Lessons on Advertising Culture from Stan Richards

I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of the offices of The Richards Group, led by the legendary Stan Richards.

Stan Richards the richards group

Stan Richards, founder of the The Richards Group

And I have to say, it was pretty cool. I’ve been to many other agencies – Arnold, Digitas, Saatchi & Saatchi, StarCom/MediaVest, Weber Shandwick, Publicis, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Sterling Rice, TDA, Hill Holiday, DeVries, MS&L, and countless others. But never has a founder of the agency taken the time to visit with me, to give me a tour, or tell me about the culture of the company he or she founded. Granted, most of them have long since passed away, moved on to other agencies, or retired, but still, this was cool. It wasn’t just cool because Stan Richards (and The Richards Group) are a big deal (they are famous for Motel 6 ads featuring Tom Bodett “We’ll leave the light on for you,” as well as all those Corona ads you love)**, but because he took the time out of his day to talk about how they work and why it makes a difference.

So here is an abridged version of that tour that I think is not just relevant to those who work in advertising, but to anyone who works in an office:

  1. There are no VIPs at TRG. The culture of the office is more geared around tenure than title. Of course there are creative directors, and account leads, and junior planners, etc, but while title may get you more money or responsibility it doesn’t make you any better than anyone else in the company.
  2. A culture of saying “hello.” Saying hello to people is really important at TRG. Stan stopped to say hello to several people on our tour, and knew all of them by name. And TRG isn’t a small company. They have somewhere north of 700 people I believe. Talking with people face-to-face happens a lot there and is best evidenced by numbers 3 and 4 below.
  3. Take the stairs. Spanning almost 10 floors, the TRG offices have a central stairway that runs throughout the office. You can take an elevator but it’s really encouraged to take the stairs. Stan didn’t mention the health benefits of more walking, but did stress the social benefits. It gives you a lot of opportunity to say hi people you might not normally see in a day. And you might be able to catch someone you need to talk to, have a short conversation, and head off a 30 minute meeting. The central stairway also serves as a company meeting place, for all-staff announcements. They do this so that no one at the company receives important news before anyone else (see #1 above).
  4. No emails. Okay, they do have email, and I’m sure they use it frequently. But emailing co-workers, who are in the same building as you, is discouraged. Take a short walk, go see the person, and discuss whatever you need to (maybe say “hi” to some people along the way). In a face-to-face conversation you can understand what someone wants/needs better and settle things immediately vs a long back-and-forth email chain.
  5. No one sits next to someone who does the same job. There is no creative floor filled with ping pong tables and video games. There is no account management area where a bunch of suits talk about whatever it is they talk about. No one sits next to someone who does the same job. It breaks up groupthink. It encourages cross-discipline thinking.
  6. Earn your window seat. Remember how there are no VIPs? This also applies to the seating arrangement. The best seats, those nearest the windows, are earned through tenure. You start off closest to the hallways and as people leave and you remain, you get closer and closer to a window.
  7. Tenure is REALLY important. If you haven’t gotten that so far, you aren’t reading very carefully. In addition to earning you the best seats, tenure earned people parking spots in the building and conference rooms named for them. When TRG moved into the building they were given a set number  of parking spots. Rather than give these to the highest ranked people, they were assigned to the longest serving ones. And that’s also how they chose the names for the conference rooms.
  8. Show your work. The hallways, common areas, and conference rooms at TRG are all covered in their clients’ work. I love this. We should all be striving to do work that we are proud of. And if you are proud of your work, show it off! And if you aren’t proud enough to hang it on the walls, maybe you need to go back and re-concept.
  9. Nice copy rooms. Too often the copy machines are relegated to a closet, mail room, basement or dank, dingy corner. Not at TRG. They have nicely lit (with lots of windows), well stocked (with snacks) rooms for copiers, fax machines, etc. The truth is, some people use these machines more than others. They tend to be the lower ranked employees. But at TRG, no one is above anyone else, so why should some people get to work in nice sun-drenched conference rooms while others waste away in the darkness.

I don’t know that these will work everywhere, but I like to think that several of them could be implemented in most companies.

**Yes, I am aware they also do Chick-Fil-A ads, a company I cannot stand, but we’ll save my feelings on them for another post (and Twitter)

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About Ezra Englebardt
Account planner, digital nerd, marketing guru, tweeter, facebooker, occasional blogger, cyclist, snowboarder, mountain biker, social media junkie and avid reader. CU-Boulder and Boston College alum. Frequent guest speaker in Boston-area universities.

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