef Artois category page.

Digital ads, Newsletters & Emails (leveraging SJC Media properties)

Chef Artois digital promo

Print ad

Chef Artois Toronto Life ad

Behind-the-scenes photography

Chef Artois behind the scenes


A production dream team

To produce the series, SJC Content worked alongside the Bokeh Collective, which boasts an impressive resume in Canadian TV production and cinematography. Justin Harding, Chef Artois Showrunner,  Rob Brunner, Chef Artois Series Director, Ryan Saw, Chef Artois Director of Photography and Amy Hosking, Chef Artois Writer, have worked on such renowned shows as Amazing Race Canada, MasterChef Canada, Top Chef Canada, Come Dine with me Canada and Home to Win. This experience and expertise gives the Chef Artois episodes their cinematographic flair.

Compelling storytelling

Branded content is a fun and creative way for brands to connect with their audiences, especially when incorporating the drama of a challenge-based, reality TV approach.  Viewers get engaged in the stories and the characters, creating a positive and memorable brand experience week after week.


From our SJC production team working alongside the talent of the Bokeh Collective to Toronto Life’s branded content and marketing groups, we were thrilled to be a part of this special  branded content execution that rallies much-needed support for restaurants in this era of Covid-19.

Episode 5 of Chef Artois launched today; find out how the contestmentas play with fire at Momofuku Kōjin.

You can watch all past episodes here. 

The heart of marketing: Why social purpose needs to drive brand communications

The August 12 webinar “Marketing Re-imagined: A New Global Purpose” kicked off with an attendee poll: Will consumers be more judgmental of brand behaviour in 2021 vs. 2019? A resounding 93 per cer cent replied “yes.”

Jacqueline Loch, SJC’s EVP of Customer Innovation (and past chair of The Content Council), moderated the live conversation from Canada with leaders from marketing and content agencies in three other countries: Munni Trivedi, Co-Founder of Magenta in Mumbai, Andy Seibert, Managing Partner of Imprint in New York and Martin MacConnol, Executive Chairman of Wardour in London.

Offering a global perspective, the webinar considered whether we live in a time in which brands need to show more heart (more empathy, compassion and understanding) in their marketing. And if so, what are the risks and opportunities?

Factors influencing the need for more heart in marketing:

An increase in public activism
Black LIves Matter (BLM) is a primary example. The death of George Floyd in the U.S. sparked outrage in countries around the world. Citizens are concerned about big issues affecting humanity and want to know where brands stand.

Economic hardship
We are in the wake of an economic decline and we’re not sure yet how steep it will be. A lot of people are hurting – physically, emotionally – and financially. They need to feel understood and supported.

Pressure from regulators, investors and governing bodies
They all are pushing for companies to behave more responsibly and with more purpose. Covid-19 has in fact accelerated this momentum of thinking beyond profit and bottom line.

Consumers’ constant access to information
Society is more connected than ever. Consumers are scanning social channels and researching companies from the palms of their hands.

As a result of these factors, we are seeing an increased need, and demand, for social purpose from brands. “Brands that ignore reality and the public mood do so at their peril,” said MacConnol.

How brands should incorporate social purpose in their messaging

Focus on what will help and be of value to your customers. Show you understand their challenges. Offer insights that solve customer needs rather than just selling products. Think long-term. How is your business innovating to make life work in a Covid-19 world?

“Bringing heart into communications can dovetail with business goals,” said Seibert. If companies infuse their brand with a genuine sense of a purpose, and step back from product sales, ironically sales will likely go up.

Choose a cause that’s connected to your brand. Social purpose and social stance are two different things. While every brand will have a social purpose, a brand can’t take a stand on every issue or it won’t be genuine.

Here are six international examples of brands getting it right with an appropriate mix of empathy and action. (Or as Seibert refers to it, of “heart and hand.”)

While the pandemic and a rise in social consciousness are touching every corner of the globe, there are regional differences for brands to consider.

Trivedi provided the example of Hindustan Unilever, which recently rebranded its indigenous skin whitening range Fair & Lovely to Glow & Lovely. The brand faced some backlash when several Bollywood celebrities, who had been the (fair) faces of Fair & Lovely, were vocal about BLM. “The reality is BLM has very little purchase power in India,” says Trivedi. “The country has plenty of its own inequalities to contend with. There’s a long way to go.”

Regardless of country or industry, the three panellists agreed that companies are faced with a new common purpose. A distinctive and genuine concern for humanity needs to be woven into every business strategy and the resulting marketing actions.

To watch a recording of the webinar, click here.

Also check out: A time for brands to be human.


Thank you to our healthcare heroes

Our healthcare institutions are the bedrock of these uncertain times and SJC is proud to provide support by donating ad space to our community partners St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation, Mackenzie Health Foundation and Humber River Hospital Foundation. Indebted to their courage, strength and sacrifice, we also reach out to individual healthcare workers with a small token of our appreciation.

We started out with our associates, asking them to nominate their healthcare hero; a family member or friend who is risking their lives on the frontlines to protect ours. They each received a voucher for a one-year subscription to one of our magazines. Their inspiring nominations were featured in our ad appearing in June issues of Toronto Life, Maclean’s, HELLO! Canada, Today’s Parent and Chatelaine. (Check it out here.)

Next we opened it up opening it up to our clients, magazine readers and SJC community. We asked, who is your healthcare hero?

The first 1,000 people to nominate received a voucher for a complimentary one-year magazine subscription to send to their hero. Heroes could choose from Toronto Life, Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Châtelaine or Today’s Parent.

We thank all those who participated, helping to extend appreciation to our incredible healthcare heroes. We share just a handful of the heartfelt submissions we received below. These days especially, it is the many small acts of gratitude and kindness that are having ripple effects in our communities and giving hope to brighter days ahead.


Healthcare Heroes, in your words

“My cousin Jenn is a nurse that works in an Emergency Department near Sarnia. During this stressful and scary time for front-line nurses, she continues to go to work and provides skilled and compassionate care to people. She works long shifts in hot and restrictive equipment without complaining, and bakes treats to bring in for the staff to keep their spirits up!!! She is amazing and I’m so glad to recognize her for her extraordinary work during this time.”

“The dental staff at Princess Margaret Hospital are all heroes. Being the most at risk profession for contracting Covid-19 they remained open throughout and saw patients prior to their radiation and cancer treatments/surgeries. They are selfless and true heroes for showing up to work and risking their health/lives everyday in order to help their patients. Not many people even know they exist. But they do and they are warriors!!!”

“My son Adam is an ER Nurse at Toronto Western Hospital. He helps COVID-19 patients and works 12 hour shifts, 4 days in a row. I am so proud of my son, who tirelessly places his life on the line day & night. I call him my Earth Angel.”

“My sister-in-law is a family physician, ER doctor and hospitalist in Ingersoll, ON. She inspires me with her unwavering commitment to her community and her patients during this time of COVID. She works long hours at the hospital without complaint, and spends hours more at home reading up on the latest recommendations and procedural guidelines to ensure her patients receive the best and safest care possible.”

“Christine has been a Registered Practical Nurse at Lee Manor Nursing Home in Owen Sound for many years. She was there helping patients during the SARS outbreak. She has had a very strenuous year as she is continues her duties as a RPN during the COVID crisis while also working on her specialized training in wound care.”

“My Mom Ingrid, is a dedicated health care hero, looking after others with kidney disease. She provides compassionate care to those who need life sustaining treatment. She has worked through the Covid crisis. Her courage inspires me. Thanks Mom.”

“My sister is a nurse in Toronto, working with families with high risk pregnancies. As family members and partners are not allowed to accompany people to their appointments, she has stepped up to provide more support than ever at a scary and vulnerable time for many families. She makes sure the pregnant people feel supported, takes more time to check in with them about how they are feeling, and advocates for them to have the follow-up they need. She goes to work in challenging circumstances without complaining, and is more committed than ever to women’s health care during this pandemic.”


Healthcare Heroes art hearts
These are some of the “art hearts” we received from our associates’ children that were  included on the vouchers for our healthcare heroes. From left to right: Noah, age 6; Keira, age 13; Michael, age 11 and Kaylee, age 7.


Our commitment in this era of COVID-19

The impact of COVID-19 has brought escalating changes and restrictions in how we live, interact and conduct business. We have not experienced anything like this in our lifetime and hopefully never will again.

This is an extremely challenging time for our associates, customers and community members, who are all at the core of our business. As a provider to vital services including grocery, pharmaceutical and telecommunications, the government has mandated our continued work in creating, sharing and printing content. We remain open to serve you, and are committed to our values more than ever.

We are here to help you navigate your business needs through this crisis, and when you feel the time is right, to assist you and your teams in communicating your brand story and deepening critical relationships with your audiences, customers and communities.

Our associates remain connected and engaged in supporting our clients and audiences across Canada. We have select core teams coming into our print plants and studios under strict new guidelines to ensure their safety and well-being. And our media teams remain more dedicated than ever to delivering quality, trusted journalism that informs and inspires Canadians in these uncertain times. We are also leveraging the reach of our media brands to provide our non-profit Community Partners with advertising space to help raise awareness about their community-building, life-saving initiatives.

We continue to monitor developments of the coronavirus pandemic at the local, provincial and federal levels and to follow all directions of the Public Health Agency of Canada. We will continue to keep you updated on any changes.

With flexibility, creativity and caring for each other, we can and will emerge from this unprecedented time.

Thank you to our clients and audiences for your support. We are thinking of you, your teams and your families. Be safe, look out for each other, and we hope you are somehow enjoying some small unexpected joys in all of this, such as time with family, a good book or an inspiring opportunity to help someone in need.

Tony Gagliano, CEO,
and all your friends at SJC

Congratulations to our 2019 Chairman’s Award recipients

A Chairman’s Award recipient is an SJC associate recognized by their peers for their standout efforts in bringing our SJC values to life. These include a commitment to our clients, initiative and learning and giving back to our communities. Each year we select one recipient from each of our Content, Media and Print divisions. We celebrate them across the company and they have the opportunity to select their charity of choice to receive a full-page ad in one of our magazines. Without further ado, here are our 2019 recipients! (Our 2020 Chairman’s Award will kick off this fall.)

Rona Elliot

Project Manager, SJC Content

Rona Elliott and Tony Gagliano
Rona Elliott with Tony Gagliano, SJC Chairman & CEO


“Rona’s inherent work ethic and drive to learn has enabled her to collaborate well with colleagues, clients and third-party vendors. She also believes in knowledge-sharing so that the team members on her projects are all tapped into what is going on.” Rona’s Charity of Choice: Socks 4 Souls Canada, which collects and distributes socks, the most needed but least donated item of clothing to homeless shelters.

A few years ago, I came back from a trip and was devastated at seeing how many homeless people are fighting for their lives, only to realize that this is an issue here at home. I think if we can continue taking small steps within each of our communities, we can start working towards real solutions.”

Angie Kovacs

Marketing & Events Coordinator, SJC Media

Angie Kovacs and Tony Gagliano
Angie Kovacs with Tony Gagliano, SJC Chairman & CEO


“Despite being here only a year after a 3-month internship, Angie’s mastered our department’s business and beyond. She’s now the go-to for multiple areas including website management, creative design, marketing programs and more.” Angie‘s Charity of Choice: The Farley Foundation, which helps low-income pet owners in Ontario by subsidizing the cost of non-elective veterinary care for their sick or injured pets.

“The Farley Foundation is a charity that my sister works closely with in her capacity as a veterinary technician. We have always had numerous animals at home which were considered to be family members. Their health and importance in the family was never second guessed, but with no health coverage for animals, it’s harder to care for them. The Farley Foundation is important to me because there are animals that are loved and cared for, who need medical care and often their owners are unable to pay for this. I think we do a really good job at promoting health resources and options for us but we need more for our pets.”

Peter Mosher

Site Manager, ePRINTit Halifax, SJC Print

SJC associate Peter Mosher in Halifax


“Peter treats his employees with great respect and has a fun and highly efficient working environment. He is the first to bring in new ways of doing things and work on new methods as our business changes. He has developed an environmentally friendly recycle program in Halifax and has been very conscientious with employees to ensure we are using the best method practices…Peter always donates his time to our community when called upon for donations and sponsorships.” Peter’s Charity of Choice: The Tema Foundationwhich is dedicated to the education and support of all first responders and their families in regards to Critical Incident Stress (CIS) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

SJC partners with GrandTrees to continue 30-Year tree planting commitment

At a launch event at the Evergreen Brickworks today, Toronto Mayor John Tory was on hand to announce a new fundraising walk coming to Toronto next year.
The GrandTrees Walk – launching on Mother’s Day 2020 at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto – is calling all grandparents to walk for and with their grandchildren to raise money to plant trees for the benefit of future generations.

The GrandTrees goal is to raise $1 million for local tree planting – recognized by experts around the world as one of the most efficient and effective natural climate solutions.

St. Joseph Communications (SJC) is proud to come on board as a Founding Sponsor of GrandTrees Climate Solutions and continue its long-standing commitment to planting trees through Partners in Growth – its reforestation program started with Scouts Canada in 1990 that, over the last 30 years, has helped to plant hundreds of thousands of trees across the country.

Through the new partnership, SJC will contribute to the planting of a tree by GrandTrees on behalf of every ton of paper used on a print client’s behalf.

“Trees provide so many benefits to the health of our planet, our communities and our children,” says Tony Gagliano, Executive Chairman & CEO of SJC. “The GrandTrees partnership is an incredible opportunity for us to continue our long-standing commitment to planting trees and restoring the country’s natural canopy at a time when it’s more important than ever before. We are excited to engage our print clients and our entire organization in GrandTrees’s inspiring, multi-generational approach to make a difference.”

Trees planted through GrandTrees will support new tree planting activities in and around the GTA, with a focus on private residential, industrial, and commercial lands. Recently, Toronto city councillors voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency and planting trees and recommended that our tree canopy cover be restored to 40%, from its current coverage of about 27%.

GrandTree’s intent is to share the idea across the country – and the world.

The first annual GrandTrees Walk will take place on Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 10 at the Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto. Various route options will be offered to accommodate all ages and stages. Families can sign up online to make a team and start fundraising as of October 17.