News

Welp, someone in our industry has potentially said something outrageous, and we at FKA are very here for it.

Last week, the CEO and CCO of Havas Creative North America, Paul Marobella and Jason Peterson, adorned their finest streetwear and perched in front of a large green-screen for the first of a series of agency-wide video updates. In it, they implore their creative teams to shift their paradigm from that of creative to creator. As Peterson, a man who almost definitely owns a Supreme Brick, brusquely puts it: Havas’ competition is “…kids with iPhones and millions of YouTube followers.” He also happens to call the agencies of Leo Burnett, BBDO and FCB “shitty.” Poop emojis and a farting effect are added for good measure, obviously.

Check out their video here.

As you can imagine, this hot take has stirred the proverbial pot, springing forward a range of thoughts and opinions. Do they have a point, Tim and Eric-esque production aside? Did they cross the line? Is the video just really…lame?

For FKA’s erudite musings on the video, listen to the first snippet from our upcoming podcast below! (No, that’s not a joke. We’re making a podcast.)

 

FKA X

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FKA X

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After reflecting on my last decade in business, I’ve come to a few conclusions. When starting a business, there is a tendency to define it by what it is not. It’s not going to be typical. It’s not going to be like everyone else. It’s nothing like the places you may have worked before. It’s going to be different. But the irony is that in focusing on what we are not, we all end up the same. Because it is hard to be unique. It is hard to be true.

It took me most of our 10 years in business to date to actually define what started as Starburst and has since become FKA.

Two years ago, we started the branding process that would culminate in our new name and identity. The first step in the process? An internal branding exercise in which we asked everyone individually to choose three attributes that defined our agency, culturally and collectively. The results were telling.

Number 3. Fun. Why not! Fun is good!
Number 2. Knowledgeable. Phew! That one was a bit of a relief. At least we know what we’re doing.
And number 1. Ambitious.

Wow.

I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder in my life than I was the moment I realized my team decided that we were defined by ambition more than anything else. Yeah, I have kids, I’m proud of them, all the time, every day, obviously…but this was a high watermark.

Now, if you didn’t know already, it’s probably dawning on you how we settled on our new name. Fun. Knowledgeable. Ambitious. F. K. And above all, A.

Ambition. It defines us. We’re driven by it. Relentlessly so.

Ambition drives us to grow. 571% over the past five years. From one person (me) to twenty-seven. We are now among the largest agencies in the city.

Ambition drives us to seek out like-minded clients. Many of them retail but all of them successful businesses and organizations who demand results and share a philosophy which we internally refer to only semi-jokingly as “sell or die.”

Ambition drives us to learn more. To be better. To adapt to the accelerating pace of evolution in marketing and communications.

Ambition drives our processes. At FKA, we have banished “set it and forget it.” In every project, every campaign, every tactic, we seek out opportunities to learn from the results and make it better. Advertising is research. (Research that sells, too—what better kind, really.) Act. Analyze. Adapt. That is our mantra. Ambition means a bias for action. We prioritize doing and learning.

It is ambition that has brought us here, to this moment in time, this celebration.

And I want to say a few thank-yous. First, I want to thank all our clients. We are nothing without our clients and we are humbled that so many came out to celebrate with us last night. I also want to thank all our vendors, partners and contemporaries who joined us too.

Of course, I want to thank my team. Our team. The wonderfully diverse, incredibly talented and highly ambitious group of people that make FKA what it is. It’s a pleasure and an honour to work with every one of you. I especially want to thank Kim Odland and Robert Lennon, my business partners. Their investment and interest in this agency have been instrumental.

And finally, I want to thank my wife, Mieke. She has been a steadfast supporter (and frequent critic—always constructive, of course) of everything I do and I absolutely couldn’t do it without her.

Thank you all! See you in ten years. Or later this week, more likely—we have a lot of meetings!

FKA has levelled up!

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FKA has levelled up!

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We’re very happy to announce that new characters have joined our party. Get to know them below.

Kylie Robertson

 

Experience Points: 9 years

Character Class: Communications and Content Strategist

Primary Skills:

  • Creative and technical writing
  • Quick thinking
  • Super synthesizer of information

Secondary Skills:

  • Master chef
  • Beer league hockey forward

Adrienne Leung

 

Experience Points: 1 year

Character Class: Account Coordinator

Primary Skills:

  • Organization wizard
  • Determination
  • Positive can-do attitude

Secondary Skills:

  • Photography & videography
  • Martial arts

Danny Siman

 

Experience Points: 5 years

Character Class: Account Manager

Primary Skills:

  • Empathy
  • Reliability
  • Conqueror of adversity    

Secondary Skills:

  • Ikea furniture assembly
  • Cat whisperer
Colin Christiansen

Get Cultured

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Get Cultured

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Finding just what, exactly, makes an agency culture great

When tapping into the vast depths of the collected experiences of Jeff McLean, Creative Director at FKA, you can’t help but hope that he’s written all of it down somewhere. Like the dying language of some remote Amazonian tribe or your grandmother’s chili recipe, it seems much too valuable, in some vague cosmic sense, to not be documented and shared with humanity at large. Or, if that all seems a little too heady, his tales and pieces of advice are often — at the very least — outrageously funny, profound and maybe a little dirty. Plus, he’s never afraid to share (bless him).

One particular gripping anecdote is how, as a young precocious graphic designer, his employer brought in an individual to teach the office how to juggle. Intended to serve as a brief yet welcome distraction from the mountain of work the agency was facing, Jeff remembers feeling cynical towards the gesture (despite the fact that he did, indeed, learn to juggle). In hindsight, though, he remarks that he didn’t fully appreciate the attempted reprieve until much later. He’s failed to divulge if this was due to him learning to respect the value of nurturing workplace culture and camaraderie, or if it’s because he’s managed to impress innumerable people through circus tricks.

Culture from the ground up

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jeff and speak at length about what it takes to develop and maintain a successful agency culture, juggling and all. With over 25 years of industry experience across Canada, he’s intimately familiar with what’s required to create a culture that fosters positivity, collaboration and, ultimately, great work. Conversely, he’s well aware of what happens when it doesn’t. He begins by explaining that above all, culture does not originate directly from leadership.

“I think the first classic misnomer is that it’s the responsibility of the company or the leader of the company to set the culture,” he notes. “I think there are ways that the leaders at the top can guide it, but I think it’s more about giving the employees the freedom to explore how they want to have fun and how they bring culture to the company. I think FKA strikes a great balance with that because I think what happens with Culture Committees is fantastic, and I like the fact that the employees drive what’s going to happen.”

A long distance relationship

FKA’s Culture Committees, the bi-monthly event wherein one of FKA’s departments organizes an outing or activity for the whole agency, have been designed with this sensitive balance between top-down directive and community guidance in mind. Though there is a framework — for example, the activity must accommodate both the Edmonton and Toronto offices and must fall within a set budget — the selected department has creative carte blanche to work within these boundaries. Past examples include axe throwing and an in-office rendition of Shark Tank. The opening of a Toronto office in 2017 has posed its own challenges in fostering culture. With the remote team members, every effort is made to ensure a sense of inclusion, whether that be during Culture Committee events or in daily operations, while still respecting the unique culture developing in the nascent office.

Laugh it off

Though discrete moments of culture are important in an agency environment, Jeff explains they shouldn’t be the only aperture through which it’s expressed. It’s the daily life at the agency on which Jeff places a premium. Simply put, if your work day is pleasant, then the social side will follow. Laughter, he says, is a valuable barometer to measure how an agency is really handling the day-to-day — laughter in the halls and in the depths of meetings can provide immediate, if not informal, feedback on an office’s true sentiment. But if the necessary time isn’t taken to ensure that people’s work experiences are positive? Then you run the risk of having your attempts to foster culture through other means ring hollow. “I think if you don’t have those things in place to make people’s workday better, then when you do the free lunches or the gift card on the desk or whatever to say ‘thank you’, it sounds disingenuous,” notes Jeff.  

Fun in the scrum

It’s for this reason why Jeff has come to appreciate FKA’s daily morning scrums. The 9:30 AM ritual has every team member in the agency run through what they accomplished yesterday, what they have to-do today and any anticipated challenges. From a management perspective, the scrum allows for visibility into capacity and risks on an organizational level. But it serves an emotional purpose as well, providing a period of reflection and a sense of group-wide centreing, particularly when it becomes obvious that certain team members may need a little help.

“When everybody outlines what’s involved with their day, how they’re going to get through their day and then everybody pitches in to offer support when they see people are really busy, I think that leads to a great culture,” says Jeff. I actually wrote down in one of my notebooks, probably after two weeks of being here, ‘Culture of Support,’ and I’ve really found that to be a huge positive at FKA.”

As much as leaders may try, culture can’t be bought nor mandated from above. It’s as complicated, turbulent and nebulous as any system of human relationships. It flows from a sense of natural positivity and is born from a supportive, collaborative work environment and genuine culture building efforts. When these forces work in tandem, people can and will do great work. They might even learn how to juggle, too.

 

 

Building out the comprehensive visual identity that surrounds our new logo and name has been really fun. Exploring a proprietary typeface based on the letterforms in our new logo was a no-brainer. The F, K and A are composed by filling specific coordinates in a grid of three by three squares. Scaling this to the entire alphabet and simplifying each letter down to its simplest form was an interesting challenge. But early attempts indicated that the grid was restrictive and that many of the letters were not easily legible. We decided to abandon the project.

We later revived the project when one of our teammates asked a simple question: “So what if you can’t read it easily? We’re not going to use it on headlines or body copy. It’s just an embellishment. With that, we set aside our original hesitation and built out the full alphabet.

 

 

At one point in the process, we encountered some conflict about the Q. Originally, it was a variation on the O with a descender broken out of the grid. Some people loved that it broke the rules while others hated it. In the end, the haters won and the Q was updated to fit entirely within the grid.

 

We knew that people could have trouble reading the typeface, so we thought it was best to use it in places where the same text was represented in a more legible fashion or where interpreting the text isn’t critical. Essentially, the custom typeface becomes a secondary graphic element or embellishment—the additional items you use to build out a complete visual identity. We agreed to use it sparingly in special circumstances—like our new business cards.