There’s a reason why you may not have heard of No Fixed Address (NFA).
While oldschool adland has been engaged in a pissing contest for biggest data stack to woo clients, undercutting itself and devaluing creativity to meet payroll because of a broken compensation model, and scrambling to dismantle silos to gain the flexibility it should have been built on, NFA has been quietly solving.
The shop, founded in Toronto three-and-a-half years ago by Serge Rancourt and Dave Lafond, claims to be the (non)model of the future. And now it has Greg Hahn.
"The agency world is in the need of a stir, and we want to be the straw," said award-winning creative Hahn, who today announces the launch of Mischief @ No Fixed Address -- the network’s official American presence headquartered in New York -- just weeks after he was let go from BBDO following 15 years amid a pandemic-related restructure which saw a loss of talent in the high double-digits from the NY office alone.
"It has been a whirlwind -- a roller coaster -- starting with a really sharp turn down," he told Campaign US. "I didn’t plan for it and I wasn’t prepared for change, but it came and I had no choice: Either make a bad thing out of it and dwell, or look at it as an opportunity to do something different and new. I quickly went into that mode."
Hahn left BBDO abruptly mid-April. He wasted no time in plotting his next move and went deep into researching agencies which are part of advertising’s great reinvention by creating tangible change to a largely-broken ecosystem.
"The next few weeks were super intense just exploring what possible models were out there because I really wanted to be sure," Hahn continued. "I spent a lot of time meeting with people. I had some great conversations -- people are so generous. Certain opportunities came up; some felt good, some just felt like I wouldn’t be progressing as much as I’d want.
"I somehow stumbled across Dave while asking who’s making the most out of this, who’s built for this and who’s succeeding at this time, and I kept seeing NFA coming up. The more I talked to them the more excited I got. I thought, ‘this is a company that’s winning business with a network that’s based on what’s happening today and tomorrow’ versus trying to make an old model work."
Hahn overturned all industry stones -- big holding company, agency, tech platform, in-house -- and this is the one that "felt so right and exactly what I’ve been thinking about how advertising will be."
We’ve heard this story before: Punchy, creative independent proclaiming it’s the change agent marketing needs. But NFA’s evidence is more compelling than most.
The agency’s client solution and approach is the furthest thing from cookie-cutter. There is no one-size-fits-all model and its compensation infrastructure is wildly varied and entrepreneurial, from equity stake to create-now-and-value-later. A fluid system has allowed Rancourt and Lafond to invest heavily in talent and grow to 140 people with 40 clients including Little Caesars, ABInBev and Disney.
Lafond explained: "It was a simple model at the time: We thought, ‘what if we just solve and not sell and focus on big talent?’ We hire the best people and we focus on the clients’ businesses and we don’t really focus on the financials. Over time we started to realize that if you’re not sending money from Toronto up the line to big holding companies, you can decide to invest 100 percent in talent -- or 110 percent in one month. The model was super low overhead, unencumbered, extreme flexibility.
"Sometimes we tell clients ‘we don’t have to talk about money right now, let’s just get to know each other and get to great work and then get together in a room and figure out what the value of this is,’" he continued, speaking to the financials. "I think the value will change for different clients. There’s no siloes and PnLs. We have some really interesting compensation models, but all we realized clients want right now is the power of creativity and storytelling without the shackles of the big system."
Underscoring the agency’s flexibility, Lafond added: "We’re starting an agency with Greg Hahn in the middle of a pandemic and it was a five minute conversation with me and my partner -- we don’t have people to call."
NFA has been in America for a while, but consider Hahn’s arrival its coming out party. Lafond jokes he’s always suffered from that Candian mindset of "maybe we don’t belong here." Taking on a top creative with deep roots across the country means Mischief can hit the ground running.
Hahn said: "One of our first conversations was, ‘have you ever thought about starting your own agency?’ I have thought of it -- then quickly not thought of it, because it incorporates a lot of things I’m not good at. I don’t know how to run a business -- I can do creative and manage accounts -- but I can’t do the operational stuff. I didn’t want to build out the network of strategists and so on. Dave said, ‘what if we bring this to you?’ It really is a case of ‘you dream it and we’ll build it.’
"That’s so refreshing to hear because so many agencies are smothered in fear because there’s so much threatening them right now. What would the world be and feel like free from fear? What if we remove that and start playing offense a little bit more?"
Mischief is already doing some project work with Kraft Heinz. Hahn is leaning on NFA’s Toronto talent and a number of USA-based freelancers. Continuing to build a diverse team is front and center for Hahn right now.
"The most unexpected ideas come from diverse minds with diverse, backgrounds and experiences," he said. "That will be a guiding principle as we build our Mischief team and part of NFA’s DNA. We don’t just want a bunch of similar people doing one kind of work."
Joining Hahn at Mischief is President Kerry McKibbin. She was most recently senior vice president and group account director with MullenLowe U.S. in Boston. McKibbin and Lafond worked together from 2005 to 2011 during six years of dramatic growth at Publicis in Toronto.
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Toronto, this weekend you proved this issue was too important to ignore. Thank you for supporting the Canadian Centre for Child Protection's mission to protect our children. We couldn’t have done it without some great partners who donated their time and effort to make this possible: @stacktmarket , @kneamtz , Ben Robinson & Kevin Saffer at @heydsaffer @nikkiormerod at @westside_studio , @married_to_giants , @bboxsound , @alteregopost @16tonnes Pixelpusher, Jono Lawley, Bruce Ellis, Lachlan Brown, and Lindsay Duplessis.
In April, the agency brought on board as a partner highly-regarded creative leader Jordan Doucette, the former executive creative director and chief creative officer of Leo Burnett in Chicago. Doucette has since been named president of the NFA creative agency in Toronto.
Hahn stressed: "Creativity has become commoditized in the sense that people are ignoring it and going to the lowest bidder. Right now, we’re seeing the value of creativity when everyone’s saying the exact same message in the same way and no one’s remembering it -- just over the last few weeks that’s come under the microscope.
"Now, coming out of this, brands are going to need to stand out. The value of brands has been demonstrated throughout this and now the one thing that’s going to differentiate you is how you connect with the consumer -- and it’s not going to be through bombarding them with offers every five seconds, it’s going to be building a relationship with them. Brands who spend money after this will be wasting it if they don’t stand out."
Or, as the creative put very simply: "It’s magic over margins."