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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Agency Profile: The Agency Formerly Known As Hadrian’s Wall

Agency Profile: The Agency Formerly Known As Hadrian’s Wall

Posted on December 3, 2006 and read 2,775 times

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brettcreditpic 150x150 Agency Profile: The Agency Formerly Known As Hadrians WallBrett McKenzie
Chief Writer/SBN2

Dear Andy Macauley, President, Zig

Thanks a lot, buddy. Thanks a lot.

Just when I was ready to post my ihaveanidea exclusive, thoroughly researched Agency Profile on Chicago’s Hadrian’s Wall, you, Elspeth and Lorraine had the nerve to go out and buy them. Not only that, but you changed their name to Zig. That’s just swell.

Yeah, yeah, I know that you and Hadrian’s Wall’s founders Steve Carli and Kevin Lynch go way back to your days at the legendary Roche Macauley and Partners. And I know both agencies have a lot in common, and that this new partnership is going to be beneficial to all involved. But you could’ve waited for my article to go up! You know, hold off a week or two to let my investigative journalism shine. Bye-bye Pulitzer.

So I asked Kevin Lynch what should we do. After all, they were still Hadrian’s Wall when we put this together, and in a sense it’s not like the shop and its culture took a complete about face once they joined Zig. So we thought, what the hell, let’s run the article anyways, because at the very least, everyone will be able to see just what had Zig salivating in the first place.

So may I present to you, The Agency Known As Hadrian’s Wall Until A Few Days Ago.

And Andy, you owe me, man. Big time.

One of the first things I noticed about Hadrian’s Wall is how off the beaten path it was. Gary O’Connell from First Light and myself were in Chicago to help host ihaveanidea’s Portfolio Night IV, but since arriving we hadn’t strayed too far from the towering skyscrapers and Batman-esque architecture the Windy City is famous for. However here we were in a cab heading for Hadrian’s Wall, and the tall buildings are making way for squat industrial complexes. We later learn from Kevin Lynch, Hadrian’s Wall’s principal and writer, that they’ve lovingly named the neighborhood “SoNoWeHa” — South of North Avenue, West of Halsted — since the area doesn’t really have a specific name.

Why is this hot little Chicago agency so far away from its towering brethren? “We just wanted a place that felt right,” says Kevin. “The area looks very industrial, but over the years a lot of design and architectural firms have moved into the area I believe there probably isn’t another ad agency within a mile of here, which is surprising considering the number of agencies there are in this town. On one hand it’s a bummer that you sometimes don’t feel as connected to the rest of the ad community, you don’t run into friends from other agencies accidentally. On the other hand, you kinda feel like you don’t have to compare yourself to anybody else. Being in this location has helped foster our independent spirit.”

So what’s in a name? “We wanted a name that wasn’t just the last names of its founders. Inevitably somebody leaves, and then you end up having to change your letterhead and redo your branding,” says Kevin.

“As for why the name ‘Hadrian’s Wall’, we felt it was an interesting name that would pique people’s interest,” he continues. “If you dig into the history of Hadrian and the wall itself, you’ll find that Hadrian was one of the better emperors of the Roman Empire. Arts, architecture and communication all flourished under his reign. The wall was one of the farthest boundaries of the Roman Empire, so there’s a sense of pushing boundaries as far as they can go. And the wall still stands today, so there’s a sense of permanence in the name. So we feel our name works like a good ad should; it has enough of an emotional reaction to pull you in, and enough logic to pay off that reaction.” QUICK NOTE: For those of us who aren’t familiar with Roman history, the real Hadrian’s Wall was built around 122 AD, and roughly follows the borders between modern day England and Scotland.

Chicago is well known for its massive multinational agencies; it’s the headquarters for Leo Burnett, the home of DDB Chicago and their award show juggernaut, ‘Real Men of Genius’, as well as very successful Ogilvy and BBDO offices. How does a small shop of a dozen or so staff members get started and get noticed amongst the giants? “I think because Chicago is known for its big agencies, it actually makes it a bit easier to get noticed,” replies Kevin. “I think there’s a feeling of rooting for the little guy, a small upstart to come and make an impact on the creative scene. At the end of the day, we do what any agency in any city does; we put out our shingle and do good work. Good work is the best way to attract attention and business. And a lot of the big agencies in this city are pretty good at saying ‘hey, here’s a piece of business that’s not right for us, maybe it’s right for you guys,’ and you just can’t beat that. I think we’d all like to see Chicago have an even bigger reputation for great creative, “And besides,” Kevin jokes, “I don’t think the big guys see us as a threat.”

What does a typical day at Hadrian’s Wall entail? Well when you’re that small, there isn’t anything ‘typical’; days are determined by what stage particular projects are in. “Usually everybody is here by 9:00 AM and are out by 6:00 PM or so,” says Kevin. “My Toronto-born agency partner Steve Carli [who isn’t in the office the day ihaveanidea visited] has instilled a very Canadian sensibility that all of us should have a balanced life. It’s very un-American, but it seems to work for us here.”

“We insist that everybody at Hadrian’s Wall get out and keep fill that creative well from which to draw. Each month we all go out as an agency and we go see a new band or a new show. We also give every employee $100.00 a month to spend on ‘brain food.’ Some use it for magazine subscriptions to go to museums and art galleries; some use it to take French or guitar lessons. A hundred bucks isn’t a lot of money, but it’s often enough when you’ve been thinking about doing something and now have a bit of money to go do it. We really do try to provide a place that is as inspiring outside of work as it is inside.”

And when Kevin says ‘outside’, he doesn’t just mean outside of the agency or even outside of Chicago. For their first year anniversary, the entire agency took a very inspiring trip to the actual Hadrian’s Wall in northern England! “We were so giddy and excited after that, we tried to figure out where to go for our second year anniversary. It had to have some sort of Hadrian or Roman/Italian connection, but we didn’t have it in us to make the whole overseas trek, so we settled on visiting The Venetian in Las Vegas. That was a lot of fun, but it didn’t seem quite right for the theme of the agency. So then we held off until our fifth anniversary, which we celebrated this past January, when we decided to visit Rome. We visited Hadrian’s Temple, Hadrian’s Tomb, and basically had more fun than you should ever have with your co-workers.”

Advertising people might remember a global advertising competition earlier this year called the MagneCote Challenge. This contest had a selection of agencies from around the world try to come up with a unique way to use MagneCote magnetic coated paper to promote a particular charitable cause. Hadrian’s Wall wasn’t in the competition; MagneCote is one of their clients, and as such, they are ones that created the competition. “We generally do some pretty interesting things for MagneCote, because frankly, their clients are us,” Kevin explains. “Agencies and designers are always looking for new ways to reach potential customers for their clients, so anything that you can do to heighten the interest of the advertising community is appreciated. We picked a specified non-profit organization, then asked several agencies whose work we always respected to come up with the best possible ideas using the magnetic paper, knowing that working with the paper will get them into some really non-traditional thinking that they might apply to their own clients’ needs. We were all very pleased at the results of the contest, as well as the interest it generated, thanks in part to finding links posted on ihaveanidea and advertising blogs around the world. One thing we learned is that with online voting, advertising agencies will cheat like hell, and us North Americans are the worst!”

So if Hadrian’s Wall has a corporate philosophy, what would it be? “Our motto is “Do Good Work For People You Like,” says Kevin. “There’s nothing very corporate or revolutionary about that, but it’s amazing how often that has guided our decisions as an agency during our first five years. It has kept us small, and we probably turn down more clients than we pick up, because we’re either not going to be getting to do good work for them, or they’re just not a good fit. When you stake such a strong claim with your philosophy, and you attract people to work here, it puts extra pressure in having to live up to it. The moment you start backing off from your philosophy, you start losing that good karma, and you are breaking the promise you made to all the people who came to work here for that very reason. And potential clients will either love that way of thinking or be turned off by it, and that’s perfectly acceptable with us. We don’t pick up too many clients, but when we do, they really are right for the place, and we’re right for them. This makes the relationships last longer, and you spend a hell of a lot less time worrying about the little arguments that tend to bring down agency/client relationships.”

Hadrian’s Wall may be an agency in Chicago, but there’s not many Chicagoans that work there. In fact Kevin is the only local boy in the whole shop! The rest of the staff comes from places like Toronto, Minneapolis, Denver, North Carolina, London, ON and other locales. A big note to all kids trying to decide which ad school to attend: most of the staff and interns at Hadrian’s Wall have passed through either the VCU AdCenter or the Miami Ad School. “At the same time, we don’t really care where people come from,” says Kevin. “When we look to hire, we look at two major things: do we like the person, because at a place this size, there has to be a strong likeability factor. And secondly, can they solve a problem in a way that nobody here can? Whether that comes from raw talent or that person’s view on the world or their life experiences, that must be apparent in their portfolio or in conversation. And that’s far more important than where they went to school.”

Thanks to Kevin Lynch for sitting down with us at Hadrian’s Wall.




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