This is the second high-profile small agency to close this year: Barton F. Graf 9000 is shutting down in December, a casualty, it said, of shrinking client budgets and the move by many clients toward project work.
But JohnXHannes did not fold for lack of business success. According to McKelvey, the shop doubled its growth and revenue every year since it was founded and had always been profitable. In its Small Agency Award submission last year, the shop said it was built for the project economy and that it posted $11.5 million in 2018 revenue.
Instead, the cause was a lack of a consensus among its partners, who “just have different visions and ambitions going forward,” McKelvey says. “While different perspectives in a creative partnership can improve the work, misalignment on the vision of a business is difficult. Although we’re going forward independently, I’m excited for this next chapter, and [for] Hannes’ future success.”
At Alto, which means to "stand tall" in Italian, it will be "business as usual" in New York, says Ciatti. The new company will be "moving forward with the same team at our existing headquarters," with plans to hire and announce new members in the coming weeks, he said in a statement to Ad Age. Ciatti added of McKelvey that he's "an incredible talent, we wish him every success in his new venture."
JohnXHannes was built on a lean model that included a core team of vets, but staffed up according the specialties needed for each particular project. The agency’s work was also centered on brands seeking to create what McKelvey calls “transformational, cultural moments” that would help get them to the next level.
His own new shop, Mirimar, will be similarly staffed, McKelvey says. “I see it as an evolution of that model, a grownup version with an expanded network of strategy and creative partners.”
While JohnXHannes became known for work that blurred the lines between entertainment and advertising, Mirimar aims to create cultural impact for its clients through traditional ads, entertainment, technology or whatever medium best serves the strategy. “We still see our role as the brand guardians that can help create these transformational moments,” he says. "It doesn’t mean coming in with a specific agenda; it’s much more about 'How do we create the most impactful piece of culture?'”
McKelvey says the name “Mirimar” was chosen out of nostalgia. Meaning “sea-view,” it was the name of the street he grew up on in Australia, where he had a view of the ocean. It’s particularly apt now that one of the agency’s offices is in Venice, California. It also has an east coast office in Brooklyn, New York.
Although he won't disclose current clients, McKelvey says they’re a mix of previous brands he worked on while at JohnXHannes and new ones.
Though JohnXHannes excelled as a small shop, McKelvey says he has bigger plans for Mirimar. The company will be built to scale up, yet also built to survive in the current project-driven markets. “We won’t grow in a traditional way at all," he says, "but will do so with lean teams, and confidently be a different business to different partners."