This is Quite Possibly the Cheekiest Advertising Agency You'll Ever Meet

By Patrick Sisson

Conference halls and client briefs might be held in the Monroe Parlor, Lewinski Suite or Tiger Woods room. The all-staff stand-up meeting on Monday mornings is called “The Affair.” And, in the not-so-strikingly similar language of both love and big-name advertising, this firm likes to tout its reputation for starting new relationships “without any baggage.”

Mistress, a multidisciplinary ad agency based in Los Angeles and Hamburg, was very deliberate about its choice of name. When the five founding partners -- strategic marketing vets from big firms such as Mother London and Kastner & Partners -- embarked on a new venture and vision in 2009, they could have chosen any title to hang above the doorway. But the idea was to build a brand, not just a name; a mindset that also informs the company’s unique URL and publishing-oriented website.

“We’re an attitude and mindset,” says co-founder Christian Jacobsen. “Clients love saying the phrase, ‘We’re serving our mistress.’ It’s a frame of mind, and you can tell immediately if they get it and the kind of service we can provide. And handing out the business card is always a laugh.”

Team Mistress is ready to serve your advertising needs. (Photo courtesy of Mike Toofer

A passion for social media

Mistress arose at a particularly timely turning point in the digital advertising and media worlds. In 2009, Jacobsen and his partners foresaw a shift towards a more social world (in a pre-Instagram and Snapchat age), appreciated the value of influencers, but also felt their expertise in strategy could still be valuable, as long as it looked forward and accepted and took advantage of a decentralized, shifting media environment.

“On one hand, the advertising world was at a low point,” Jacobsen says of their start. “But, as a strategist, I thought, ‘This is an interesting opportunity.’ Budgets are being cut, so they’re looking for someone who can be flexible, edgy and savvy. The market is being disrupted, and there all this new media out there.”

The firm parlayed early success with early clients such as VitaCoco, Red Bull and ESPN to develop a reputation for working with social influencers and devising campaigns on the forefront of emerging media, going beyond mere digital to embrace the noisy, multifaceted social stream. Their recent social campaign for Netflix’s Narcos series, about the life of Pablo Escobar, won a Shorty Award, driving multi-platform awareness with clever plays on current events, custom Facebook reaction emojis and #Cokenomics data visualizations about the realities of drug dealing.

#Cokenomics was an edgy -- and educational -- social media campaign to promote the Netflix series "Narcos."

With such an overriding a focus on social media and online influencers, it’s no surprise the company knows how to maintain a robust and active online presence. But by choosing during a recent website overhaul instead of an industry standard address such as, the company not only played up their edgy and playful side (“It adds a bit more of that twinkle-in-the-eye feeling”), but actually improved the company’s SEO.

“The challenge with us is that 'Mistress' is a common word, and before we switched domains, we ranked really high,” says Jacobsen. “When we thought about jumping top-level domain, some of the guys felt it was too new, or that we might take a big hit on search and lose that reputation. But it’s actually helped us with search, and now, we stand out in the space instead of being like everybody else.”

That approach applies to the rest of the Mistress website, designed to celebrates the firm’s culture and work, publishing constant news updates and think pieces about the industry. As the firm continues to grow its social business, and marry strategic thinking with the speed of new media platforms, the website itself needed to be more active, responsive and agile.

The agency's "error page" is even hilarious ...

“A year-and-a-half ago, we decided to rebuilt the site as a social platform,” says Jacobsen. “Things are always being produced here. The shift has forced us to think more like our clients, to think about social presences and what a website can be.”

That willingness to experiment with their own brand advertising and marketing -- Mistress is already working on the next iteration of its site -- speaks to the kind of reputation Jacobsen and his partners are trying to build. Trying to help their clients work outside their comfort zone and experiment with new creative concepts and platforms takes a combination of reputation, salesmanship and skill. Jacobsen believes their site, social presence, and client relations skills project just those qualities.

After all, who else but this agency can get away with sending a bouquet of roses that says “From your mistress”?

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