Greg Hahn opens Mischief in the U.S. with Canadian agency No Fixed Address
Less than two months after former BBDO New York Chief Creative Officer Greg Hahn was laid off from the agency, he has a new home. Hahn has teamed up with independent Canadian agency No Fixed Address to open Mischief @ No Fixed Address, the company’s first outpost in the U.S., based in New York City.
Hahn is a well-regarded creative leader who served for 15 years at BBDO, steering the agency on groundbreaking work for clients including Fedex, Sandy Hook Promise, HBO, AT&T and more. Prior to that he worked at Fallon Minneapolis on iconic campaigns like “BMW Films” and EDS’ “Cat Herders.”
He departed BBDO in mid-April, alongside exec VP-Director of Integrated Production Dave Rolfe, following Omnicom Chairman-CEO John Wren’s announcement that furloughs and layoffs would be imminent across all the holding company’s shops. The news came as a shock to the industry, representing one of the pandemic’s highest-profile blows to the creative community.
Following the layoff, Hahn says he spoke with all kinds of companies—“everyone from platforms and tech to in-house, to holding companies,” he says. But what remained foremost in his mind was, “What is the model that would worry me? As a holding company you’re in a system that is under fire from every side—from the top, from the side, from other agencies, from clients. The walls felt like they were crashing in on that model. I thought the one model that seems free from that would be very nimble, creatively focused, very tied to making things—that actually had the talent.”
That’s what he found in No Fixed Address, a name he says kept popping up on LinkedIn while he was doing research.
The independent agency was founded three and a half years ago in Toronto by Canadian agency veterans Serge Rancourt and Dave Lafond, who previously spent more than a decade building the Publicis brand there. No Fixed Address espouses a talent-focused philosophy and eschews cumbersome overhead, complex processes, silos, fixed hours and inflexible compensation models. The shop was honored in Ad Age’s Small Agency Awards in 2018 and 2019, earning both Agency of the Year and Campaign of the Year nods.
No Fixed Address started with about a dozen people but is now 150-strong, with more than 47 clients, including AB Inbev, LIttle Caesars, Questrade, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, J.P. Wiser’s and Mattamy Homes. And it continues to grow, even during the pandemic—since mid-March, the agency has added 15 staffers, with zero cuts.
“The company was doing what everyone’s been trying to figure out for the last three years—flexibility to work in ways that make people happy, not being tied to a specific payment structure, transparency with clients, being nimble—all the things people are talking about now during COVID,” Hahn says. “They were way ahead of the game.”
Hahn says he was the one to make the first call but it also so happened that No Fixed Address had already been entertaining the idea of opening in the U.S. “We had a few client assignments in the U.S. and a pretty big pitch in the fall of last year," says Co-founder and CEO Lafond. “We got pretty far along and we felt, 'OK, we can’t just be a Canadian agency pitching in U.S. cities. We’re going to need top talent.' Greg became the solution to an opportunity we were trying to create for ourselves.”
When the agency officially (albeit metaphorically) opens its doors on June 1, it will have five U.S. staffers. Hahn will be a co-founder and creative lead, and former MullenLowe U.S. Senior VP-Group Account Director Kerry McKibbin will serve as president. McKibbin had previously worked with Lafond at Publicis in Toronto for six years.
Hahn says Mischief @ No Fixed Address will aim to bring to advertising what’s on the company’s shingle. “I like the idea of ‘mischief’ because when someone does something mischievous it knocks you out of your traditional ways of thinking,” he says. Such thinking is even evident in the shop's PR shot, a stuffy stock image of a group of senior, white men in a boardroom, which Hahn says represents “everything we are not.”
While his hope is that the work will be varied, creative excellence will be paramount, Hahn says. “I like to work in a lot of different styles, but I feel there should be a bar that everything rises to, whether it’s comedy, or stuff that’s more thought-provoking like Sandy Hook. Whatever the brief, we will do work that feels like it comes from the same place but doesn’t feel like it’s the same voice.”
Mischief @ NFA has already got work a project for Kraft Heinz. “The goal is to do big, brand work—work that people see,” Hahn says. “I didn’t want to just start a small boutique, with just a couple people doing local stuff. I really want to do work that makes an impact on a big scale.” More talent will be added, but for now Hahn has been working with the Toronto-based team and has even tapped some former BBDO co-workers who also recently lost their jobs.
As for any concerns about opening up during the crisis, the Mischief @ NFA founders say they are focused on the opportunity. “I’d have reservations about any other model, but these guys are thriving and have a company that was built for this time,” Hahn says.
“We sort of feel we had our COVID moment three and a half years ago when we launched,” Lafond adds. “We started from scratch [without] all the complicated stuff we grew up in—just the freedom. Four years later, we’re going, 'Thank God.' We can pretty much hire someone on a Zoom screen now.”