By Talie Smith
April 17, 2017
“I’d never work for an agency.”
This is what I found myself saying in a recent meeting at Smith & Connors. Everyone burst into laughter. The irony, of course, is that I own an agency.
When my partners and I embarked on building Smith & Connors, we all agreed that we would “build the company that we’d want to work for” in addition to doing the kind of work that inspires us, pushes us creatively and technologically, and nudges the world toward progress.
Our stated purpose/cause/passion is: We help manifest humanity and connection through design and technology.
This can happen in many ways: helping a small growing food-cart-turned-mini-empire to serve more healthy, delicious bowls of goodness to adoring eaters; or helping a foundation tell their story of embodying equity to its core as a way of leading others on the path. It also has to be seen in how we conduct our business, treat our employees, take part in our community, and create our company culture.
All three partners have worked in corporate America, and we all chose not to return. We are tuned into — and now part of — the anti-corporate revolution happening in business.
Living our vision
To really live our vision means that everything we do needs to be seen through a specific lens. For us, it’s all about our values:
Turning away work
Sometimes a client or project comes our way that doesn’t align with our values and vision. Since our inception, we’ve turned away much more than $1 million worth of project work because it didn’t feel like a fit. At first, turning away work seemed crazy to us. But very quickly we realized that whenever we turned away a project that didn’t fit, the door opened for something perfect. And we trust that to continue. Starting and growing a business is not for the faint of heart. But if you do it with a little bit of faith and a whole lot of rigor, it will challenge you to grow personally in ways you can’t imagine. It’s honestly not that different from parenthood!
Everyone has a voice at the table
In agency life, it’s typical that the “creatives” are really the only people in the room who should have a say about the visual or creative aspects of the work. I couldn’t disagree more! I feel like if you work on the team, you should have a voice about the work. As the creative director at Smith & Connors, I want to hear from our producer, our designer, our developers, our entire team about the work we are putting out there. We’re better when we are truly collaborative and open to criticism. Personally I’ve found that my work is always elevated when I open it up to the team for critique.
This means that everyone has to be invested in the work, not just their specific role or task. It means we all own the project equally, and therefore we have to rely on each other to make it great. There is something incredibly refreshing and exciting about this concept and yet it feels atypical in corporate culture. We remove ego (and maybe a bit of the hierarchy) from the creative process and elevate the quality of the project as the supreme goal.
Being two-thirds women-owned (and having a hardcore feminist like Scott Smith as our third partner) means it’s not a big leap to imagine that women’s voices have power at S&C. We know from experience that agency life often brings with it a dampening of female voices and a clear male domination. Obviously, times are changing and women are demanding more in their roles. We salute leaders like Swift and Red & Co. for helping to change the male-dominated agency paradigm in Portland, along with the many strong female voices growing in strength and numbers across our globe. Not surprisingly, the attempts of many to silence and demean us is being met with fierceness and determination. I am proud to add my voice to the cause.
We know that to truly live our vision means we’ll face tough decisions and ups and downs along the way. So far the experiment has brought us many good things. We work with people and on projects that we love. Our team is strong and truly committed to our work and purpose. Our three founding partners continue to challenge and support one another to take risks and flourish in our careers and move Smith & Connors closer to our personal values. And the work we produce has real, positive impact on the businesses, organizations, and communities it serves.