Ringing the gong to shots of Frenet: The unique traditions of agencies

Agencies are weird places, populated by oddballs. They cultivate their own cultures over time. And as with most cultures, these agencies come with their own traditions, too. Agency traditions — however strange to the outsider — can be great for fostering a sense of community, and they can help boost morale and employee retention. But they don’t happen by accident.

“You have got to institutionalize fun traditions, they don’t just happen on their own” said Kamran Asghar, co-founder and president at Crossmedia. “You have to do something to break the monotony.”

From Publicis Seattle’s gong to Huge’s custom-designed axes, here’s a look at nine of our favorite agencies’ unique traditions. (Partners + Napier CEO Sharon Napier likes to celebrate important employee milestones with hugs; that tradition didn’t make our list.)

Publicis Seattle
In the center of Publicis Seattle’s office space lies a strategically placed giant gong. Staffers are encouraged to ring the gong to celebrate any professional or personal accomplishments, from new business to promotions and even birthdays and anniversaries. The gong acts as a call for everyone to quickly gather and devote a couple of minutes to celebrating a victory — most recently, a staffer’s surprise wedding at City Hall.

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“It is about creating a sense of community and collective celebration,” said Britt Fero, chief strategy officer at Publicis Seattle.

Crossmedia
Bagel and pizza Fridays may be de rigueur at many agencies today, but that wasn’t the case when Crossmedia launched in 2000, said co-founder and president Kamran Asghar. The agency has had “Burger Friday” as a tradition since its inception, which has evolved from weekly trips to burger joints across the city to catered lunches today. As the agency grows, it could very well invest in its own burger restaurant, joked Asghar.

“We know the youngsters like to drink on Thursdays, and nothing beats a hangover better than a burger,” he said. “You can order anything, as long as it has the word ‘burger’ in it.”

David&Goliath
“Some call it Fernet-Branca; we call it liquid courage,” said David Angelo, founder of agency David&Goliath, which makes every new hire down a shot of the Italian liqueur Fernet-Branca in front of everyone at their first agency meeting — without a chaser. It’s the agency’s way of welcoming new people on board and serves as an initiation to embracing and living the “brave lifestyle” at the agency.

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Huge
One of the traditions that Huge’s employees most look forward to is receiving their very own custom-designed axe by the Best Made company on their fifth anniversary. It is an honored tradition at the Brooklyn-based agency and undoubtedly something that staffers look forward to.

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“The axes represent our belief in making the best-designed products in the industry and serve as a reminder to always be ‘cutting away’ what’s needed to get to the simplest, best solution for users and clients,” said a Huge spokesperson.

Lapiz
Messaging platform Slack may not have gained tremendous traction in the agency world just yet, but it has already helped institute a fun tradition over at Leo Burnett’s Lapiz. Over the past six months, the agency has managed to cultivate a Slack tradition of shaming fellow employees for bad behavior on a channel on the platform. On the Slack channel called #Shaming, employees call others out on their bad behaviors in a lighthearted and usually humorous manner — from not cleaning up a conference room after a meeting to even leaving behind their nail clippings.

“It’s part of the agency’s overall culture of transparency,” said Gustavo Razzetti, managing director of Lapiz. “It has also made people step up their game, which is a good thing.”

Sub Rosa
Rather than traditional employee headshots, Sub Rosa asks new employees to bring 10 to 12 objects that best represent their personalities and their lives. On “Portraits Day,” these items are collected and brought over to a photo studio for a portrait. The agency then uses these portraits on its website, and the story of each item is also included on its website.

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“By seeing the objects we hold most dear and the stories attached to them, we give a deeper look inside ourselves,” said Michael Ventura, founder and CEO of Sub Rosa. “This is the sort of relationship we want to cultivate with our clients, and our bios are just one of many ways our organization helps to grow closer and deeper with our partners.”

Grey
At Grey, innovation is encouraged by making employees embrace not just trying, but also failing. Which is why the agency has instituted the “Heroic Failure Award,” where it celebrates failures of daring and audacity with a quarterly award.

“It’s based on the concept of awarding creative risk, no matter the outcome,” said Pam Workman, svp and director of reputation management at Grey. “It’s a fun, engaging way to illustrate our fail-fast strategy here at Grey.”

Havas Chicago
Havas Chicago creates custom pins for its staffers to mark special milestones or celebrate cool activations. They can either wear the pins on their jackets or keep at their desks. So when the agency introduced standing desks and ergonomic options for its employees last summer, it commissioned “Stand with Me” pins. When Pat Fafara, Havas Chicago’s director of finance recently celebrated 35 years at the agency, pins embossed with “Fist bump for Pat” were circulated.

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“The pins represent the unique aspects of our culture that set us apart,” said Jason Peterson, chief creative officer at Havas Chicago.

Saatchi & Saatchi New York
Brent Smart started doing “Saatchi Family Dinners” when he assumed the role of the agency’s CEO in November 2013 as a symbol of the type of culture he wanted to create. It’s a monthly gathering where people of different departments and levels come together and bond over a big Italian family-style meal.

“An Italian family dinner is a brilliant metaphor for the type of culture we need at Saatchi to be a great creative agency,” he said. “Everyone is around one big table; there are different disciplines and talent. It is loud with lots of debate, opinions and passion — and messy — where we need to try new things and new ways of working, experimentation over perfection.”