2021 PR Gold and Digital Bronze: Talent meets opportunity at NFA

The agency’s geo-agnostic and ultra-collaborative business model helped it survive and thrive during the pandemic.

 

Agency Group Photo - NFA

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of strategy.

It’s customary to ask a new president about their first hundred days. However, when strategy caught up with new No Fixed Address president Mark Carpenter it had only been about half that. Yet that was still enough time for him to oversee some big growth at the agency.

“My previous role [as CMO of NFA] was focused on a few verticals but, as I take on this broader role, it’s reminded me of the power of the grid we’ve built and what we’re able to achieve. There is nothing but opportunity now, and that maybe hasn’t been the case for a while.”

Based in Toronto, with offices in Montreal and New York, NFA’s “integrated grid” model – which is based on talent and not offices – has allowed the multi-functional agency to not only survive but thrive in the last 18 months. In that time, it’s grown from 100 creative souls to 185, revenue has roughly doubled, and its welcomed accounts such as Hello Fresh, Chef’s Plate and CPA Ontario.

Over the last few years NFA has expanded its list of services, adding a media arm, then a public relations practice, and finally a health division between 2018 and 2019. The agency has quickly grown to become a one-stop shop that’s not only capable of winning Bronze in the Digital category of AOY, but also the Gold in PR.

“Ideas need to travel to be successful,” says Carpenter. “For us, PR is completely plugged into our creative and strategic process. It’s not a bolt-on where we say, ‘Here’s our ad campaign, now go PR this.’ We’re all collaborating on this stuff to make sure that the end result is really strong and works for the client.”

An idea that was built to travel is the “Unsilence the Conversation” campaign for Sunnybrook and its Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network (PAIL). The goal was to create opportunities to talk about pregnancy loss, giving families the words to talk about their grief. To do that, NFA created the “Unbirth Announcement” that was widely shared on social media, encouraging the normalization of the conversation through shared experience.

The end result was a campaign that earned 78 million impressions across Canada. More importantly, says Carpenter, NFA heard from countless parents who had experienced a loss saying that this was the first time they heard their story being told.

NFA and New York sister agency Mischief’s campaign for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection also spread across the social-verse this year. Timed for the platform’s 15th anniversary, “Happy Birthday, Twitter” was a powerful and heartbreaking look at child exploitation online. The short film, which was tied to the hashtag #TwitterBirthdayPlea, offered testimonials of child exploitation victims, and called on the social media platform to do more to prevent it. The campaign earned 330 million impressions across the globe – including 30 million impressions on Twitter itself.

The agency’s geo-agnostic and ultra-collaborative business model seemed to be the perfect antidote for the uncertainty of the last two years. In order to survive, flexibility was key and, luckily, that has been NFA’s calling card ever since it launched in 2016.

“Lines are constantly being blurred and you can either worry about butting up against that or you can completely embrace it,” sums Carpenter. “There are just too many factors, with clients and budget expectations, the target, the cultural nuance… You just have to remove some of those preconceived barriers, add a bunch of smart people onto a problem with different perspectives and then you get magic on the back end.”

Consider the recent integration of Ethnicity Matters. While NFA and the multicultural shop will remain as separate entities for the foreseeable future and working relationships are still being hammered out, the addition opens the door to new “insights and perspectives from all types of people who are now represented in our work,” says Carpenter. “It’s just a really powerful [way] to make sure that the ideas and campaigns we’re developing are going to resonate across the board.”

Should we expect NFA’s growth to continue into 2021 and beyond? The best Carpenter will offer is a definite maybe.

“We haven’t really sought out growth,” he admits. “We follow talent, first and foremost, and then we follow opportunity. The focus is always on making sure that our people and our clients are taken care of.”

New Business
Beyond Meat, Betway, Chef’s Plate, Kraft, Freed Developments, Canada Learning Code, CPA Ontario, Royal Ontario Museum, CMHC, Hivestack, Eli Lilly, VRAYLAR, Abbvie Allergan, Insurance Store

Hires
Anand Iyer, Dominique Raso, Chris Perron, Jay Fleming, Hayley Malcho, Holly Lepp, Caitlyn Kirkos, Andrew Rizzi, Daniela Angelucci, Jared Kwart, Aryana Hassan, Alina Stanca, Victoria Di Valerio, Jennifer Mo, Alex Berube, Brittany Dow, Vanessa Côté, Michelle Hayos

Offices
Montreal, Toronto, New York

Staff
162

PR AOY cases

Heinz By Nature

1. There have been reports that more babies were born as a result of months of isolation during the pandemic. That, Heinz By Nature thought, is something to celebrate. So to help new parents show off their lockdown babies, No Fixed Address worked with the CPG brand to create a limited edition clothing line: The Lockdown Lovechild Collection. The clothing featured witty and adorable bibs and onesies including slogans like “I was my parent’s quarantine craft project.”

ROM

2. For the ROM, the shop created a crowd-sourced exhibition, calling on kids and teens to submit their own #MyPandemicStory for the chance to be featured, as well as raising awareness through press, TikTok and Instagram ads.

twitter
3. Social platforms, like Twitter, are hotspots for child sexual assault material. So NFA helped the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to encourage the platform to take action by releasing a video that captured the voices and emotions of real survivors on Twitter’s birthday.

Digital AOY cases

DairyCraft

1. For 40 years, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) have been a part of Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, where it educates children on the merits of milk and dairy farming. When the Fair was closed to the public in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, NFA helped shift its partnership to a virtual experience by creating a branded Minecraft World and transporting students to a virtual dairy farm. “DairyCraft” included immersive lessons that were also designed around the core concepts of the Ontario elementary school curriculum.

hockey room

2. ​When Little Caesars became the Official Pizza of the NHL during COVID, ​i​t invited ​fans to sell the “Naming Rights” to their living roo​m or basement,​ allowing them to “renegotiate” their contracts in a digital auction, where fans could name their price to add Little Caesars branding in their home.

babies
3. NFA worked with Sunnybrook to create a digital algorithm opt-out browser plugin that avoided baby-related content and ads that reminded parents of their pregnancy loss at unexpected moments.