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Agency Profile: Iris Worldwide New York

Posted on August 20, 2012 and read 7,251 times

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zackkinslowpic 156x156 Agency Profile: Iris Worldwide New YorkZack Kinslow
Creative Producer
Art Directors Club

Most people hope to land their ‘dream job’ someday.

For some, that may involve doing out-of-the-box work for big, global brands. Preferably the cool ones like Heineken, Adidas, Johnnie Walker, and Durex.

For others it might mean the freedom to travel around the world on the company dime, or to work in different locations to keep things fresh.

And for many of us, it’s the ‘small agency’ culture – a collaborative environment where each person has a say, and everyone has the power to change things for the better.

Iris Worldwide seems to have found a perfect balance of all those elements, and has built a global anti-network of 800+ employees who essentially create their own dream jobs.

One of the larger legs of the Iris family is their New York office, located in the vibrant NoHo shopping district on Broadway between Bleecker and Houston. The building is neighbored by a mix of outlets like Urban Outfitters, American Eagle, Billabong, and Hollister, which are topped with high-end loft apartments.

I use the term “anti-network” because, according to CEO Stewart Shanley, who co-founded the company in 1999, Iris is the exciting alternative to the typical agency network. “We knew what we didn’t want,” Stewart explained. His genuine, welcoming demeanor accompanied by checkered shorts and a polo tee made our chat more of 19th hole toast than an interview.

We sat in one of four frosted glass conference rooms – this one was dubbed “Madonna” – surrounded on either side by her historical cohorts, Tesla, Dalí,
and Hemingway. Across from this bank stood a 30-foot-long Sharpie wall mural crafted by the acclaimed artist Shantell Martin, which captures inspiration from all employees in the New York office.

IMG 46011 Agency Profile: Iris Worldwide New York

Stewart continued, “The only point in being a network is if it benefits your talent and your clients. This should be about effortlessly collaborating across geography and discipline, and sharing your best stuff with those who can put it to best use.” It’s worth noting that this CEO’s desk sits in the bullpen right alongside the rest of his team.

Each one of Iris Worldwide’s 13 offices is structured to have a small-agency feel, where entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged and rewarded. Everyone has the power to carve their own path. And the intercontinental communication pipelines are wide open, both virtually and physically.

“Things happen quickly around here,” explained Sean Reynolds, Global Creative Director, “because we have all the capabilities in-house to execute everything.” It’s a truly integrated agency fueled by hands-on collaboration.

Perhaps the finest example of this is an ongoing exercise called Project 72, in which Iris picks any creative brief from one of their clients, and opens it up to all their offices globally. Then, the teams have exactly 72 hours to turn it around. The result? Hundreds of creative solutions at a rapid-fire pace, coming from all over the world. “It works so well,” continued Reynolds, “that clients actually request it as a service now.”

The goal at Iris is to achieve Extraordinary. “To seek out different and better, for our clients and our own careers.” And their recent wins at D&AD and Cannes – along with their growth from 20 to 60 employees at the NYC office in the past year – show that they’ve been doing an extraordinary job.

According to Zeyd Rahman, Group New Business Director, “the agency was started to achieve three simple things: do work we’re really proud of; enjoy it while we do it; and make some money out of it to fuel the adventure.”

And what adventures they have! Iris sponsors a Life Swap program, where an employee from the Singapore office can spend a few months working in the Miami office, or Atlanta to Mexico City, or Delhi to Melbourne. If they want to stay, then a more permanent rotation is arranged. In fact, the Managing Director of their New York office started nine years ago in London, and then moved to the Big Apple in 2007, where she has helped to grow the staff by 300%.

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To ensure a “different and better” work environment, Iris employees form a series of ‘Squads’ who are responsible for making the day-to-day a little more fun. Recently, the Sports Squad teamed up with the Night Squad to host a company bowling night at Brooklyn Bowl. The Smile Squad does things that, well, make you smile – like delivering your favorite cupcakes to your desk on your birthday. And the House Squad helps around the office by installing recycling bins, plants, and even a SodaStream machine.

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As I write this, Iris New York is actually enjoying their Summer Forum, an annual event orchestrated by the Smile Squad. The agency packed into a couple of schoolbuses and high-tailed it to Six Flags Great Adventure, to discuss the successes of the year and get people excited about the road ahead. And of course, they’ll pencil in a few rollercoasters and log flume rides.

In addition to choosing their Squad, Iris employees get to pick which brands they want to work on. What a concept! As global CD Sean Reynolds commented, “there are a few reasons people leave an agency. One of them is, ‘I work on the same crap every day.’” Iris keeps it fresh by offering “freedom with a framework.”

This power-to-the-people mentality shines through in many facets of the Iris culture. Employees plug their own iTunes playlists into the PA system, to maintain an eclectic flow of mood music throughout the shop.

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They also conduct an agency-wide survey every 18 months called “Have Your Say,” then selects three key items to improve on – forming action teams to make it happen. Even the lunch selection is democratic; every other week, a different employee gets to pick what style of FreshDirect groceries get delivered to the office.

When they need a break from pushing their creative boundaries, the Iris New York team likes to kick back with a few pints at Puck Fair – an Irish pub that nods to the agency’s UK roots. Even on a quest for “different and better,” there’s still no place like home.

Simply put, Iris Worldwide is one of those shops that you should be hearing more about. And you will, in the near future. Their Heineken “Light Up The Night” campaign just scored a yellow pencil at D&AD. Their mascot design was selected for the 2012 London Olympics, accompanied by an interactive UGC site that lets you bring your own custom character to life. And their initiatives for Adidas, Johnnie Walker, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Durex are all transcending the finite nature of traditional ads and continuing to spark conversations, even today.

A lot of agencies throw around the word “integrated.” But when it comes down to it, many of them still outsource their technical stuff to third-party developers, production houses and PR firms.

Iris, on the other hand, is truly a jack of all trades. And in this rapidly changing industry, they are extremely fit for any challenge that may come their way.

We look forward to seeing even more extraordinary work from them in the upcoming year.

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