With MDC’s Backing, Mono Moves From Attic To Uptown

Jim Scott, Michael Hart and Chris Lange started Mono six months ago out of Lange’s attic in Minneapolis with one client, Sesame Workshop. Today, six employees work out of an office in the trendy Uptown neighborhood, and the boutique is flush with a cash infusion from Toronto-based holding company MDC Partners.

For Minneapolis, once known for its hot independent agencies but now home to a more mature ad scene, Mono is bringing back some buzz.

“There’s a lot of agencies that have started up, and a lot of them haven’t made it,” said John Colasanti, president of Interpublic Group’s Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis, who worked with Scott, Hart and Lange when they were at CL. “These guys have a chance. They’re good ad guys.”

The MDC minority investment—sources pegged the holding company’s stake at more than 40 percent—is certain to help that chance, although Mono’s partners said they neither sought out MDC nor immediately accepted a deal.

In March, the shop got a call from MDC’s chief strategist, Chuck Porter, as it was beginning work on an adult-targeted Sesame Workshop campaign touting the nonprofit as more than a toy-licensing concern. He was intrigued by Hart and Lange’s work for BMW while serving as group creative directors at Publicis Groupe’s Fallon from 2000-04 and believed the shop might fit well into MDC’s stated goal of buying into small agencies with promise.

But the partners did not jump at the offer. “It was not a chapter in our business plan to sell a piece of ourselves to anyone,” Scott said.

For his part, Porter didn’t maintain a hard sell. “I said, ‘You guys are going to succeed with us or without us. I think you might do better with us,’ ” he recalled.

An April meeting at the Miami office of MDC’s Crispin Porter + Bogusky sealed the deal. “It allows us to build the agency the way we want to build it, to take on the right kind of clients when we want to do it,” Hart said.

With MDC’s cash, Mono hired a finance director, a production artist and a receptionist who will double as an art buyer. The shop plans to bring in a senior planner. And MDC’s backing will also allow the startup to take on a client that may not immediately produce revenue, the partners said.

Creative directors Hart, 36, a writer, and Lange, 32, an art director, teamed up 10 years ago at Mullen in Wenham, Mass., creating ads for Sylvania light bulbs. They moved to CL in 1998 and met Scott, 37, an account executive on Harley-Davidson and Northwest Airlines, now managing partner at Mono.

The three bonded over beers, talking about how to build a shop with fewer organizational layers that would provide more direct and senior service to clients.

It remained a pipe dream until last November, when Sheilah Burnham, vp and brand manager at Sesame Workshop, was looking for help on a project. She called Hart and Lange, whom she knew from her days at Sylvania. “They are one of the best creative teams in the country,” Burnham said. “They don’t have a lot of ego and are welcoming of collaborative discussion.”

Several weeks after opening up shop, Lange heard that a photographer friend was vacating his Uptown studio, which allowed Mono to obtain some 3,000 square feet of space. Even with MDC’s backing, Mono still has the markings of a startup. Lange worked a deal with an acquaintance at furniture company Knoll, and the agency received work stations in exchange for serving as Knoll’s Midwest showroom.

“So far, the deal’s been great, because not a single client has walked through to look at them,” said Hart, laughing.