The Flight of Fancy

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Fancy ECD/Partners Mauro Alencar (left) and Geoff Edwards
Fancy ECD/Partners Mauro Alencar (left) and Geoff Edwards Credit: Marcus Eriksson
At the end of last year, Geoff Edwards, former ECD/partner at T.A.G. San Francisco and one of the Grand Prix-honored creatives behind the much celebrated Halo 3 campaign and other lauded Xbox efforts, announced that he'd be leaving his agency, under vague circumstances. Just over a month later, he's turned up just a few blocks away from his previous home. Now based at 525 Market Street, he's been been picking out paint colors and furniture with former Publicis Modem EVP/ECD Mauro Alencar, the equally decorated Brazilian digital creative who'd previously worked at AgenciaClick, Blast Radius, Organic and AKQA (where he'd first worked with Edwards on the multi-agency launch of the Xbox 360). The pair are now co-executive creative directors and partners at Fancy, a creative boutique that's been around for nearly a decade, but which you've most likely never heard of because until today, it's been known as Seismicom, a promotions agency that—at least in our circle—didn't even register on the Richter scale.

And that's exactly what the shop's founders CEO David Flaherty and president Kathy Mitchell wanted to change when they decided to bring in the duo. "Seismicom was a successful business for us for almost nine years, but no one knew what we did," says Flaherty. The company has a decent client lineup that includes SanDisk, Leap Frog, Wells Fargo and Haagen-Dazs, a global presence (the shop launched in Buenos Aires last year) and a solid revenue stream, about $12 million in billings in 2008. But, as a promotions shop, it didn't have a seat at the head of the clients' creative table and "we decided it was time to take our business to the next level," adds Mitchell. "Bringing world class creative talent to the kind of groundwork we've already laid down for nearly a decade—sends a message."
From left: president Kathy Mitchell, CEO David Flaherty, and Special Ops man Jeremy Brown
From left: president Kathy Mitchell, CEO David Flaherty, and Special Ops man Jeremy Brown Credit: Marcus Eriksson

But for two seasoned talents who already had choice gigs in the center of the spotlight, what was the lure to a shop with so little cred in the creative world? Besides Seismicom's stable foundation, it had a vote of confidence from Jeremy Brown, a finance exec Edwards trusted and had worked with in the past. Brown held roles previously at McCann, TBWA/Chiat/Day and Omnicom and recently signed on as a new partner/"Special Ops" officer. Moreover, there's also the trifle that creatively, Edwards and Alencar would be given free reign to remake the company as they saw fit, along with a mandate to put it on the map. That means raising the bar on the agency's current clients, but also attracting projects from a variety of others, including, the new partners say, former brands with whom they've had successful relationships. "Seismicom is going to cease to exist and we're going to go after completely new kinds of clients," says Alencar.

Having been at big agencies beholden to holding companies, "we were tired of not being able to touch every single aspect of a brand," he adds. "This is going to allow us to have that, from the campaign, above the line, below the line, to packaging and events." But don't even dare call it an "integrated" shop. "I hate that word," says Alencar. "It means taking separate things and making them work together. Why are they separate to start with? It should start as one. That was one of the big things [Geoff and I] had in common. We never believed in that format, people starting from different paths and then trying to mash everything up into one idea."

And with that, the real makeover begins. While the two have created the shop's new ID (Fancy's logo features a flower growing out of a skull) and have been outfitting the office with a much more stylish look—a converted grand piano takes the place of a reception desk in a white on white studio featuring 30-foot tall columns adorned with artwork in rococo frames— their prime focus is to establish a culture that allows for big, boundless creative ideas—a thinking that is nicely summed up in the company's new name. "There's actually a lot of tension in that word," says Edwards. "'Fancy' is born out of kind of a rebel attitude. Fancy simply means to stand out." Adds Alencar, "We're not talking about frivolous things, we're talking about beautiful things, about doing something different." Or, as they describe in their launch statement, "Fancy is when fun comes out of the closet." Nevertheless, "the reality is, the name doesn't make a difference," Edwards says. "It makes more of a difference to the internal culture that exists within the company right now, and it makes a difference for the client base that exists within the company. The new companies will accept Fancy for what it is, but after that, it's just time to get to work."

Meanwhile, the partners have bigger ambitions for the shingle. If things go as planned, Fancy will not just be the agency's moniker, but a brand that extends to products like clothing, even mobile phones. And the shop will be appropriately staffed to take ideas that far. While the two say they've spotted some great talents in-house, they'll be fortifying their bench with an array of creative players (while remaining adamant about not poaching from their former companies). "We're not just talking to art directors and copywriters and interactive designers," says Edwards. "We're going to bring in urban artists, musicians," and, especially important, "we're setting up a group called The Prototype Factory," a team that will be able to put together everything from boards to flash banners and websites.

Beyond the in-house talent, Fancy plans to establish creative alliances with notable industry players. It has already teamed with Kerstin Emhoff and director Paul Hunter's production boutique PrettyBird to develop projects and new branding solutions in the entertainment/ music space, a struggling market which both parties are passionate about trying to revitalize. Among those efforts is a video network that will put Hollywood-style content on thousands of screens in major retailers across the U.S. and Canada.

Although the agency can't disclose specifics, Fancy is also currently working on a pair of videogame launches, as well as a global digital assignment for a major spirits brand. Meanwhile, the new partners are firmly convinced that the current economic downturn is the best time to start the new company—and grow it in the right direction. Referring to Fancy's flower-skull logo, "some of the most beautiful things are sometimes born out of the worst conditions," says Edwards. "It's a nice story for a not so nice time."
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