2020 AOY Silver: NFA stays fixed on growth

The creative agency sticks to its growth plans, with new senior hires and new offices in Montreal and the U.S.

NFA Staff

This story originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of strategy.

In late spring, No Fixed Address (NFA) co-founder and CEO Dave Lafond got a call from a Kraft Heinz marketer in the U.S. looking for Jordan Doucette.

Doucette had recently returned home to Canada to join NFA as a creative partner before being elevated to president just a few weeks later. Kraft Heinz had been one of Doucette’s clients during her prior gig as CCO at Leo Burnett Chicago, and they were looking for new creative.

That was when Lafond let the marketer in on a secret: in a few weeks, the agency was planning to announce the launch of Mischief, its New York outpost helmed by Greg Hahn, the much-revered BBDO New York CCO who left the agency amid pandemic cost-cutting.

Kraft Heinz was on board and after Mischief cracked the brief, it worked with NFA’s more established team in Toronto to come up with the campaign concept, before shipping it back to New York for execution.

“We picked up work for a couple brands before we even launched [Mischief],” Lafond says. “There was a lot of uncertainty in March, but one thing we decided very early on is that we need to keep being who we are.”

Since opening in late 2016, No Fixed Address has grown to 140 staff, and launched dedicated divisions for PR, health and media. And in a year when most agencies had to play defence, NFA not only survived, but stuck to its growth plans, like expanding to Montreal.

NFA MTL was announced at the peak of pandemic uncertainty after Jack Latulippe, co-founder of Supernormal, approached Lafond to absorb his agency late last year. Lafond was feeling the pain of not having a Quebec office when NFA walked into national pitches, so he was in a receptive headspace. While there were delays, NFA stuck with its plan, formally launching the agency in May.

Creating Mischief was more of a whirlwind. It came about after Hahn left BBDO in April and reached out to Lafond over LinkedIn. New York wasn’t on Lafond or NFA co-founder Serge Rancourt’s radar, but – similar to Quebec – they felt it was needed for U.S. client pitches.

“We’ve all heard the stories, a lot of Canadian agencies just don’t do well in New York,” Lafond says. “They go in big, then spend the next few years shutting it down. But when we heard from Greg, we realized we could take the talent-first approach that helped us start the agency, and his profile would let us pick up assignments quickly.” Even amid new offices, some of the agency’s most impressive successes this year were in Canada. The health division, first launched at the beginning of 2019, was already growing before March, and sustained demand allowed the division to keep hiring during the pandemic and swell to nearly 40 staff. The division now makes up roughly 20% of the agency’s revenue.

“It gave us the confidence to place some of the bets we placed,” Lafond says. “We felt it was future proof, because it works on things that have nothing to do with a global pandemic or recession. The ‘main’ agency has not grown at all this year, but health just kept going.”

Just a few weeks after Doucette joined the agency in April, Lafond and Rancourt decided to move her from a creative role into the president’s position, leading day- to-day operations so Lafond could focus on turning NFA into a network (though he doesn’t love that word).

“It wasn’t until she started and connected with clients that I realized, holy shit, I don’t even need to be in this meeting,” says Lafond.

For several years, Doucette was ECD and GM on Taxi’s Telus account, so she knows how to lead both the business and creative. Focusing on supplementing how NFA works with learnings from the U.S. is a big focus during the uncertain months ahead, even though Doucette has never met most of her staff in person.

“I’ve literally only been in the office one time,” she says. “But the culture here makes it really easy to do pulse checks and make sure people can work the way they need to right now. That’s really my focus, because there’s nothing worse than trying to be creative when you’re afraid. Luckily, all the surprises have been good ones.”

New key business: Revive SuperFoods; Canada Learning Code; CMHC; Options for Homes; Xplornet; Allergan; AstraZeneca; Janssen; Sanofi; Sobi Pharma; Virica Biotech; Novo Nordisk.

New hires: Jordan Doucette, president; Rena Hula and Trent Thompson, VP, CDs; Joy Panday and Fred Roberts, CDs, Health; Sam Cote, ACD; Ryan Dzur, AD; Darrin Patey, VP creative technology; Martin Szomolanyi, CD emerging technologies; Charlotte Macgregor, senior digital strategist; Katie Maxfield, senior CW; Ray McIIroy, VP, PR; Will Kozma, director experiential and sponsorship.

Staff: 140

To see the agency’s winning cases, visit the AOY website