Gone are the days of Don Draper — when creatives were confined to an office with a liquor cabinet. Nowadays, the advertising industry is known for wacky office decor and lax dress codes. The Top 10 Agencies with the Best Company Culture are off the map in their commitment to maximizing employee happiness and designing environments that nurture creativity and innovation. Common threads include a dog-friendly workplace, frequent parties, bizarre competitions and lots and lots of surfing.
The following agencies are not ranked — out of the dozens of applications we received, each agency featured on in our Top 10 has a truly unique approach in their quest to create the very best workplace for employees. Prepare yourself for a little office-envy.
New York | Milan | Shanghai | Beijing
“Sometimes we invite clients in the ball pit for meetings if they are up for it...with mixed reactions.”
Employees searching for inspiration need look no further than the Chandelier office spaces. An open seating plan at the New York City penthouse shows off neon lights, a purple piano and old children’s rides. Weekly status meetings are held in the ball pit — and yes, clients are invited in for a dip, too. The agency’s homey Montauk surf shack has teepees and a fire pit outside, while the painfully chic Chinatown studio features an antique four-poster bed, bonsai trees and an aquarium.
Founder and creative director, Richard Christiansen, frequently holds brainstorming sessions at his apartment and cooks dinner for the staff. Last December, he held a mandatory employee scavenger hunt across New York City as a team-building exercise. The bizarre list of tasks included kissing a police officer.
Red Door Interactive
San Diego, California
“Our most popular core value is ‘100 percent jerk-free,’ which dictates a culture of open-minded acceptance and respect 100 percent of the time.”
Red Door prides itself on open communication, which is why the CEO’s office has glass walls and no door. They also encourage employee recognition with “Mad Props” colleague nominations and by sharing quarterly net profits as employee cash bonuses.
Red Door Interactive has an open loft layout with a view of downtown San Diego through floor-to-ceiling windows. Employees who prefer the beach can work out of the Carlsbad, California office, near the mountains in Denver or anywhere else they like thanks to Red Door’s flexible part-time or full-time telecommuting option. But with on-site seminars chosen by employees, a commitment to yearlong philanthropy and half days off for summer games, it’s a mystery why anyone would ever leave.
Bluffton, South Carolina
“Whether your sleeves are made of the finest cashmere or the most intricate tattoos, BFG is a family. We’re all tethered by that little-engine-that-could energy that only pulses through an independent agency like us.”
Positive energy and spontaneity are woven into every facet of the BFG company culture. All new employees are welcomed with a blank skateboard deck as their first creative canvas. Food Truck Tuesdays, cooler races in the parking lot, bowling leagues and lunchtime surf sessions are all part of what give BFG its colorful personality.
BFG also hosts Geekend, an annual digital conference featuring the brightest geeks for a weekend of fun and networking. BFG is also involved with the local arts community through their partnership with Savannah College of Art and Design, which includes a guest lecturer series and a creative writing youth mentorship program.
Huntington Beach, California
“Without breathing room and space to roam, their natural talents are unable to reach full potential.”
The office of Grupo Gallegos is housed in a refurbished movie theater — just steps from the Huntington Beach pier. It contains a full-length maple floor basketball court, batting cage, ping-pong and foosball tables, an outdoor terrace with a garden and an entire room devoted to storing surfboards, wet suits and beach cruisers.
No office holiday is complete without decorations and an office potluck.
To encourage creativity, Grupo Gallegos is also hosting a gallery event to showcase employees’ recreational art projects.
Los Angeles, California
“Respect is an important word in our office. As proof, the sign over our president's door reads ‘Everyone Matters.’”
Located 10 minutes from the beach, Saatchi LA actively encourages teams to recharge their minds and bodies. Each employee receives a yearly $200 health care credit for a gym membership, workout gear or anything else that keeps them moving. Employees are also allowed $2,000 in tuition to continue their personal learning, and departments receive funding to send employees to places like TED and Pop Tech to learn about new industry trends.
Internally, the Saatchi Blue Team strives to make the agency more eco-friendly through initiatives like carpooling contests and the elimination of plastic bottles. Saatchi holds true to the “everyone matters” ethos in their efforts outside the agency by sponsoring Egalite, the Publicis LGBT inclusion group, supporting the Special Olympics team each year and participating in the literacy program Operation Teddy Bear.
“We are made up of bloggers, T-shirt designers, foodies, sports enthusiasts, runners, photographers and people who appreciate a work-life balance.”
The centerpiece of Carmichael Lynch has to be their roof deck — a 17,000 square foot extension of their office that is home to their Roofstage Pass Concert Series, an organic rooftop garden maintained by their in-house Green Team, summertime yoga classes and “roofgating” for the Minnesota Twins games. Employees perform embarrassing skits at the agency’s O’Gong Show on St. Patrick’s Day — the worst of which get gonged by a panel of celebrity judges.
To foster enthusiasm for client brands, Carmichael Lynch incorporates them into their space. They even provide agency Subarus for employees to use.
Last year, employees logged more than 1,000 hours of volunteer time serving meals, distributing groceries to lower income families, donating blood, participating in Earth Day Cleanup and other programs.
St. Louis, Missouri
“They recycle, volunteer, sit on non-profit boards, love their local sports teams, eat at local restaurants, buy their food at the local farmer's market and, most importantly, support their communities any way that they can. That is a Switcher.”
Switch is an independently-owned St. Louis agency with big, blue-chip clients. Their employees take play seriously. One day each year, the company closes its doors for Field Day — an event the owners have invested $30,000 in over the last five years. Team captains draft employees and leverage their creative skills to win prizes like $500 gift cards and an entire week off work. Switch hosts Learning Lunches and happy hours with themes like bacon, a Balls of Fury ping-pong tourney and Flight School paper airplane contest.
The company is also committed to philanthropy. Recent efforts include collecting donations to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy in their #STLforSandy initiative, donating talent and services to produce the first televised PSA for Crime Stoppers in St. Louis and designing "ugly holiday sweater tees" to benefit the Animal Protective Agency of Missouri.
New York, New York
“Adventurous inventors, overachievers, tinkerers and self-starters armed with a quick wit and a confident sense of style will feel right at home here. We are the doers and the makers; we are the artists and the architects.”
The people at kbs+ pride themselves on their “inventor culture” that they foster with an office specifically designed for entrepreneurial inspiration. From their Test Kitchen filled with new gadgets to the Hyde Space stocked with paintbrushes and chalkboard walls to the Test Lab techie garage made for inventing, creativity at kbs+ seems inevitable.
Keeping with the innovative spirit, kbs+ holds competitions to crowdsource unique ideas to propel the agency forward. The Client Stock Index — an incentive program that directly links client stock performance to employees rewards — is the product of one such competition.
kbs+ prioritizes employee well-being by offering in-house flu shots, massage therapy and yoga. They encourage employees to “be the plus” by presenting Plus Awards to those who go above and beyond for the company.
El Segundo, California
“Some of the agency people are even ‘boomerang-ers’: people who left to pursue jobs in other agencies, but missed the culture and clients at Team One, so they come back to agency.”
Throwing things off the roof isn’t frowned upon here. Punkin Chunkin — where employees get to chuck pumpkins off the roof — and themed happy hours on every floor are mainstays at Team One.
At Team One, outstanding employees are nominated by their peers for the Slash Awards, and winners receive a week of paid vacation and $5,000 to enjoy an “enriching experience.” Team One developed the idea for the award as part of their re-launch to encourage collaboration — and in hopes winners would bring some of that inspiration back to the agency.
To promote creativity and a little healthy competition, Team One also hosts the Launch an Idea contest to develop ideas for projects that increase community participation. Team One contributes up to $25,000 to make the winning project a reality.
Wexley School For Girls
"Our office is generally described as ‘incredibly creative’ followed by ‘WTF.’"
As they walk through the door, employees at Wexley School For Girls are greeted by a giant statue of Merlin. The creatives’ desks are nestled in a nine-hole miniature golf course — right down the hall from the “Chinese Restaurant” complete with booths and rubber chickens in the window.
But they don’t just get props for their insane Craigslist finds — employees at Wexley get a health and wellness stipend to spend on anything from a gym membership to snowboarding equipment. There’s an agency-wide happy hour every Friday and Wexley Symposium lunch hours to spark creativity. Employee profit sharing ensures that everyone at Wexley is committed to success, and after an employee’s first three months, they are offered $3,000 to leave. Wexley boasts a wall of voided $3,000 checks — one for every employee they’ve ever offered it to.
Originally published Dec 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM, updated August 29 2017