The 2015 Best Places to Work
Check out all the categories in this year's Best Places to Work program.
Looking over our collection of best advertising companies, it’s clear that they get the correlation between creative inspiration and time spent outdoors. Each company encourages employees to get out—to the slopes, streams, trails, and wave breaks—and some go so far as to offer workers stipends for adventure trips and gear.
Another aspect these businesses have in common is the goal of fostering camaraderie—through on-site “play” areas, staff bike rides and runs, game nights, happy hours, and other fun group activities. For companies that foster ingenuity and build strong relationships among co-workers, look no further.
1. GroundFloor Media
Location: Denver, Colorado
Number of Employees: 15
Ramonna Robinson, president of GroundFloor Media in Denver, has spent a lot of time thinking about how to make her team of public relations specialists collaborate and gel. “The key is being intentional about it,” she says. “The office itself fosters some of that—everybody has a door, but nobody has a wall that goes to the ceiling, so all the offices are open.”
When employees aren’t in their individual offices, they’re clustered around a big communal table (conveniently next to the office kegerator) or on beanbags in the “play room.” On top of that, GroundFloor fosters teamwork with ski trips to the Rockies, hiking and paddleboarding clubs, and company-wide volunteer days.
GroundFloor, which was founded in 2001, offers strategic communications and crisis management services to companies big and small, but Robinson says the traditional business world sounds daunting to her now. “We kind of joke that we’re unemployable now,” Robinson says. “I don’t know if I can ever wear business clothes in the future or not run off to rock climb at lunch.”
2. Drake Cooper
Location: Boise, Idaho
Number of Employees: 39
The primary goal of Jamie Cooper, CEO of Boise-based ad firm Drake Cooper, is fostering a positive work culture. But culture isn’t just “lets have some fun at work” or “let’s make it pleasant,” Cooper says. “If people are interested in just these benefits, that’s not who we want. Drake Cooper is for the ambitious.”
The execs at Drake Cooper trust their creatives and directors to work long hours (when they have to). In return, the office is dog friendly, and people can collaborate around the beer fridge or take a meeting while biking through Boise’s nearby greenbelt. Another perk: Employees and management make the effort to ensure PTO is actually time off—if possible, email and calls are banned when an employee is out.
But the company, which was founded in 1978 and specializes in producing ads that build clients’ brands, is not the kind of place where anyone can show up whenever they want and drink beer during the day. It’s the kind of place, Cooper says, where hardworking ad people earn the right to show up a little late or have a beer after working extra hours to knock a client’s socks off. “We all agree to this handshake contract with each other that we’re going to work hard and play hard,” Cooper says.
3. Spawn Ideas
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Number of Employees: 41
“When I moved to Alaska 17 years ago, what I was impressed with here is that people care more about what you do for recreation than what you do for work,” says Karen King, CEO of Anchorage-based ad agency Spawn Ideas.
It’s not surprising, then, that King tries to make sure her team of creative directors, marketers, and social media managers can spend as much time outdoors as possible: Spawn-ers get $250 a year to cover outdoorsy expenditures like gear and race entrance fees; summer Fridays are short to take advantage of the long, long Alaska days; and company-wide outings involve trips to the local trampoline gymnasium. The office even comes equipped with sweeping views of the Cook Inlet.
Spawn, which has operated under various names since 1975, is a full-service agency with clients in everything from retail to health to tourism. But the firm’s dedication to a healthy lifestyle doesn’t just involve the outdoors: New parents are now encouraged to take their babies to work, and the sound of toddlers stomping through the office is becoming the norm. “When a baby is walking around the office on a crazy day, everybody loves it,” King says.
Location: Denver, Colorado
Number of Employees: 17
CauseLabs may be small—the Denver-based tech company has fewer than 20 employees—but its coders and execs are spread all around the globe. The challenge for the firm, which provides high-tech help in the form of apps and social media guidance to nonprofits and other do-gooders, is to maintain an esprit de corps for a staff that meets mostly via Skype. “After we’re done with a project, we can’t always go out for drinks,” says Sheryle Gillihan, director of partnerships.
Instead, the company, founded in 2003, works to build community with daily staff calls (called huddles) where everyone can not only discuss work but also play quirky games and ask off-the-wall questions to get to know each other better. “Sometimes we’ll say, ‘Today is a walking huddle: Everybody take your Skype mobile,’ and the team will work while getting in a nice walk,” Gillihan says. Also on the list are care packages for far-flung developers, reward boxes filled with things like gift certificates for good work, and a yearly all-hands-on-deck retreat in Colorado that includes an all-day hackathon and bagging at least one fourteener.
5. Young & Laramore
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Number of Employees: 43
Advertising firm Young & Laramore works out of a 1920s schoolhouse at the convergence of two bike paths right in downtown Indy. The agency, which was founded in 1982 and does print, digital, and TV ads for the likes of Stanley Steemer and Steak ’n Shake, gutted the inside of the shuttered elementary school, added some large pieces of artwork, and created an open floor plan. “There’s not a door in this entire space,” says creative director Bryan Judkins. The building is, according to the readers of Inc., “one of the world’s coolest offices.”
Another plus: enough shower and locker room space to accommodate even the smelliest of bicycle commuters. The halls of Young & Laramore are also so dog friendly that the creatives have taken to calling the shop “Tongue & Wagamore.” But the schoolhouse theme ends on Thursdays, when everyone meets for beer—provided by client Upland Brewing Co.—and showcases recent work.
6. Nemo Design
Location: Portland, Oregon
Number of Employees: 38
The principals of Nemo Design have street cred. They include OGs of snowboard photography, board graphic design, and the alternative zine scene, including Jeff Bartel, Trevor Graves, and Mark Lewman. As such, working at the Portland-based design agency—which has created ad campaigns for big names like Nike and Converse since its founding in 1999—includes perks like the “Nemo Nooner,” where once a week the firm rents out an indoor skate park for lunch, invites whoever they feel like, and blows off steam on the ramps and rails.
The company’s downtown Portland offices are just a few blocks from the Willamette River, and since the agency counts powerboat manufacturer MasterCraft as a client, evenings are often spent cruising on the company boat. “We want to feel like we’re on summer vacation,” says principal Mark Lewman. “We work really hard, but it should be for something fun and rewarding. It’s like the Mark Twain quote: ‘If it feels like play, it’s not really work.’”
7. The Trade Desk
Location: Ventura, California
Number of Employees: 217
“I think the millennial generation may be our greatest working generation,” says Jeff Green, CEO and founder of the Trade Desk. “But in order to motivate them, you have to give them a sense of meaning and purpose.”
The Southern California-based Trade Desk, which was founded in 2009, is pioneering a new model of online advertising by helping agencies buy and manage display and social media campaigns online. Trade Desk’s offices are a few blocks from world-class surf, and the CTO has a telescope in his office offering a prime view of conditions. The office also offers surfboard storage, balance boards to relieve stress, and even the occasional taco party. Green says the focus on the outdoors and the environment is key to how employees stay happy. “The engineer who could easily write code 12 hours a day will have a better life and better job satisfaction if I encourage him to go hiking,” he says.
Location: Boulder, Colorado
Number of Employees: 23
Thomas Dooley, founder and CEO of advertising agency TDA_Boulder, has a problem with titles. “Is an ‘account executive’ better than someone else? I have no idea. I screw it up all the time,” he says. Formal titles aren’t the kind of thing that matters in this Boulder ad shop, where Dooley is so sick of the hierarchy that desks are assigned at random—no cushy office for the executives!—and employees are encouraged to sit with whomever they’re working with that day.
The agency, founded in 1989, does everything from TV ads to logo redesign and packaging. In addition to the kind of perks one could expect from the number ten place to work on our list (indoor soccer teams, kegs of beer, summer and winter outdoor trips), TDA_Boulder is an S corporation, so profits are divvied up in the form of employee bonuses each year to the tune of 10 to 20 percent of base salary.
9. Pellucid Analytics
Location: Boulder, Colorado
Number of Employees: 20
“There’s a really strong orientation around performance and hard work here,” says Cate Colburn-Smith, vice president of marketing at Pellucid Analytics, as a burst of cheers cuts her off. “Sorry,” she laughs, “there’s a board-game lunch going on in the background.”
Pellucid’s work is intensive—the company helps financial firms make data visual–laden pitchbooks for all manner of deals—but bosses are doing everything they can to nurture an exciting office community. Every other week, the startup, founded in 2011, holds Board Game Friday where lunch devolves into competitive gaming, and there are constant table tennis tournaments, an indoor soccer team, powder days, and more. “It’s the first place I’ve worked where fun really happens in the workplace and it’s OK,” Colburn-Smith says. “But the fun and games is balanced by a really high caliber of employee.”
Location: American Fork, Utah
Number of Employees: 48
Fun is so critical to BrainStorm’s office culture, the Utah-based software education firm has a committee of staffers dedicated to it. “Everybody gets busy, and you forget to do the fun stuff,” says Kaylyn Laws, who does marketing for the firm. “So, randomly the Culture Club will be like, ‘Hey, we’re playing dodgeball right now. Get in this room.’” The fun includes bimonthly company-wide outings—previous excursions included bubble soccer and a local amusement park—and more casual affairs like lunches over a game of Rock Band.
But the firm, which was founded in 1995 and helps train people how to use software, also empowers its workers to give back. Each month, all 65 employees are given $50 to donate to anyone in need—a group of employees, for example, recently pooled their money to put together a care package for a client who had undergone surgery—and during the holidays, everybody gets an extra $100 to donate where they please. “People who have an opportunity to serve are actually happier,” Laws says. “That’s the philosophy we’re coming form.”