Small Agency of the Year, 11-75 Employees, Gold: Mekanism

Mixing Crafty Social-Media Distribution and Creativity Earns San Francisco Shop a Cult Following

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Get a producer, director, tech-head and animator together in adland and what do you get? An agency band that makes beautiful music.

"We're more like the Ramones; we're not as talented as the Beatles," said Jason Harris, president-executive producer at Mekanism.

Clockwise from top: Tommy Means, Jason Harris, Ian Kovalik, Pete Caban
Clockwise from top: Tommy Means, Jason Harris, Ian Kovalik, Pete Caban

But it's Mekanism's work rather than the band that amasses the cult following. Partners Tommy Means, founder and creative director; Pete Caban, CEO-head of digital; Ian Kovalic, creative director; and Mr. Harris are the four-corners of Mekanism, a San Francisco-based agency that 's evolved from digital-production shop to a creative shop that makes content that millions of people on the internet read, watch and share.

Mekanism has carved out a spot making stories that spread by layering social-media distribution on top of its creative rep. Once the 61-person makes something beautiful or, more likely, edgy or funny, it's figured out how to distribute it through relationships with bloggers and others online.

"Our roots are in production, and I think that clients are so challenged to tell stories in different media," said Mr. Means.

Mr. Means founded the agency in 2002, assembling his foursome to start a production company for new media. At one point, 90% of its works came from ad agencies looking to actualize creative ideas. Two years ago, it honed its vision to making viral content and now works almost exclusively with clients directly. Today, the agency can produce animation, live-action, social media or digital creative. "We keep it in house to keep it cheap and fast," said Mr. Harris.

While they've come to be known for viral videos -- eBay's holiday "Love to Give" videos featuring "The Daily Show's" Samantha Bee are a great example -- they also created their first Super Bowl spot this year for Brisk Iced Tea. Because the Lipton brand had done no mainstream advertising in nine years, Mekanism established an online network to seed ads, tested the waters with a series of animated web videos of celebrities and finally capped it off with a Super Bowl campaign. It ended up as the No. 1 most-viewed video on YouTube after the Super Bowl and sales spiked 31% over projections.

"We don't necessarily see that Brisk work as a Super Bowl ad," Mr. Means said. "We see it as part of a machine that has to work together."

After winning agency-of -record duties for Brisk and Amp in the past year, Pepsi is now one of the agency's biggest clients, along with Samsung and Crocs. Last year, revenue jumped to $25 million, up 38% from the year prior.

With a quickly growing New York office, Mekanism is also launching three new divisions to organize growth in the years to come: "labs," to develop agency-owned products and apps; "networks," as its syndication arm; and "studios," to house its production division.

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