Agency Profile: MUH-TAY-ZIK | HOF-FER: Shape Shifter

MUH-TAY-ZIK | HOF-FER's new adventures in the industry formerly known as advertising

AgencyProfile_OM_0311MUH_TAY_ZIK | HOF-FER calls itself a group of "creatively driven professionals in the industry formerly known as advertising." The approach is not nearly as apocalyptic as it sounds. A shelf lined with CLIOS and Gold Lions, the spoils of the founders' previous assaults on that industry formerly known as advertising, serves as Exhibit A in the case to show this is certainly a crew that can make an ad when it wants to.

By way of explaining that positioning, though, Matt Hofherr, president and director of strategy, says it relates to the young company's blank-slate approach. "My guess is at the end of the next year or two, we're going to have work that all looks very different from itself, because the tone comes from the client versus-you know, Chiat has their way of doing it ... we don't know what the work is going to look like." What he's claiming basically is not that the company puts the client before itself, because any agency would say that, but that it has no ego. "I've been at other companies who say, 'We're all about destruction and making your brand famous.' But we're about creatively solving whatever the issue is."

John Matejczyk and Hofherr themselves both seem like self-effacing, genuinely nice guys, and it's wholly logical that their namesake would lack the ego that's a Madison Avenue cliché. Though hubris is not entirely absent. Says Hofherr: "I want this agency to [be] the premium creative boutique that thinks different about clients' problems."

So far, Google (for which it produced a 10-minute clip of a man saying "pizza" into his phone that would have done Andy Kaufman proud), PGi and Tiny Prints have been among the beneficiaries of wildly diverse work from a team that has a built-in flexibility in both size (expanding from about 20 or 30 to more than 50 members at any given time) and capabilities.

The germ of the agency formed in 2009 when Matejczyk took on a nascent project from PGi. The global communications technology company had its eye on the Web meeting space, an area we are all probably too familiar with. iMeet was conceived as a form of video and audio conferencing that didn't forget people actually had to use these things. PGi chief creative officer Erik Petrik approached Matajczyk with a concept and model, and tasked him with making it both workable and stunning.

From the start, the relationship was unorthodox. In advance, Petrik asked for a short movie showing what the product would do, akin to a trailer for a movie that has not been made yet. Matejczyk, an alum of Goodby, Fallon, and BBH, assembled a team to produce a six-minute short that became both the product template and its sell reel.

Out of those embers, Matejczyk, who relates these events with a loose rhythm that is somehow both quick and a drawl, formed a realization that he had all the makings of an agency. It came at a time, he says, when the sort of job offers he'd always wanted - to run creative at top agencies - finally started to come through. But they weren't in San Francisco (a place he calls a bastion of "intuition and creativity") where he'd settled from Chicago after a few years of moving his young family around - and make no mistake, the agency is as much a product of the City by the Bay as are sourdough bread, trolley cars and long haired pot-smoking Cy Young award winners.

He mulled over the offers, but in the end went with his gut.

"I'd spent my career making things," says Matejczyk. "I wanted to make a company - a living, breathing thing that makes other things."

Last July Matt Hofherr came onboard, bringing his similarly often-mispronounced name to the shingle hanging in front of the space the company occupies on Front Street near at&t Park, as well a background that includes stops at TBWAChiatDay, BBDO, FCB, AKQA and Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners.

A busy fall and winter included a rash of work for Google Mobile and Google Hotspot, and January ended in rush of activity in which MUH_TAY_ZIK | HOF-FER did seven television spots for iMeet alone. Of the full iMeet project Matejczyk says, "We're all getting our PhDs in digital, basically, by getting this deep into building something that's SAS," working with Unit9 in London on the Flash front-end and PGi's developers. The fruits of that work, both the product (which Hofherr decribes "as if Apple decided to do Web conferencing") and the advertising, hit in February when the covers came off iMeet, supported by national media (which Hofherr pegs at about $8 million), including a prominent 60-second spot during March Madness.

From infancy to first steps though, iMeet has been MUH_TAY_ZIK | HOF-FER's baby. Which is exactly the way the founders like it.

"What we're insisting on is a line into the top person. That's one way you don't become just an agency," says Hofherr. "We need to talk to the key decision makers, because that's where you make change." As an example, he points to the relationship MUH_TAY_ZIK | HOF-FER has with the founders of Tiny Prints, which resulted in the go-ahead on a viral (and image-busting) Valentine's Day campaign.

Given its DNA, it's only natural that the agency would want to continue to work closely with clients as partners. It's the moment of creation that excites the team, says Hofherr. It's when they have an opportunity to build something from the ground up. It's when they can stop and say, "This isn't making an ad; this isn't even baked yet."

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