For those of you familiar with the agency design world, we tend to be a high-octane group of creatives that work and play hard. We are seen as fun, a little edgy, always on trend, and in the know on how to lead the way in this light-year-fast social and digital age.
But, how to maintain that balance of creative, smart, and on-target campaigns, keeping our clients happy and wanting more, while also creating a place where people want to work and thrive? How to start solving the puzzle of crafting and maintaining a well-oiled machine where employees have a sense of ownership? In my view, it starts from the top down and flows inside out.
At Sans Serif, it stems from an employee-centric values-driven culture. As a small but highly effective agency, we have developed a standard way of working together that models how a business can cultivate authenticity and high quality in a demanding industry and a remote first world. These include:
Of course, (hopefully) most successful organizations have a culture, mission, and clear vision of the future. This can shift and evolve but one would hope that there are discernible qualities to a business that are consistent and reveal that organization’s distinctive personality and values. Let’s take a sneak peek at ours.
My experience is primarily in marketing, advertising, and video production with a detour through pharmaceutical sales and a brief hiatus raising my boys. Afterward, freelancing was a way to ease back into work part-time. However, to a Type-A person like me, the unknown was sometimes daunting, not having the ability to plan when the next fast and furious project would come flying in. Fast-forward to interviewing with Sans Serif and I was hired during a busy season as a contract employee. And…I found what I was missing.
Sans Serif is a creative agency, based in Oakland, led by a founder and leadership that treat our team with respect and genuine care. They build individuals up professionally to create an environment that exudes this warmth and confidence to clients and partners. Because we have this rapport, we maintain consistent high-level outcomes that enable our clients to trust creative that sometimes pushes the envelope to elevate their brands. It’s not a magic formula but now that I’ve been here over a year, brought into the fold as a permanent employee, I am thankful Sans Serif has established such a powerful approach to retaining talent and clients in an ever-changing market. This is an agency with global client relationships spanning decades, continuous growth, and a positive culture to brag about.
Executives primarily drive the culture in most organizations. Their personality and vision, coupled with a dynamic leadership team, is where it all starts. At Sans Serif we interact directly with our leads, from creative to budgets and new business. Our directors are available but not overbearing. Not stuffy, they’re open to questions and differing opinions. It is truly a team mentality in deeds, not just words.
We have had individuals in our agency experience some difficult personal obstacles. With sensitivity, they have been supported and eased back in with clear direction on how we can best support and lift the burden until they are 100%. And we’ve all sensed some sadness with hard hit news and events in the past few years. Our leadership has opened conversations and reassured us to take the time to process as needed. Even though this should be normal, it’s not always prioritized to this degree. I can say with confidence that our team has my back no matter the personal or professional challenge.
As a freelancer, I developed my own business and clients. Which is great if you’re the entrepreneur type. But after years of hustling, I was craving guidance and permanency. Sans Serif directors meet with their teams individually, bi-weekly. This is key in a remote agency!
While many of us look forward to events or opportunities where we can team-build in-person, the reality is that we are spread across the US. These check-ins, weekly project management or creative meetings and fun all-hands Friday standups, keep us connected and on track with our individual and collective goals. (Stay tuned for our thoughts on successful remote workplace connection in the future.)
These huddles with our manager may be an update on details of projects, how the new design software training is coming along, or any other relevant questions. We also discuss who we felt supported by this past week, any challenges we confronted, and how our short-term goals are evolving. During my first few months, I was presented with the question, “What is your dream here at S2, what do you want to be?” and it stopped me in my tracks. I now have the freedom to focus on our video production strategy to integrate with our clients
To evolve a team, it’s important that each person is working towards goals they are passionate about. We are encouraged to develop our talents, even if it’s in a new direction or department. This may take some ramp up time on the front end, but we have grown our internal capabilities by leaps and bounds instead of searching for someone to fill a void. But don’t worry freelancers, we still have a need for trusted on-call partners.
Businesses are still relationship-led even in this new AI world; interpersonal chemistry is important. Potential new clients may initially be enamored by a data-driven, innovative pitch but do they feel a connection? Do they trust that the team will be an honest extension of their brand and internal capabilities with their success top of mind?
Here at Sans Serif, our clients have become our partners in crime. Some have taken us along with them as they move to different organizations. We dream, brainstorm, actively listen to industry challenges and offer best practices…but that still sounds like marketing talk. As we are bolstered internally with experience and support, consistent development, and leadership that cheers us on, we can truly engage with our clients on a personal level. Our partners have the freedom to be transparent because we have shown that we can handle it. We offer a true team spirit. We love what we do and are motivated to bring that YES factor to each and every project.
I’m thrilled to be a part of this team…a small agency with a big heart. (Check out our case studies if you want to see how we pack a giant creative punch!)