Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy

Why I Started My Agency

Posted by Alisa | 08.17.17

Founder Alisa Choi Darcy – Photo credit: Ricardo Alfonso

Do you ever wonder what drove Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and the like, to create the companies that they ended up creating? What was their Momentous Turning Point? Was it that they saw an unfilled need? Or they saw a service or product that could be delivered better.

Well, here’s my story, in case you were wondering.

How Alisa Choi Darcy came to start Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy Inc.

As my multicultural marketing and business consultancy celebrates its tenth anniversary, let’s take a look back at some of the Small Life Events that occurred, leading up to my Momentus Turning Point.

Small Life Event #1

Flashback to a 2.5 year old Alisa, when my parents, with their rose-colored glasses, hopped on a passenger ship, to take the 2-week journey from Hong Kong to Hawaii to Vancouver. With my older brother and me in tow, it was apparently the scene straight out of the movie Life of Pi — torrential storms, waves that overcame the ship, seasickness felt by all, including a wailing and vomiting me. The willingness to give up the world as you know it for hope of a better life is common for immigrants. This perspective of “no pain, no gain” provides me with an “immigrant lens”. This empathy to newcomers, refugees and established immigrants alike, provides a valuable perspective for clients when developing their ethnic business and marketing strategies.

Small Life Event #2

Sometime in primary school. I heard the word Chinaman. Then Chink. From classmates. Or was it someone on the street first. I didn’t know they were derogatory terms, until about grade 4 or 5, when I overheard my dad explain the concepts in Cantonese to my Mom. About the same time, in grade one, we learned to read via Jack and Jill series of books. One book was of the two children learning how to make bread. The word used in the book was “dough”. Because my parents rarely spoke English at home, and cooking shows weren’t ‘a thing’ back then, I didn’t know what “dough” was. I did however, try to rationalize the photo with my connection with “doe”, the Cantonese word for “knife” — Jack was cutting the moldable blob with a knife. At that time in my life, my parents didn’t even own a cake pan, baking sheet, or rolling pin. To me, all these concepts shown in the picture book, and explained in the simple words, were so other-world. The need for immigrants to make sense of what they learn and take in, using their frames of references, can sometimes be a futile effort or an act of desperation. These days, we might be able to search on the internet…but what sites can we trust? It’s this compassion and desire to make accessible North American “common sense” and “social norms” that drives and guides me — from the creative strategy, media strategy, copywriting, art direction, and more — and clients benefit from campaigns that REALLY resonate with their cultural target markets.

Small Life Event #3

Before we moved from hick-town Canada, (aka Penticton, B.C.) to Vancouver, B.C., my dad got a “brilliant” idea to take all our stuff of Chinese heritage — all the calligraphy art, embroidery and paintings, silk brocade clothes, Chinese dragon head and Chinese porcelain dolls with the creepy eyes, the shuttlecock toy my mom made from cardboard and coloured feathers, chopsticks, brushes and ink, the horrible Chinese operatic music that my two brothers and little sister thought was incredibly grating, plus all the Chinese stuff in storage — and put on a Chinese Cultural Exhibition. The local Penticton Public Library gave us the hall space for free. My dad convinced us kids to put on a lion dance. It would be our first and last time. It was the first time I found out that I was Chinese. OMG I’m not white. I’m different. And non-Chinese needed help, through cultural exhibits, etc. to understand us. That day, instead of feeling ashamed, thinking my family was “weird” while living isolated in a white community, I learned that all the beliefs, traditions, motivations and behaviours ingrained in me was because of my cultural upbringing. Sharing my thought processes and explaining cultural “weirdness”, in comparison to “North American norms”, to others, started then, and continues in my consulting, workshops and speeches today.

Small Life Event #4

In the late 90’s, while working as an Account Manager for twelve U.S. daily newspapers in the Open Skies markets, it became apparent that readership and circulation was moving in a downward trajectory. One significant contributing factor was the increase in cultural diversity in the markets, such as Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, Orlando, Orange County. Within ten years, some of the newspapers stopped printing a hard copy, while new multicultural media options launched and flourished. Sure, mobile and internet were contributing factors too, but it didn’t help that the proportion of non-Hispanic whites in each of those communities were declining. Corporations that don’t embrace diversity, and adopt more inclusive business and marketing practices, are risking sustainable growth, as well as possibly developing a fragmented brand identity to a growing segment of consumers.

Small Life Event #5

While a partner at a boutique marketing agency, Pineapple Group (which ended up being swallowed up by Maclaren McCann), I received a call out of the blue from fellow BCIT alumn Darlene Templeton.

“Did you hear that Channel M is hiring?” she asked. “I think you’ll be perfect.”

“What’s Channel M”, I asked.

I found out later, through an Ipsos Reid research study commissioned by Channel M (now OMNI-TV, owned by Rogers), that airing specific language programming on a free, over-the-air television station, in a multicultural city, equated to viewers developing affinity with brands being advertised on said programs. “Brand Trust”, “Brand Awareness” and “Likely To Purchase” indexed higher when viewing commercials in their language of preference versus in English. I continue to seek research to support my intuitive business and marketing concepts, that I’ve literally spent a lifetime honing. 

Bhangra dancers – Photo credit: Ricardo Alfonso

Momentous Turning Point

It was a good time to be an Account Manager for a multicultural TV station. At Channel M, I worked alongside multilingual teams — teams who produced news and cultural programming in 20+ different languages. We all got along. We were all curious about each other, in an innocent, childlike way. The corporate culture was one in which we felt safe to ask anything. In addition to my years working in ad agencies, this opportunity of working in a culturally inclusive environment helped me understand the complexities and always-evolving, yet always-on, characteristics of cultures.

It was apparent to me, during this time, that clients needed help understanding the 20+ different cultures we reached. I spent more of my time consulting clients than selling commercial space. As a trained marketer, I could see they also needed a Chinese website, window posters in Punjabi, multilingual staff, and more. These were not for sale at Channel M. In fact, there was no ad agency or consultancy that sold the breadth of these services under one roof. The AHA moment hit me on the head several times while working at Channel M, especially when Channel M and I parted ways.

Traditional Persian Drumming by fellow Toward Excellence graduate. Photo credit: Ricardo Alfonso

Yes, let’s do it!

After much hesitation, and reluctancy, feeling burnt-out and exhausted, I took a course on how to write a business plan through Toward Excellence and launched Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy Inc. on April 1st, 2007. Complete with bhangra dancers, multicultural food, and me in a saffron-coloured sari, it was a true cross-cultural experience, in the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown.

I’ve recently moved to Toronto to be more accessible to corporate head offices in Ontario. As my multicultural team, in the east and west coast, celebrate our tenth anniversary, we’re excited to bring our passion, enthusiasm and cross-cultural and ethnic marketing knowledge to corporations doing business across Canada. Feel free to reach out. We can chat over bubble tea, chai, or a double-double.



Hank Bull (Founding Director) of Centre A, the Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Photo credit: Ricardo Alfonso

QEQ Launch Party and Cross-Cultural Celebration. Photo credit: Ricardo Alfonso

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