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. 

Staying safe on set at a time of Covid-19

Since the start of the pandemic, our focus has been to enable our clients to continue capturing quality photography and video for their marketing campaigns. How do we adapt client content and budgets while staying attuned to the needs, concerns and lifestyle habits of consumers?

In April, we launched the SJC Safe Shoot Solution. We produced live photo and video shoots, all the while minimizing human contact, ensuring a safe environment on set, conducting client approvals remotely and maintaining high-quality creative output.

Next, we expanded our solution and protocols to safely shoot clothing, accessories and products on live models and talent for broadcast and content marketing campaigns.

A Covid-19 safe content production workflow for all photography and video, both on and off-figure, on set and on location, is our new normal. Our studios continue to produce a variety of product and lifestyle photography and video content for a wide range of categories including fashion, beauty, food, home, automotive and consumer packaged goods. We even had Tessa Virtue on set last week! (See below for a sneak peek.)

Of utmost importance is the safety of our crews, talent and clients. Here are some of our protocols:

  • Production schedules are arranged to limit the number of people on set at one time.
  • We keep records of all persons on set.
  • Social distancing markers are placed in high-traffic areas.
  • All members of a limited crew work with masks and gloves or sanitized hands   throughout the process.
  • We monitor strict and regular disinfecting of all surfaces and equipment, including lighting, cameras, viewing screens and a library of seamless backgrounds.
  • Covid Coordinators are on set to ensure health and safety protocols are followed.
  • Our 135,000 square feet of studio space, as well as garage door outdoor access, provides ample space and flexibility to allows for safe, isolated and individual sets where essential crew members can maintain a minimum distancing of six feet apart,

To really get the sense of what an SJC Safe Shoot entails, we’ll take you behind the scenes of a few recent shoots:


Styling Olympic figure skating gold medalist, Tessa Virtue, for her broadcast spot for The Brick. 

Safe Shoot Tessa Virtue and The Brick 1


Getting ready for a safe shoot for Serta Canada’s Serta Spectrum collection.

Serta Safe Shoot


Taking the shoot outdoors for uniform and corporate apparel expert Cintas Corporation.

Cintas Safe Shoot 2
Cintas Safe Shoot


On set with The Bokeh Collective at Marben restaurant for the new SJC-produced Toronto Life and Stella Artois culinary series, Chef Artois.

Chef Artois BTS_Marben
Chef Artois


While the pandemic has brought limitations and uncertainty to many aspects of how we work and live, the SJC Safe Shoot Solution enables our teams to work with clients to continue producing new and authentic content. We’ll ensure a human element to your marketing and connect with your consumers through fashion, food, lifestyle and e-commerce content for any channel.

If you have any questions about our video and photography during Covid-19,  please contact


How Covid-19 is affecting 2020 marketing trends: 14 takeaways for brands

The pandemic continues to have ripping effects on consumer behaviours. To help brands navigate their Covid-19 marketing strategies, we followed up with our subject-matter experts for an update on their 2020 trend predictions made (way back) in January. How have they held up?

We found a common and interesting theme. While the world is very different, the relevance of the predictions remains. In many cases, the effects of the pandemic have accelerated the trends and brands have been forced to quickly adapt to keep up with changing consumer habits and expectations.

Here is an overview of the multi-platform trends so you can focus on the ones most applicable to you and your brand. We follow with each expert’s explanation of how the pandemic is affecting that trend. The resulting takeaways can help guide your Covid-19 content and marketing strategy for the remainder of this extraordinary year, and beyond.


  • Authenticity
  • Sustainability
  • Brand Values


  • Voice Search
  • Digital
  • Ecommerce
  • Omnichannel
  • Podcasts
  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Digital Print
  • Package Design



January 2020 Prediction
We will see rising value in quality and authenticity, driven by the ever-growing attention being paid to fraud and privacy.
– Duncan Clark, VP Strategy, SJC Media and Publisher, Ottawa Magazine

The Pandemic Effect
With four months to observe and reflect on people’s communication patterns, the trend towards quality and authenticity is even more relevant now – because, maybe more than ever, quality content can mean the difference between life and death. But also, because the conversation about privacy has never been more complicated. Citizens in jurisdictions all over the world are being asked to share their whereabouts and medical histories as a means to protect the whole – and are naturally and fairly asking questions about the safety and necessity of that information, where it’s stored, and how it will be used.

Takeaway for Brands
The increasing prevalence of data collection is accelerating the public’s questions and interest in privacy. Consumers are relying on quality content from authentic sources they can trust.


January 2020 Prediction
For brands that market to women, I think we’re ushering in a new era of authenticity and telling it like it is. No more being coy about the confusions and challenges of women’s lives by talking around it, or showing air-brushed, sanitized versions of life. No more assuming that only white, cisgender, thin, straight women buy your products.
– Sasha Emmons, Director of Lifestyle Content, FLARE, Today’s Parent and Chatelaine

The Pandemic Effect
Many things have changed since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and more recently, since anti-racism protests have spread around the globe. But I think the trend of authenticity is more relevant than ever. It still behooves brands to be transparent and true to the lived experiences of their customers.

Takeaway for Brands
It will be tricky to get it right. Brands with a track record of not walking the walk will be called out by customers and staff, and should expect being held to account on social media. For instance, Ben and Jerry’s bold public statement about dismantling white supremacy rings true because of their long-standing and vocal commitment to social justice.



January 2020 Prediction
We will see more and more brands developing holistic strategies around sustainability efforts. Marketing will be focused around communicating stronger values and supporting recycling, reusing, refilling and reselling.
– Sylvie Lamont, VP Creative, SJC Content

The Pandemic Effect
Plastics are indispensable during a pandemic (masks, gloves, gowns and disposable bags). Covid-19 will bring more attention to plastic pollution.

Takeaway for Brands
As companies have lifted their decisions to ban plastic bags and other single-use plastics, it will become even more evident for consumers to make choices that lead to a cleaner and sustainable future. Shopping at bulk stores or shops with refill models, purchasing reusable masks and the need for reusable shopping bags has increased. Cooking tips to help reduce waste and DIY projects will resonate more with customers as we look to create a healthier future through the principle of reduce, reuse and recycle.


Relatable Brand Values

January 2020 Prediction
To cut through the massive volume of messages vying for our attention, above all it will be important to understand the motivators for each generation when making choices about the brands they surround themselves with. Defining our identity is an ongoing exercise for humans. Content, storytelling and brands are key to this exercise.
–  Nadine Silverthorne, Director, Branded Content, Audience & Events

The Pandemic Effect
I believe that in light of current circumstances, brands whose values align with individual or collective identities matter even more. With the news changing by the minute, most of us are looking for information that leads to a better understanding of the world and our place in it. Canadians are seeking information on how to plan our day to day, and our long-term future based on real issues. Many of us are hoping to see ourselves, our joys and our struggles within our pages and online.

Takeaway for Brands,
As content brands we now have a deeper obligation to tell difficult stories, to cast our research net wider, to question how we tell those narratives, but I know we are up to the task.


Voice search in a touchless society

January 2020 Prediction
There will be an increase in content creation for search in 2020.
– Jacqueline Loch, VP Client Innovation, SJC Content

The Pandemic Effect
The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked an accelerated rise in the adoption and usage of voice-activated devices in homes, specifically in the cooking at home and recipe category as well as in the health category with Covid-related health queries.

Takeaway for Brands
Consider content that is based on semantic search queries. Creating custom branded voice scripts for Amazon Alexa and Google Home that drive to e-commerce will quickly become the norm. As voice-enabled devices shift from voice only to voice and digital screen, marketers will have the opportunity to layer in interactive video with rich content such as product demos, buying guides and tutorials that will all drive to e-commerce conversion.


Personalized digital experiences

January 2020 Prediction
With the growing number of Gen Z consumers (loosely, people born from 1995 to 2010), we must develop content that reflects their interests and media consumption habits. We need to make the experience of viewing content a personalized, rewarding and valuable one. We need to make sure they feel that if they chose to engage with your content, they feel they are winning out on that value exchange.
– Dave Dolejsi, AVP Content Strategy, SJC Content

The Pandemic Effect
The strategy behind relevant content delivered through digital channels has never been more important. Where we saw a movement towards e-comm adoption and digital experiences back in January – we now have seen an acceleration of the timetable. Where we saw a slow and, in some cases, reluctant, adoption of digital from groups other than Gen Z, we now see mass adoption out of necessity, a desire for interesting digital experiences to replace the physical ones we temporarily can’t enjoy.

Takeaway for Brands
Big ticket items we traditionally needed to see and touch in person (appliances, cars etc.), now need to somehow be communicated and experienced through digital devices. As such, new content, from Augmented Reality and 360 photography to interactive mobile and video programs, are now more critical to the path to purchase than we dreamed they would be so soon.


January 2020 Prediction 
The focus will be on creating meaningful highly-personalized content, a quality over quantity approach, targeting niche audiences on niche platforms will continue to evolve. – Amanda Eaton, Content Director, SJC Content

The Pandemic Effect
Now more than ever, brands need to adapt to the current situation by finding ways to stay connected to their customer base. Navigating this “new normal” has pushed retailers into rethinking how they are doing business, and in some cases has forced them to find new and creative ways to narrow their focus, buff up the e-comm experience, and personalize communications and services.

Takeaway for Brands
During this crisis, not only is it important to have a digital plan in place but it also means humanizing that digital experience. The upside is that there is opportunity in this climate to test innovative approaches to customer care and digital platforms that may have been too high risk before.


Content that converts to e-commerce

January 2020 Prediction
The role of content is quickly expanding from its top-of-funnel role of inspiration and engagement to a deeper role of driving e-commerce conversion. The demand for mobile-first shoppable content will increase the amount of content required by marketers well beyond the traditional marketing ecosystem.
– Jacqueline Loch, VP Client Innovation, SJC Content

The Pandemic Effect
Today’s retail landscape is rapidly changing with an increased digital transformation that has been accelerated by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The competitive set has expanded to include many new digital-first entrants and platforms and direct-to-consumer sales by brands is on the rise. Social platforms are now shoppable with in-app commerce, and the growth of content required for e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Shopify and retail DTC e-commerce sites will fuel the need for a high volume of content to guide the customer experience to sales conversion.

Takeaway for Brands
With the upcoming launch of 5G mobile networks and 5G-enabled mobile devices, the mobile wallet will take over as the e-commerce platform of choice. Brands will take on the role of content always-on publisher across channels and will require a content strategy that includes content built for e-commerce conversion.


Omnichannel marketing

January 2020 Prediction
Omnichannel marketing is a content vampire and requires a high volume of content produced to align with an agile content strategy. Retailers and brands will struggle to evolve in-house marketing teams and in-house e-commerce content on-boarding needs to meet the demand for the increased amount of content required. In addition, we will continue to see marketing budgets shift from a variety of marketing channels into content to meet the consumer expectation for real-time content, access to product information and frictionless purchase via e-commerce.
– Jacqueline Loch, VP Client Innovation, SJC Content

The Pandemic Effect
Since the start of the Covid-19 era, consumers have accelerated the shift to mobile and digital showrooming with an increase in demand for omnichannel content that is required to drive e-commerce sales conversion.

Takeaway for Brands
Retailers need to produce a high volume of content that is required for their Covid-19 marketing strategies that spans across channels and meets consumer demands and expectations for always-on commerce.



January 2020 Prediction
Podcasts will grow in popularity.
– Douglas Kelly, President, Strategic Content Labs

The Pandemic Effect
Deep engagement never goes out of style. The social isolation around Covid-19 has only increased audience desire for meaningful experiences with content. The platform and much of the content associated with podcasts remains compelling.

Takeaway for Brands
The challenge remains how to monetize podcasts both as either a pure editorial product or content with a marketing-related component.



January 2020 Prediction
Publishing formats have entered a more mature phase with the recent double-digit growth in audiobooks creating a mixed market of print books, ebooks and This is learned behaviour that I think is accelerating the public’s interest in privacy – and makes my January take even more relevant now. Publishing strategy will use the format that makes the most sense to the book and reader.
– Alison McGill, Publisher, Quill & Quire

The Pandemic Effect
The mixed publishing formats have become even more relevant to books and to the economic survival of the publishing industry during the pandemic. With the necessity to stay at home, the opportunity for some of us to read more has often meant a return to books and the break from daily stress they can provide. The ability to access books online during the lockdown has made continued revenue possible for many publishers and writers. And some local bookstores have added delivery and curbside pick-up options. Local stores have become a way for people to get the items they want quickly and also a way for people to support their neighbourhood businesses.

The Frankfurt Book Fair, like so many international conferences, is undergoing an evolution planning a hybrid event of in-person and virtual attendance. This innovation may also have potential after the Covid-19 era as a way to facilitate large trade gatherings while also mitigating some of the environmental impact of business travel.

Takeaway for Brands
The trend with books can be applied to Covid-19 content marketing in general; flexibility is key and depending on the content and the audience, we will see a mix of publishing mediums across print, digital and audio.



January 2020 Prediction
I’m heading into 2020 with a sense of optimism in circulation. We’re starting to see some of the print declines that publishers experienced over the past few years flatten out.
– Allan Yue, Director of Circulation, SJC Media

The Pandemic Effect
As people were forced to stay indoors over the past few months, newsstand sales took a hit and saw some fairly steep declines as a result of store closures and reduced foot traffic. However, subscriptions became even more relevant with people seeking out information about the virus and just looking for different ways to pass the time. As a result, we saw significant growth through our introductory offers across all magazine brands. While the sample size is small, the results have been extremely encouraging and we intend to put additional efforts into the low price/auto renew strategy going forward for new subscribers.

Takeaway for Brands
With some people spending more time indoors (and hence more time to read at their leisure), and all Canadians on the lookout for trusted sources of content, magazines offer an important vehicle for advertisers and brand storytellers to extend their reach.


Digital Print

January 2020 Prediction
Digital printing will grow in popularity.
– Andrew Borelli, VP, Operations & Manufacturing, SJC Print

The Pandemic Effect
The Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented drop in consumer and B2B spending. Our clients need to choose the best avenue possible to communicate their messaging. Valuable insights ranging from the importance of engaging and authentic content, personalization benefits from targeted DM campaigns, environmentally sound and sustainable product offerings and accurate market forecasts are relevant now more than ever.

Digital print affords the opportunity to “print less, more often.” Traditional offset print supports large static runs to capitalize on the economies of scale associated with higher volume runs. The problem there, is that you need to stick with the “one time” common messaging of that particular offset run. Digital print provides the client with multiple, short-run messaging opportunities and at an affordable cost due to the low prepress infrastructure. The benefit here is that clients can change the nature of the messaging to cater to the relevance of their changing business needs. This is particularly advantageous now, in our era of Covid-19.

Takeaway for Brands
With print as part of your overall strategy, digital print will give the flexibility to change messaging as frequently as needed, and at a lower price point.


Package Design

January 2020 Prediction
As we start off into a new decade with most of the population trying to deal with information overload, a major trend in package design will be simplicity.
– Bryan Raymond, Account Director, SJC Content

The Pandemic Effect
Nothing has forced the shift to online shopping more than our current situation due to Covid-19 and your package design needs to perform on the digital shelf like never before. Browsing the aisles in real life versus online presents its own challenges for how your package design engages consumers, delivers key messages and stimulates impulse purchases. When tackling your next brand design update or launching a new brand into the marketplace you must consider more than just the competitive landscape in-store and how you perform in shelf sets and focus groups.

Takeaway for Brands
Your online presence is key. How does your design perform in the digital space?  What supporting content can you create from your existing packaging assets beyond the standard front/side/back panel shots to help educate the consumer at a glance, show your points of differentiation, features and benefits?  Our fully integrated end-to-end package design solutions can help you get the right message, in the right way, to the right consumer.

SJC introduces the SJC Safe Shoot Solution

This is not business as usual. It is a time where flexibility, creativity and collaboration are essential as we find our way forward through unchartered territory and develop new production processes to fuel relevant and engaging marketing solutions for brands to reach their audiences.

St. Joseph Communications (SJC) is open for business. As a provider to essential services including grocery, pharmaceutical and telecommunications, we continue our work in creating, sharing and printing content. Over the last several weeks, we have implemented new processes and policies for the creation of high-quality photography and video for our clients. Our challenge was to produce live photo and video shoots, all the while minimizing human contact, ensuring a safe environment on set, conducting client approvals remotely and maintaining high-quality creative output.

Introducing the SJC Safe Shoot Solution


Safe filming and photography continues at SJC during COVID-19 With our studios under strict new guidelines to ensure distancing and safety, we are able to produce a wide variety of off-figure product and lifestyle photography and video content for multiple categories including:

  • Food
  • Home
  • Automotive
  • Apparel
  • Beauty
  • Consumer Packaged Goods

As part of our Safe Shoot Studio protocol, we have implemented the following processes to enable no-touch photography and video production:

  • Limiting the live crew on set to the essential team members, with the remaining members – including art directors, retouchers, writers and script writers – working remotely.
  • Re-configuring all studios to keep crew members a minimum of six feet apart at all times.
  • Reinforcing hygiene and safety as top priority, with all crews wearing gloves and masks (when required).
  • Providing clients with remote access for proofing video and photography; a safe and effective way for clients to be virtually on set.
  • Introducing client proofing for video via Teradek VidiU technology, which allows our film camera to send a live HD feed to a secure cloud-based online viewing platform. Client teams can watch remotely and provide real-time feedback to the SJC studio team.
  • Using a wireless monitor solution on set to keeps crew safely connected from a distance.
  • Providing remote access for talent so they can perform without human contact.
  • Disinfecting studios and equipment after every shoot.

Our Safe Shoot Studio solution enables our teams to work with clients to produce new and relevant content for a variety of marketing needs from direct-to-consumer e-commerce channels to print, digital, social media and retail signage.

To find out more about our SJC Safe Studio solution,  please contact