The careers of Fritz Mesenbrink and Jeremy Pelley, co-founders of Portland-based creative agency OMFGCO, have dovetailed for years. After first meeting each other at Wieden+Kennedy in 2006, they crossed paths constantly in the local creative community after that. Mesenbrink was deep in the world of freelancing, but “looking for something more creatively fulfilling.” Pelley was then an art director at the Atelier Ace, Ace Hotel’s in-house creative team, but was approached by Nate Tilden and crew to create the branding for Olympic Provisions (now Olympia Provisions), and he asked if he and Mesenbrink could work together on it instead. One week into the project, Pelley says, “We realized we were having so much fun, and that every idea just seemed to get better. It was so exciting. So we said to ourselves, let’s do this all the time.” A couple of weeks into the OP job, they made it official.
In case you you’re wondering about the company name, OMFGCO stands for “The Official Manufacturing Company.” But it also stands for the infamous meme—the agency owns both. It speaks to the agency’s love and passion for doing just about everything creative, and for the impossibly high standards they put on themselves. Since his days at Atelier Ace, Pelley has referred to himself as a “thing maker” first, designer second.
Good thing that their studio, which became their permanent residence in January, is conducive to getting all sorts of things done. Located in a historical industrial building right off the Burnside Bridge in southeast Portland, it was designed with versatility in mind. While Mesenbrink and Pelley appreciate the widely adopted layout of an airy, open studio—theirs happens to be flooded with natural light and offers terrific views of both the city skyline and Willamette River—the unique “ability to separate yourself from everything else,” says Mesenbrink, is what really sets it apart. The 15 or so employees can retreat to quieter, more private spaces; the freight elevator that doubles as a meeting space or the meditation room that is only accessible by a secret bookcase in the library.
Even though OMFGCO’s client roster includes some decidedly cool brands (like Ace Hotel, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and Quill, the only non-douchey cannabis vape pen we’ve seen), being cool isn’t mandatory for clients. Above all else, Mesenbrink and Pelley seek people they can build trusting, respectful, and meaningful working relationships with. For example, while many of Portland’s creative agencies work with Nike in some capacity or another (its HQ is based in Portland), OMFGCO has done so minimally. “Because more often than not we can’t work with the real decision makers there, we typically choose not to work with them,” says Pelley.
One of their favorite clients to date was Portland Meadows, Oregon’s only horse track. Originally opened in 1946, the building was in disrepair and fading fast when Will Alempijevic, the general manager, approached OMFGCO. “They were in a really tough spot when they came to us,” says Mesenbrink. “They were about to close, and were losing almost five million a year,” adds Pelley. “Our goal was to get people to know the story of Portland Meadows, and know that it was a legitimate option on the Portland entertainment landscape.”
After a full rebrand, an opening day event and aggressive OOH campaign that splashed the vintage paintings of jockeys and horses across billboards, buses, newspapers, and web banners, OMFGCO generated a new level of brand awareness, and more importantly, a new fan base. Before they started working with Portland Meadows, the average turnout for opening day was about 700 people. But in 2012, their collective efforts got the attention of roughly 4,000 people in attendance, a crowd they hadn’t seen a since the 70s. The impact lasted, too, with attendance numbers doubling the following year.
“Their goal at the time was basically to survive,” says Pelley. “But we saw it as a great opportunity to make them—and horse racing culture as a whole—more cool and more interesting. We hoped to find a truth that spoke to everybody. We feel we are doing our best when we’re creating something new that needs to exist, or in this case, taking something that already exists and just making it better.”