< Back

"Who you work with is everything." Insight from Debbie Drutz, president of NOVUS Canada

Lessons from our interview with one of Canada’s most inspiring marketing leaders

July 23, 2020

This interview is part of our series: Something to write Out-Of-Home About. Every month, we’ll be interviewing innovative marketers and innovators thinkers on their perspectives. Click here to subscribe to a monthly reminder for this series.


If Canada’s advertising industry had a walk of fame, Debbie Drutz would surely have a star on it. 

Drutz has held senior posts at some of the biggest players in Canadian media, including Rogers and Bell, where most recently she was vice president of sales for Astral. 

These days she’s the president of NOVUS Canada, one of the largest OOH buyers in the country.  She has a proven talent for thinking big and looking far ahead.

Which makes it more surprising that she’s such a big advocate for local marketing.

“Every community is so unique and needs different things,” Drutz says. 

This might sound counterintuitive if the word “local” conjures images of farmer’s markets and corner stores to you. For Drutz, “local” means “targeted”—and that makes it priceless for marketers.

“We start at the ground level and build campaigns from there and we know there’s no waste versus targeting broadly,” she says. “We understand the geography and the people that live within it”

“Local has always been an important strategy. But you need the right tools, the analytic horsepower and the proof to deliver business outcomes.”

Here are 4 more insights into modern marketing from Drutz.

Granular data is now table stakes

Over the last 10 years, Drutz has seen the use of big data and analytics move from an expensive and cumbersome technique to a powerful tool that is essential to today's marketer.

“Historically, data was hard to synthesize and make use of with complex systems—never mind how expensive it was,” she says. “Today, data is readily available and accessible. 

Drutz draws two unique observations from the ubiquity of data and digital tech in today’s industry. 

Firstly, with the abundance of data available, marketers can better target the right message to the right consumer at the right time with the capability of measuring the success of your campaign. 

But Data is only half the battle.

In addition, marketers must not lose sight of the power of branding and effective creative that catches the consumers eye and connects with them on an emotional level that drives consideration which is equally important. 

“That’s my passion with out-of-home.  As the oldest medium, you can blanket a city to launch a product and drive awareness or get really targeted and local and attribute exposure to increased sales.”

To seal the deal, you need a mixture of marketing channels

Though she admires traditional OOH because it can efficiently reach large numbers of people, Drutz also believes that when it comes to driving home actual behaviour change, a more intimate channel is a great addition.

“Traditional OOH reaches many outside in the open, and it’s more passive,” she says. “Newer digital OOH networks that are available give you that one-to-one connection— in elevators, in rideshare services and even in washrooms”

“That’s what really interests me about Vertical Impression. It’s a captive environment, which is unique to the OOH industry.”

A focused advertising medium also makes it easier for agencies and their clients to track what impact campaigns are having on consumer behavior. This is a perpetually important and slippery issue in advertising. Drutz sees it becoming even more vital as the digital revolution rolls on. 

“With digital representing over 50% of total ad spend, we in OOH need to be more accountable and creative with what we’re buying,” she says. “The one-to-one connection, with advanced technology and targetability does that. It gives us insight that helps us plan better and proof that we’re driving results.

Who you work with is everything

When it comes to making business decisions, Drutz is as data-driven as anyone—or maybe moreso, since she holds an undergraduate degree in statistics and a recently completed MBA.

But she doesn’t make decisions for NOVUS based solely on numbers.

“I meet with a lot of vendors and new companies often,” she says. “With Vertical Impression I had this great feeling about the founders. I’m energized by people; I analyze them first. Product to me is secondary.” 

“I met with Nicolette, this young firecracker who is so ambitious and driven. I liked her right away and was impressed by the company she founded. She’s smart and she gets what we’re trying to accomplish. She was so genuine. That’s why I really connected to the brand and the product.” 

Uncertain times call for diversity, agility and guts

Throughout her career, Drutz has sought out and provided mentorship to women in the industry. She currently chairs the Digital Place-Based Advertising Association’s advisory board on female empowerment, We. DOOH, and she’s a big advocate for the business benefits of female leadership.

She’s spent plenty of time as the only woman in male-dominated boardrooms. Drutz is proud that most of the leaders at NOVUS today are women, but she sees more important work ahead for the industry and NOVUS both—especially in the middle of a pandemic and global calls for racial justice. 

“I think what 2020 tells us as organizations, leaders, and marketers, is that we need to look inward,” she says. “We need to be realistic about what we look like from a diversity and inclusion perspective. And we need to start listening more and taking action”.

“We still need to make money, but we need to find a way to connect that with purpose and social responsibility.”


Every month, we’ll be interviewing innovative marketers and innovators thinkers on their perspectives. Click here to subscribe to a monthly reminder for this series.

Sign-up for our monthly newsletter

Start planning a smarter campaign today.