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Agency Profile: Doner

Posted on April 9, 2013 and read 7,034 times

Agency Profile: Doner thumbnail

ZK Agency Profile: Doner   Zack Kinslow
Creative Producer
Art Directors Club


A lot of agencies fake their culture. Let’s be honest. Nobody is playing with that dusty foosball table you keep near the lobby. And “Beer Fridays” can often be an HR gimmick so that you can tell potential hires that you have a thing called Beer Fridays – an event which can easily turn into a booze-laden bitch-session about clients and agency frustrations.

On the flipside, IHAVEANIDEA recently had the opportunity to visit a storied shop in the suburban outskirts of Detroit, Michigan where there is a very real culture bubbling with life. The people who work at this agency are an ongoing part of that energy, constantly bringing more fun into the workforce.

This particular agency brings new meaning to the phrase, “work hard, play hard.”

Doner bowling holiday party11 Agency Profile: Doner

Doner games foosball Agency Profile: Doner

The agency is Doner. It’s been around for over 75 years (originally called W.B. Doner & Co.) – and they’ve been pumping out memorable work since FDR’s first presidential term.

You may recognize some of Doner’s signatures: “They plump when you cook ‘em” for Ball Park Franks; “How many licks does it take” for Tootsie Roll Pops; “What would you do-oo-oo” for Klondike; “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking” for Timex; Serta’s “Counting Sheep” campaign; Coleman’s “The Original Social Networking Site”; the launch of the Amazon Kindle; and the creepy old dancing guy from Six Flags.

Other clients include Minute Maid Orange Juice, AutoTrader, The UPS Store, Bush’s Baked Beans, Colt 45 and more.

Of course, what’s a Detroit agency without a few car brands? Doner has touched several of them over the past few decades, but isn’t reliant on them to keep doing big work. The agency is part of the driving force behind Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram. They also created the “Zoom zoom” commercials for Mazda that are still burned into consumers’ mental playlists to this day.

Doner’s agency is buzzing with activity, spearheaded by the three “Ecos” (that’s Doner-speak for ‘department’). “Eco” is short for “ecosystem,” because – as Rob Strasberg (Co-CEO, Chief Creative Officer) clarifies – “everybody has to think of everything. There are no silos.” Rather, each Eco consists of several teams and disciplines, who work together within the Eco to push the work and make it the best it can be.

Each of the three Eco’s has its own clientele. That’s not to say people don’t switch it up from time to time, or chime in with a suggestion when they see another Eco’s work pinned up on the “Good Shit” wall.

Doner good shit Agency Profile: Doner

There’s even a little healthy competition among Eco’s, which can often present itself in the form of a tennis tournament right in the middle of the agency.

Doner games tennis Agency Profile: Doner

Some of the wackiest antics within Doner happen around Halloween season. Pumpkin carving contests; a “Facebook Freak-out” costume contest that led one of their creative teams to attend a pitch later that day still dressed as the undead; and even a Murder Mystery Theatre presented by Rob Zombie where the agency’s CCO was killed and employees had to figure out whodunit.

Doner murder mystery Agency Profile: Doner

Throughout the year, one might also witness celebrations such as the “Thanks A Brunch” employee appreciation party, where the senior management (dressed in drag as lunchladies) served the junior teams breakfast; a weekly “Dunkin Doner” summer series which includes donuts, beer, and live bands from all over the region; and a blow-out 75th anniversary party at the Rogue Music Theatre, attended by the likes of Mayor Hawthorne, and serving an exclusive menu of Doner’s clients’ products (Klondike bars and Colt 45 anyone?).

Doner bowling holiday party2 Agency Profile: Doner

Doner75th Agency Profile: Doner

And of course, the obligatory “Harlem Shake” video, which featured almost the entire Detroit office.

Doner also gets involved in local Detroit industry organizations – AdCraft and AdCraft PM – who host a monthly pool league and other events to engage the region’s advertising professionals.

In short, Doner likes to party – not unlike their “Mr. Six” character from the Six Flags commercials, dancing his way into viral stardom before the days of YouTube.

“Some of the most creative work happens when you’re allowed to play,” says Group Creative Director Valerie Foley.

Given Doner’s long history of renowned creative work, it was surprising that there were no egos in the whole bunch. Everyone there is very down-to-earth and just likes to have a good time.

In fact, during this writer’s meeting with one of the Eco’s, multiple juniors peer-pressured their boss – Creative Director Rob Legato – to do his world-famous Christopher Walken impression. He eventually placated the crowd like a dad tossing his kids across the swimming pool (“Do it again!”), and the rendition was nothing short of classic.

Of course, work and play go hand-in-hand at Doner. A reoccurring mantra that flows throughout the agency is “Doner Hustles Harder.” There’s even an award by the same name given out to employees for hustling harder than the competition.

Doner Hustles Harder1 Agency Profile: Doner

Doner Hustles Harder2 Agency Profile: Doner

How can an agency have such unfailing energy after 75 years in the business? According to Creative Director Sam Sefton, a lot of the newfound culture at Doner is thanks to a particular individual who joined the agency five years ago – Chief Creative Officer Rob Strasberg.

Strasberg hailed from Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Denver, Colorado. As tends to happen with CP+B alum, he brought a fresh vision to Doner when he took over the shop.

“A lot of people think of it as, ‘Before Rob’ and ‘After Rob,’” Sefton explains. “He basically hit the reset button on the agency.”

After sitting down with the [surprisingly young] man himself – in his toy-covered office that showed all symptoms of being a former kitchen – I began to scratch the surface of this dynamic creative leader.

“Did you play lacrosse in school?” I asked Strasberg, after spotting his early-90s lacrosse stick leaning next to his desk within arm’s length.

“Yep. I only keep that thing there so that people have to ask me that question,” Strasberg joked.

He energetically answered my next question as to why all the shelves around him were completely covered from table to ceiling with happy-meal tchotchkes. “When we started moving furniture around to open up the agency a bit, people were cleaning up their desks and they had a lot of random things to throw away. I told them: take one ridiculous item from your desk that you were going to toss, bring it to me, and introduce yourself.”

Before he knew it, Strasberg had spent face-time with every single employee, and subsequently decorated his whole office with their knick-knacks. One man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure.

Strasberg spearheaded many of the new cultural initiatives that keep the agency happy – not to mention, all the great work that they’ve been producing for the past half-decade.

He also inspired Doner’s “Digital Underground” – the basement floor that houses both sound and video studios, in an ongoing effort to make the agency completely self-contained.

Doner interior5 Agency Profile: Doner

For an agency that already had a lot of talent under its roof and a reputation for doing great work, Strasberg’s new leadership was a catalyst that brought out the potential in everyone.

If you’re ever in the Detroit area, and are looking for a good time, take a quick drive to Doner. You’ll find the ambiance to be quite refreshing. In an industry full of brilliant people who are jaded and overworked, it’s nice to see a shop that still keeps things lighthearted. And actually uses their foosball table.




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