At the beginning of July, Kevin Mulroy became co-executive creative director of Greg Hahn’s new gig, Mischief, the New York offshoot of Canadian agency, No Fixed Address. Like most agency people, my first thought was, “Is it insane to start an agency, right now?” That question persisted and became irritating. So I asked Mulroy to answer it. [:ed]
Here is his response.
The world wasn’t expecting Mischief. And that’s a good thing.
Is it crazy to start a new agency right now? Hard to say. I’ve never done it before, so I don’t have much to compare it to.
I once went shark fishing on an unchartered boat in West Palm Beach, Florida. The owner of the boat started chumming the water about 30 feet from where families were swimming on the shoreline. When I questioned the logic behind this, he wiped dip spit from his chin and said, “you want to catch a shark, this is where the sharks are.” That felt pretty crazy to me.
I once saw a man on the Venice Boardwalk charging $5 to kick him square in the genitals. The meth made him a pushy and effective salesman, so there was a semi-circle of people limbering up for their turn. That was quite crazy.
I have two friends who freelanced at a large agency in New York. The brief was to punch up jokes on one, existing 30-second script. In the meeting, there were eleven non-creatives in the room. Eleven.
To me, all of these seem crazier than starting agency during a global pandemic, a tumbling recession, and a racial reckoning. So, I guess it depends on your definition of the word.
Normally, when people go through traumatic times like these, they cling to routine. Simple, mindless tasks can help quieten the freight train in your head. But these days, routine is ripped out of our hands on what feels like an hourly basis. The world, and everything in it, is an unmanned firehose of unpredictability.
But in reality, it’s always been that way. All stability is an illusion. It reminds me of that old joke:
How do you make God laugh? Tell her your plans.
In my six years working with Greg Hahn, he has always pushed for ways to keep the audience guessing. It’s probably the single most important thing in advertising. Think about the best work you’ve seen. Sure, some things are just beautifully executed. But I’d argue that the best moments of the best work are the biggest surprises. Don’t believe me? I’m on a horse.
As creatives, it’s our job to surprise and delight with the work. It’s our clients’ job to surprise and delight with impossible requests. It’s the world’s job to surprise and delight with global pandemics and murder hornets.
We have to live and breathe unpredictability, now and forever. If the world isn’t hurling constant bullshit at you, it’s not doing its job.
Serge Rancourt and Dave Lafond, the founders of No Fixed Address in Toronto, built a company in anticipation of, not in reaction to, constant unpredictability. Lower overhead, flexible office hours, flexible payment structures with clients, and a higher percentage of revenue goes toward talent payroll. In other words, the people who handle all the fun little surprises. The truth is, you just don’t need that many of them to do it. And I promise you, It’s nowhere near eleven per 30-second script.
What that model creates is a small band of experienced, accountable creatives moving fast and caring about what they make. It’s as exciting as advertising gets. Serge and Dave grew NFA from 2 to 140 in four years, and were already planning on opening a New York office, when, surprise! Greg Hahn became available. They did not see that coming.
But they were ready for it. And, thus, Mischief was born.
So, do I think it’s crazy to start a new agency right now? Maybe. But I just have to keep reminding myself: the chum is already in the water. It’s probably not a bad idea to start something with the fastest swimmers I know.