The People’s Choice: How I Built an Ad Agency Without Restrictions
In the early days, I made a lot of life decisions, not because it was the right thing to do, but because it seemed like the right thing to do. When I was younger, I saw some guys in suits and asked them why they had suits on. They told me they went to business school—so I went to business school. After business school, everyone moves to Toronto—so I moved to Toronto. Then I spent my first 17 years in advertising at big agencies: Publicis, BBDO, and Cossette.
I made these choices because I didn’t realize I was an entrepreneur.
During my years in advertising, I recognized that agencies have too much structure, silos, divisions, and departments. But I always knew that creativity needed to be freer.
Six years ago, I thought I had made it—I was at the top. I was young and running an agency, and it felt like that was all there was. But I realized that while my title said “President,” I was just reporting to a different city and different people and only had the illusion of control and autonomy.
I had gotten to a point in my life where I realized that I was in my early forties and my kids were at an age where I could do my own thing. So I went for it. I’d had enough of the silos, so I started my own agency called No Fixed Address. I finally understood—I was an entrepreneur.
But I knew the last thing the world needed was another advertising agency. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it completely differently. At the end of the day, clients value our creativity and our thinking. Our clients don’t care about foosball tables or 9–5 hours. Advertising isn’t 9–5 anyway. If you ask a creative guy to box himself in and think in “normal” business hours, he'll tell you to stick it. Because they don’t work that way—and they shouldn’t. I wanted to open the environment up: create a diverse team with no divisions or silos, but still have that range of expertise.
With No Fixed Address, it’s a mindset. It's a mindset around fluidity: fluid thinkers and fluid operating mode.
It’s About the People
At an advertising agency, our business is people. That means we need to create a culture that centers around our employees and fosters them. In my big agency days, there were times when I ran teams of 200 people, and I could feel the weather in the agency. When business was great, the sun was shining. But when it was struggling, there was a storm.
My co-founder Serge Rancourt and I knew we needed to create a culture that would allow our employees to better handle the tough days of advertising.
However, even with this focus on culture, at first, we didn’t think about issues like employee benefits. But once we got to about 15 employees, we realized that to create the environment we envisioned, we needed to take a more holistic approach to compensation.
For us as founders, benefits show our employees that we care and that we understand the ups and downs. We understand they need to take care of their body, they need to rest, and they need to rejuvenate. Whatever their needs, it’s our responsibility to give our employees access to the tools to fulfill them.
Who Doesn’t Want Control?
When we began our search for a benefits provider, I met with an old fashioned benefits company. It was the big agency feel all over again. They were strict and confusing. And you know what? I never used them.
In our search for finding the right benefits provider for us, League was the only one in the game that was truly doing it differently. Their vision is to disrupt this industry that’s been dominated by your grandfather’s benefits. And although they move fast and innovate like a startup, League never felt new or small. We never felt limited in any way.
More than anything, our relationship with them has been about giving our employees control over their benefits. With our Health Spending Account (HSA), our employees get to spend money on whatever works for them. We rolled out League in May, and within the first few months, every single person has used their benefits.
We got to see what it was like having no benefits at the start, compared to now when everyone has great benefits. You could feel that shift instantly. People started using their benefits in the first week, and that quick utilization validated how important and valuable benefits are to our employees.
But this style of flexible benefits isn’t just important for employees, there are also clear business advantages. With an HSA, we know exactly how much we’re going to be spending. We have a set amount per employee that we’re giving them, meaning the cost structure is predictable.
Capital is critical, but this is especially true in a startup. Having that certainty of knowing exactly how much we need to budget for benefits is incredibly important. We know as we hire more employees this cost will grow with us, but with League, there are no surprises. We have clear visibility into exactly how much our benefits will increase based on headcount.
Turnovers Are for Dessert
I’ve seen stats that say the turnover rates in big agencies can be anywhere from 15–25%. When you consider that our business is people, and knowing that 15–25% of those people are going out the door every year—that’s a big problem. In fact, I’d say it’s the one of the most critical business issues in advertising.
If we can find the people who are the right fit, that means we’re going to decrease that turnover. But it’s not only about them being a right fit for us, it’s about making sure that we’re the right fit for them.
A big part of that is the culture we try to provide and creative freedom we give employees. But benefits also factor into that. At the start, people were taking a leap of faith joining us when we didn’t have benefits. Now, with every single employment offer we make, they always ask about benefits. With League, we get to tell them about our terrific benefits plan and the flexibility it affords.
We’re not restricting our employees in where they work or how they work, so why would we restrict them on their benefits?
We’re Going to Make It After All
It was around the time we hit 25 employees at No Fixed Address that I realized we could actually make this thing work. I looked around and everyone was still at the office, having meetings, and working together. The spirit of collaboration that had driven me to start the company in the first place wasn’t only still alive—it was thriving. All because we allow people to focus on one thing: delivering value to clients. And they don’t get caught up in the rest of it.
I’ve talked to big agency presidents who see what we’re doing and wish they could adopt our model, but they feel their old way of business is too ingrained in their DNA. That sentiment only reinforces what I believed from the beginning: the agency of the future—the one that’s going to be on top in 20 or 30 years—needs to start from scratch today.
I look at what we’ve done in such a short time and can hardly believe it. We thought it would take five years to get to 75 people—but now, 10 months in and a staff of 60, we’ll probably hit that by the end of the year. Now, I know our model will continue to succeed because we’re hiring from an employee-first mindset, and we’re equipping them with the freedom and flexibility to be truly creative. We’re putting people at the heart of everything we do. That’s our mindset—and a mindset is always scalable.