Meeting with Mistress in their space, at the very epicenter of Venice beach from where they can see surfers, skaters and even bank robberies, I am treated to a tour of the office built with reclaimed wood and passionate ideas. Their large windows will let the sunlight in, as well as serve as dancing space for their parties where suddenly the entire neighborhood thinks there's a new nightclub in town. Mistress tend to do everything with the essence of their brand name in mind, the agency party date they own is of course Feb 14, Valentines day, and the time it begins is right after the quiet fancy dinner you've had with your spouse. (But of course, bring the spouse to the party, you have hired baby-sitters after all!) Mistress is founded by these handsome chaps at the door, from left to right Damien Eley, Blake Marquis, Jens Stoelken, Scott Harris and Christian Jacobsen. Photograph by F. Scott Schafer. Enough smalltalk, lets get down and dirty.
"Media does not enter before the idea"
DB: - "A lot of agencies here either pride themselves on making branded entertainment or content, they just look at it from that point of view, but you haven't branded yourselves as making X in that manner. What is Mistress? "
Damien Eley founding partner and co creative director explains;
- "I can't remember the last time we sat down with a client and we knew what way we were going. You sit down, you talk about it, you come back and you throw out what the best answer is, and you just go do it. That's one of the best things about having your own company, you can sit down and work out what the best answer is. There's no agenda. At a bigger company you might lean toward a different style of work as your company might be better set up to do things that way. Certainly a lot of traditional places are better set up to do work on traditional platforms. We spent our first year, our first major credit project, was a five part TV series. We literally figured it out as we were going along. We came out with a marketing project for Red Bull which was a five part TV series, we wrote it, we produced the entire thing. That was cool. We sat down after ur first 12 months (of Mistress) and we realized that we hadn't done any traditional work in our first year."
Mistress can't be boxed in
Christian Jacobsen, founding partner and strategist nods and joins in.
- "After that first year, we met with pitch consultants, as our brand was out there and people wanted to know more about us. They gave us these forms to fill out to peg us, and what we do. First there's clients we've worked with.. But the end, there were these boxes, "percentage of media". How many percent of your work is radio, how many percent print, percent digital, and so on. And we sat down and said, all of our work is social, it's content, it's TV... we made a few commercials, no print, design work, identity.... and we couldn't fill out any of the boxes. We rewrote the entire thing."
Blake Marquis, also a founding partner in Mistress, doesn't like boxes either: - "Things happen very organically for us, as Damien says, it's not like we set out to do weird, different things, it's just where the idea went. People look at it as if it's all out there and crazy, but it's just the best solution to the problem."
Damien Eley: - "Even the industry evaluates what you should be doing as an advertising agency. One of the benefits of being in L.A., and then Venice, was that we were so separated from the rest. We've come from the London, The New Yorks, where everyone is looking over their shoulder the whole time, everyone is competing for the next big bit of business. Where as we're here on the beach, what we've spent our entire careers working toward, and we can do whatever we want. There's this amazing huge creative collective around us here are are just doing stuff. It's actually a hugely cathartic place to be."
Christian Jacobsen: - "None of us are from L.A. When we kicked our company off we were international, we thought we'd be a great place in an outpost market. And it's totally changed.
72andSunny was paving their own way, Chiat was always here and such, we thought 'it seems a really great place to be' but still detached from the East coast. And now, from our perspective L.A. is totally popping."
Damien Eley: - "Yeah and they're all moving into our street"
Christian Jacobsen : - "Ha! But yes, tech companies are here, shops are opening up, there are always people stopping by our space from this place or that place in Europe. We thought it would be a great place to live, a big enough market, and a place where we could do what we wanted to do. Entertainment drives this city. Advertising isn't so far away. Maybe we were just a little ahead of a curve, now it seems everyone is jumping on that bandwagon."
DB: - "And your turf. But seriously, is it easier to get global clients, or clients with global experience when you are an international group of people? You're not huge."
Christian Jacobsen : -"Yes, in our final pitch against Jägermeister we were up against well established large agencies. But we were able to establish to the German client, not only the nuance of the US market, but also how it was perceived here as compared to how they saw it. We could jump in and say "Nobody could do jägerbombs in our market". I think they were just very attracted to the very broad perspective that we have. For Hot Wheels we do global creative for them. One of our first jobs, a global spot for ESPN, the marketing director loved the fact that Damien and Scott had a love of sports that spanned beyond baseball and basketball."
Jens Stoelken adds a northern German twang to it all: - "It helps, there's often a correlation between trusting people and size. I think we need to grow a little further, but as they said it definitely helps that we have the German, the English, the Global eyes."
Blake Marquis: - "As a small agency, we may be physically small, but we are doing some of the biggest work out there."
Quite literally - you remember the death defying world record giant Hot Wheels double loop don't you?
Speaking of boxes - being stuck with one large client is a bad box to be in.
Christian Jacobsen : - "The big account in review right now is Honda. That's a huge piece of business, and that agency depends on it. Today you never know. The marketing guy might change. Some dynamic in the market might change. It's very dangerous to have such a high percentage of your company attached to one thing, because you can't predict the future any longer."
Damien Eley: - "Even for our brand health, Mistress' brand health, our model helps, because we do projects, there's always a new one coming in the door."
Blake Marquis: - "And they keep us good. Keep us forward thinking. Some clients may get stuck in a rut and do the same thing as last year. Our project work keeps us at the forefront of whatever, because we have no idea what the next big thing might be. It might be purely social. It might be creating an app. It might be something else. It keeps the agency thinking ahead, because those projects teaches the agency new production values, new strategic approaches every single time. We very quickly evolve. We have to."
Damien Eley: - "Last year we had massive beast of entertainment thing for Hot Wheels, something for Jägermeister and then we had a strategic thing for Playboy. It felt very "Mistress", there were three very different things and target audiences we were talking to. You can do that when you are so nimble, a nimble mistress. Our client appreciate this too, even if they approach us for a longer term commitment, they appreciate the honesty."
DB: - "So what is the difference between a Mistress and a call-girl?"
Christian Jacobsen : - "The mistress in our minds, was always somebody who helps invigorate somebody in a relationship. Our perspective was that our mistress can come in an reinvigorate somebody, help them enjoy what they are doing again, make them fall in love with their brand again. Add some passion. But we're not going to cross that line, we're not going to do whatever you want for a few bucks."
Blake Marquis: - "Yes, we reinvigorate our clients, we get them excited again. Hot Wheels, making toys all these years, now they're setting world records. Our clients say 'we love our brand', and that gets us stoked."
Jens Stoelken: - "I think it's the heart, if you will."
Damien Eley: - "We have a line that says, we don't fold your socks. The mistresses role in a client-agency relationship, we're not gonna come with a really old comfortable notion. We're not going to come in with an easy answer, we're going to show you something new."
DB: - "With media being so fragmented, and you guys even started with a TV show, how do you find where the target is today?"
Christian Jacobsen : - "I think it's basically we look at what's right for the brand, the budget, and that very specific consumer and we'll nail a very small bullseye. If you find the right people as the bullseye, it will radiate, and that's why so much of our work has a social component, content that can be shared and we follow the consumer there. What we hate are really really broad stroke paintings of consumers. I used to work on a beverage where the brief would say "Our consumer is everyone with a mouth". That's not true, and if you do a really great job zeroing in on one group, they'll do a lot of work for us. With Mistress, even if we have a bluechip brand, it's not like we have their hundred million media budget, we have to make all of our work, work really hard."
DB: - "Have you seen the Bud ads where the billboards have a two word hashtag? That's how traditional agencies think things are shared."
Damien Eley: - "Putting a hashtag on something? It's like putting a Dot Com on something five, ten years ago."
DB: - "Or 'AOL Keyword'...."
Christian Jacobsen : - "The hashtag could work, but only if its relevant. It has to be a part of the conversation that you're trying to create rather than slapping something on there."
Blake Marquis: - "It's more for cataloging on the web. It's not like on a billboard you can search the hashtag, on a billboard you don't need the hashtag. I think people are just hopping on it. It is the new Dot Com."
Damien Eley: - "It was the Dot Com, then the Facebook Button, now the hashtag, we're just going along."
DB: - "And it started with the AOL keyword and to me it feels like you're giving up your media space to somebody elses brand."
Jens Stoelken: - "It's the way it's always been, some just add it on as an afterthought. It's the way it'll always be."
Damien Eley: - "One of the interesting things is that nowadays the audience, the media is so fractured that you have got to have a plan on how your brand is going to get shared."
Christian Jacobsen : - "If you do something with Mattel and you do something really fresh and new and different, you can earn those eyeballs. It's not about manipulating people, it's about being contextually relevant. Being worth sharing."
And on that note we end with sharing the Mistress website, where you can see examples of their work. We also welcome the former Grey London creatives to the sunny skies of L.A. and the bright offices of Mistress in the heart of Venice, as well as recent hire Maggie O'Brien as Mistress senior interactive producer. Keep on injecting passion into brand relationships, you crazy kids.
Scott Harris is possibly the strong silent type, but the reason you don't see him in this piece is because he was playing catch to his child being born somewhere else in L.A.
Mistress was the AdAge small agency of the year 2011. OF COURSE they have a facebook page and the twitter handle MistressVenice.