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As soon as you enter the studio, you see it: a huge, black and white banner with the word LOVE.

Dan Portrait, chief executive officer/
chief creative officer. © Kyle Hannon

It’s what Kamp Grizzly approaches all of its work with. And it shows. The Portland, Oregon–based independent creative agency’s adventurous, youth-focused and often humorous creations ramp up brands’ fans by connecting strongly with their communities. They’re ones that founder Dan Portrait and his team already hang out in—sports, pop culture and music, especially rap, fashion, food, gaming and entertainment. As they say at Kamp Grizzly, “that street-level shit.” They live it. They get it. And companies want it from this cultural polyglot.

“If you want to understand a brand’s audience, you need to actively participate in their culture. When you’re living and breathing it with them, you can give them something fresh that disrupts and surprises in an authentic way,” says Portrait.

The likes of adidas, Netflix, Uber Eats and Intel head to Kamp Grizzly for brand and communications strategy, influencer engagement, art and creative direction, motion design, music videos, photography, editorial, broadcasting, and, increasingly, immersive experiential events.

Nikki Neuburger, formerly global head of marketing at Uber Eats, says, “They are talented, creative, nimble, low maintenance, highly collaborative and ego free. They have their finger on the pulse, culturally—what’s trending, what’s hot and not, memes, talent, consumer segments. And they’re problem-solvers who can move fast to create buzz and also drive business-impact metrics. These are people I believe in and trust.”

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It all happens a few miles east of downtown in a 13,000-square-foot formerly industrial warehouse, with its loud music, staff-designed murals, nearly 250 conservatory-worthy plants and, smack in the middle, a shiny, black 1963 Cadillac. Spring 2020 promises another 8,000 square feet next door. Across the street, 4,000 square feet allow for photo shoots and prepping. A small staff in Brooklyn handles business development, and hundreds of contractors are scattered worldwide.

“Being in Portland has been a huge part of our success, given its growing creative community,” says Portrait.

In 2005, he founded Kamp Grizzly with his brother Jacob, a musician and recording artist; buddy Jared Evans, an editor and director; and mutual friend Jeff Harding, an executive producer. The latter two were classmates of his at the University of Oregon. Soon, creative director Kevin “Yogi” Hakim joined in. For several years, along with keeping a separate main office, they worked out of an industrial garage known as “the wave cave,” which also housed Portlandia’s art department, rehearsal space for Unknown Mortal Orchestra and other bands, and a legendary skate ramp.

Portrait says, “Early on, we were a group of people just combining our skills and following our passions, thinking Kamp Grizzly would be whatever it wants to be. And we didn’t have a strong blueprint of the industry, so we came in with a fresh perspective.” They created visual effects and internal videos, many for Nike and adidas. Within a few years, they added video editors, writers, designers and art directors to their staff.

“If you want to understand a brand’s audience, you need to actively participate in their culture.” —Dan Portrait

“We grew organically, figuring it out our way. If we tried to be anything other than ourselves, we wouldn’t have found success,” says Portrait.

In 2019, the agency won a Clio and an Adweek Experiential Award, and it received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Commercial for its Netflix spot “A Great Day in Hollywood,” featuring 47 Black Netflix writers, actors and producers in a nod to Art Kane’s famous 1958 photo A Great Day in Harlem, of 57 jazz musicians.

Uber Eats turned to Kamp Grizzly for a campaign to promote its new partnership with fast-food restaurant chain White Castle, in summer 2019. Taking the client’s idea to give away up to one million sliders, Kamp Grizzly played off the 2004 hit film Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, reimagining it for the present day as Harold & Kumar Don’t Go to White Castle, They Get it Delivered. The campaign resulted in more than 350 press clips and 165 million impressions, and a spike in Uber Eats–delivered White Castle orders around the country. More recently, fresh off the Popeyes chicken-sandwich craze, Kamp Grizzly came up with the concept for the Migos Menu, a selection of four Popeyes meals that was inspired by the superstar hip-hop trio Migos and available only through Uber Eats.

Neuberger says, “Kamp Grizzly’s creativity, depth of storytelling and authentic cultural relevance set a high bar on the campaigns we did together in the food-delivery industry. And it’s a pleasure when the working relationship brings the best out of one another. It makes the work stronger and more meaningful.”

Another thrilled client is adidas. Kamp Grizzly dreamed up, produced and managed the execution of all the creative and communications for the 747 Warehouse St. experience. The two-day “event in basketball culture,” held during 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend, welcomed up to 10,000 attendees per day with live performances from singers and rappers like Kid Cudi and Kanye West, a robot that shot more than 500 baskets, and a colorful, graphic court designed by Pharrell Williams. The blowout yielded 95,000 merchandise-purchase scans and more than 26 million media impressions.

Kamp Grizzly also made a hit at CES 2018 (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) with its booth for the startup PsychaSec. Who wouldn’t stop at a barely clad man and woman standing mannequin-still in glass cases? Walking around these lifelike human forms, brand ambassadors described the startup’s pioneering invention to visitors and directed them to a video that made more sense of the booth experience. Meanwhile, protestors outside boycotted PsychaSec’s controversial technology, and by show’s end, stormed in and vandalized the booth. If attendees hadn’t caught on before, they sure did now: the whole thing was a hoax, drawing even more viewers to Netflix’s futuristic noir mystery series Altered Carbon.

Portrait says, “Something we trip out on is, think about how much you pay for 30 seconds of TV advertising. For that money, a brand can have a host, a member of their community, for hours in real life and real time. For us, it’s fun to find ways to make the expense worth it, with big chunks of time for others to not only experience the brand, but also be an active part of it.”

Brilliant ideas come from anyone at Kamp Grizzly. “The vibe is very democratic here—we champion everyone’s creativity. There are opportunities for everyone to contribute and find their own lane,” says Portrait.

These include being featured in the pages of the agency’s for the kulture zine and working on Cult Classic, its glossy, oversized, full-color and perfect-bound magazine that uncovers the art, music and fashion of underground creatives worldwide. Kamp Grizzly also keeps innovation circulating with its publication on basketball, Ren Quarterly, which focuses on a different city each issue.

“At heart, we’re creators,” says Portrait.

The agency’s unisex, cut-and-sew apparel line, Last Heavy, created with sportswear designer Caesy Oney and rapper and designer Thed Jewel, is another studio-originated project that helps build connections. For the label’s launch, the agency developed a website, lookbooks, videos and packaging. Kamp Grizzly also recently collaborated with Japanese incense maker Kuumba International on the design of a metal-can incense burner and fragrance, which the agency gifts “to like-minded people also doing cool things,” says Portrait.

We aren’t just looking to scoop business. We’re seeking good fits and opportunities for true partnership.” —Dan Portrait

Though Kamp Grizzly has honed its business-development strategy, Portrait says that the agency is “selective” about the clients and jobs it takes on. “We aren’t just looking to scoop business. We’re seeking good fits and opportunities for true partnership,” he says.

Kamp Grizzly first heard about the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC) from the associate director’s husband, who works at adidas. Since 2017, the agency has been doing pro bono work for the Portland-based nonprofit, which is a legal, civil rights and criminal justice advocate for underrepresented populations.

Along with designing key visuals for posters, print and social media for the OJRC, Kamp Grizzly has created two animated public service announcements. The first concerned the dramatic rise in Oregon’s incarceration of women. With the prospect of legislators approving a second prison for women, which would be located on the grounds of a men’s prison, the OJRC needed to convey the context surrounding the issue, express opposition of this second prison and offer viable alternatives. Together, OJRC and Kamp Grizzly decided on animation, using a script written by the nonprofit, as well as its branding color, green. The video helped achieve their goal—no new women’s prison. Kamp Grizzly’s next video for OJRC supported Senate Bill 1008, which would reform the Oregon law that requires some youth to be prosecuted and sentenced as adults, without the possibility of early release. The bill got passed.

Alice Lundell, OJRC’s director of communication, says, “We felt [Kamp Grizzly’s] commitment to us, that they were sincerely interested in trying to understand our issues and find ways to communicate them as effectively as possible. They listened and responded to our feedback and collaborated well with us. And they had particular point people for us so we could talk to the same person throughout. They took us as seriously as any paying client.”

Kamp Grizzly also does pro bono graphic design work for Street Roots, a social justice newspaper that is sold by people experiencing homelessness and poverty in Portland, thus providing them with a source of income.

Portrait says, “The people here at Kamp Grizzly have a desire to give back. It brings balance and a stronger sense of community to our work.”

And that only strengthens the agency’s involvement in the communities that its work speaks to. “We’re constantly investing in those spaces, to feed the studio’s interest to better understand and nurture our connection with them,” says Portrait. “The more we do, the greater impact we can make.” ca

Claire Sykes (sykeswrites.com) is a free­lance writer in Portland, Oregon. She is a member of the exhibition committee for Blue Sky Gallery, an internationally esteemed photography gallery, and is a Roving Reviewer for the biennial portfolio-review event Photolucida, which takes place in Portland.
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