In late December 2016, Portland, Oregon, endured one of its biggest snowstorms in a decade, dubbed "Snowpocalypse" by local media. During the epic downfall, when veteran agency creative Mark Fitzloff thought all he'd have to worry about was his five-minute commute home, he ended up contemplating something much bigger: what he'd be doing for the rest of his life.
That was the day he learned he'd no longer be commuting to Wieden + Kennedy, his employer of nearly two decades. There, he had risen from copywriter to partner and executive creative director, helping to steer the company's landmark successes of the past decade for the likes of Old Spice, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble. At the time, the agency said he was leaving to pursue other opportunities. Fitzloff refrained from comment.
Gridlock from the blizzard afforded Fitzloff the "luxury of 45 minutes to reflect on where I was in life," he says. "My car spun out. I got stuck." He trudged the final mile, reaching the bottom of the hill upon which his house sits to see his two kids' faces pressed against the window. Having thought hard about how he should present the news, he walked through the door, raised his arms and roared triumphantly.
"I can still picture the looks on their faces—'I think Dad is going to have a nervous breakdown,'" he recalls. "I wanted to demonstrate for my kids that change, while scary, is something to be embraced in life. But they weren't inspired. They were troubled."
While the scene marks the end to one story, it's the drumroll to another. Fitzloff has officially opened the doors of his own independent, Portland-based agency, Opinionated. It debuts with clients including crowdfunding platform GoFundMe and Bob's Discount Furniture—an East Coast chain in the midst of national expansion.
Fitzloff sees his company serving the role of a "CMO-whisperer" rather than a typical ad vendor, bringing clients the direct expertise of experienced agency execs while executing ideas with boutique nimbleness. To do so, he's assembled a hybrid team of seasoned vets on the frontlines along with a group of senior freelance specialists in creative, production, account service and more.
Personal reasons (those kids in the window) kept him tied to Portland, but the location also makes for what he believes is a unique selling point. "While it under-indexes in clients, it over-indexes in talent—[from] my former employer, Nike and the burgeoning Silicon Forest tech startup industry."
Full-timers include Creative Director Rob Palmer, who has also served in various creative director roles at agencies including Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Razorfish, TBWA, Goodby and Doner; Strategy Director Robin Lanahan, who also worked at Microsoft, Crispin and Nike; Account Director Gina Keough, who spent the lion's share of her career on W&K's account side; and Director of Creative Operations Shari Eiesland, who most recently served as W&K's studio director and recruiting manager.
The agency, which currently operates from a shared workspace, also gives its freelancers guaranteed work, health insurance and a workspace that they're free to use for other gigs
Although he says probably half of his own portfolio is Nike, his proudest accomplishments happened as he became more involved in pitching other brands. His first big break on leading a pitch was on Coca-Cola, which ultimately yielded famous work such as "Videogame," a "Grand Theft Auto"-inspired spot in which bad deeds were replaced by good ones. From there, he went on to take charge on what would become the agency's landmark work of the decade—Grand Prix-winning campaigns for Old Spice, Procter & Gamble's "Thank You, Mom" and more. Pitching "became something I really enjoyed, because you get to have your purest, most idealized version of thinking," he says."
For current client GoFundMe, Fitzloff and team are helping the brand determine how it should evolve in the near future. For Bob's, they'll be debuting new campaign work in late fall. Opinionated aims to address client needs in a personal way, acknowledging that solutions aren't cookie cutter. Its own marketing playfully offers a literal "menu" of services with prices attached, with house specials catering to specific client needs.
For example, there's an offering for "Stranger in a Strange Land"—an experienced CMO who lands at a tech startup that's founder-led and engineer-focused—and for "The Shit Show," for a marketing exec who needs to help the team figure out what the heck their brand stands for.
Raquel Rozas, CMO of client GoFundMe, was a former P&G exec who first met Fitzloff through her former boss, Alexandra Keith, president, global skin and care at P&G. Although it's early in the process, so far, she says, the agency has delivered. "We went up there for a day-and-a-half of onboarding, and they understood how to attack the problem from multiple disciplines. We started at nine and by noon, I felt like a monkey was off my back."
Such challenges informed the name of Fitzloff's new shop. There's all this "crap going on in our industry right now, the dueling opinions about where it's headed—is it dying, evolving, alive and well?" he says. "These are existential questions that didn't exist a generation ago, and I believe what still remains at the core is you have a big, brand client organization that needs fresh outside perspective about who they are. That's the opinion they come to the agency for."