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Agency Profile: 160over90

Posted on May 12, 2011 and read 8,274 times

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ignaciocreditpic Agency Profile: 160over90Ignacio Oreamuno

Way back in the ancient, olden days of the advertising industry (“ancient and olden” meaning ten or so years ago) a ‘branding agency’ was seen by many as just a fancy way of saying “we design logos and packages and other print stuff.” Nowadays, advertising and design has changed so dramatically that few people know where the branding ends and the ads begin. What is the difference between a traditional agency and a branding agency in 2011? You’d be hard pressed to come up with a good answer.

During my recent trip to Philadelphia, a lot of people in traditional agencies insisted that I pay a visit to ‘branding agency’ 160over90. “Did you go visit them?” “What did you think?” That’s a good sign that that line between the two kinds of shops is blurred; when traditional shops respect and love you, you’ve made it.


“We are an agency that’s not defined by billings or by clients,” says Jim Walls, Executive Creative Director of 160over90 as we relax in the City Center office. “People come first here. I want to know the names of every person I pass on the hallways.” With 60-odd people on the agency’s roster, that seems like a manageable task for now, far more so than a multinational with 1,000 bodies. And if you want to be part of the team, you’ll have to be a little bit patient; it’s crucial to the agency that they take the time to figure out if you’re a right fit, to both the agency and, if you’re not from there, the city of Philly itself. “Keeping the right atmosphere is so important to us,” Jim continues. “We value your skills, but we are more interested in your personality.” My visit with the creative department confirmed this, as there appeared to be an almost seamless chemistry, of passionate, geeky-in-that-funny-ad-creatives-sorta-way people who spent long hours together, both inside and outside of work.

If you make it through this hiring process at 160over90, you’ll be interested in knowing that you don’t have to worry about who your ‘partner’ is going to be. Here, there are no art director/copywriter ‘marriages’, and chances are you’ll be partnered with just about everyone at some point on various projects and clients. Even then, there is still a sense of autonomy — not that you are by yourself, but you are responsible for your work. There is a graduate school-like atmosphere here, where everyone is expected to behave like an entrepreneur. Employees have to show their merit and how they can think above what is simply “expected.” You can be the most inexperienced of juniors, but if you rise to the occasion and do something good, you’ll be in front of the agency’s biggest clients in no time at all. If you want to be challenged professionally, 160over90 seems like the place to be, and if you don’t, well, there’s nowhere to hide here. “There’s no shortcuts, no skipping stages,” exclaims Jim. “No matter how big or small a project may be, there is a process that we all stick to in order to succeed. The process actually liberates us — it’s our muse, in a way.”

Another thing engrained in the culture here at 160over90 that so few agencies are willing (or able) to do: they no not do spec work for pitches and clients. “Standing on the strength of our work and not on spec pieces has allowed to agency to grow at a gradual realistic pace without having to sacrifice its own culture at the expense of growing too fast,” says Jim.

One of the enternal questions we at IHAVEANIDEA ask during our profiles is “are you a foosball agency or are you a ping pong agency?” It’s kinda like that deleted scene from Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman states you can be an Elvis man or a Beatles man, but not both; one will dominate and tell people about your personality. In the case of 160over90, yes they have both a foosball table and a ping-pong table, but they are dwarfed in importance and activity by a massive boomerang-shaped table. So central is this table to life at 160over90 that it serves as the theme for their cool, very active blog, appropriately named The Boomerang Table.

After my tour of the agency, I had a chance to chat to some of the creatives about what it was like to work in a city like Philadelphia. It seemed like everybody was very passionate about the quality of life they got, especially in the shadow of the Big Apple ad mecca. “New York is such a grind,” says one creative. “Here, the streets are wider, the grass is greener, the sky is bluer, and life is cheaper.”


Things at 160over90 definitely seem to be on the rise — even the building janitor says the agency is the sexiest office in the building (take that, Red Tettemer!). In those ancient, olden days, the shop might have been limited to what people expected from ‘branding agencies’, but 2011, the barriers have come down across all media, and 160over90 is primed to take advantage of this. “A brand is a perception,” says Jim.”We don’t create it, we influence it.”

Thanks to Jim Walls and all the people at 160over90 for their time and hospitality.




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