Sled dogs and glacier climbing: Inside Alaskan agency Spawn

Take everything you think you know about ad agencies and throw it out of the window: Spawn Ideas is the antithesis of all things Madison Avenue.

The 40-year-old shop in Anchorage, Alaska, is a female-led, majority-female, employee-owned agency that prides itself on an outdoor-first approach. With clients including McDonald’s Alaska and Alaska Railroad, the agency attracts ad talent from the Lower 48 who want to try a different kind of life, said Karen King, the CEO and president.

“When we go to recruit people, we talk about outdoor lifestyle and the quality of life here,” said King, whose agency also has a small satellite officer in Denver. “In Anchorage, it’s almost rude to ask people what they do for work. You ask them what they do for fun first.”

The agency also recognizes that it may not be for everyone, and it offers “beta tests” to prospective employees to let them try on working at the agency before joining full time.

Still, there are stereotypes she has to fight, one being that of “arctic lag,” that Alaska is less cutting edge than other places, or that it’ll be slow, or cold year-round. “People are surprised when they get to Anchorage and see a modern city.

Spawn specializes in “outdoor brands” like Alaska Railroad, Marine Tours, resorts in the state, and so on. King said everyone shares a deep connection with nature, so the agency encourages outdoor activities as much as meetings. Each week, throughout the summer, Spawn employees go on a “Peak-a-Week” summiteering expedition together. There’s also lots of fishing, kayaking and, in the winter, dog-sledding.

Here, in photos, is a tour through what it looks like to work at (and outside) Spawn:

The office has a deck space for standing meetings.
Employees are encouraged to bring kids to work.
Kya in the office
Other staffers find creative ways to babysit.
Staffers get snacks and margaritas (“Lisaritas,” made by the agency’s chief financial officer) on Fridays.
Karen bfst
Once a month, King serves up a bowl of fresh fruit, bacon and eggs for “President’s breakfast.”
The agency holds Yoga Wednesdays in conference rooms.
All work and no play …


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