By carefully selecting their team members and inviting them all to take risks in their work, Tim Bade and Sheri Austin of The Alchemedia Project have supported a culture of employees who have brought several first-to-market services to their client sector.
Tim Bade (top left) and Sheri Austin (third from top left), co-founders of The Alchemedia Project (TAP), are continually developing their company's culture. In the office, they encourage the team to take risks in their work, and they also allow plenty of time for team-building activities. A favorite? An annual TAP Camp day when the team heads outside for relaxation and fun.
When an entry-level art director first interviews for a position at The Alchemedia Project (TAP), they probably won’t be meeting with Tim Bade, the company’s co-founder and chief creative officer. They likely won’t be meeting with Sheri Austin, TAP’s co-founder and managing director, either. Instead they might sit down with a copy writer and an account executive that they’ll be working with on a daily basis. “This helps us with our cultural continuity,” Bade says. “That person may go through six or eight or even 10 interviews in a day, all with different people. But finding those who should really be with us is important.”
“HAPPY PEOPLE ARE FREE TO CREATE. THEY HAVE THE MIND SPACE FOR CREATIVITY.”
This extensive process happens fairly often at TAP, as the advertising agency has added roughly 40 employees in the past seven years. But at the end of multiple interviews and frequent onboarding, Bade and Austin are confident that these new associates bring valuable skillsets to the table. “In the name Alchemedia is the word alchemy,” Bade says. “That implies chemistry. Our culture is based on bringing different types of people together to create something new and innovative.” Austin agrees, adding that their associates—whom they refer to as chosen and hand-picked—are well aware of the building blocks of the company’s culture from the very beginning, just as Austin and Bade were aware of them when they founded TAP in 2009. “We said we were going to embrace the spirit of experimentation,” Austin says. “We were going to ask people to take risks because we wanted to find new ways to have brands effectively connect people. And when you’re encouraging people to take risks, failure is an option, so failure is okay. We don’t say, ‘Hey, why did you do that?’ We say, ‘Hey, that didn’t work. What did you learn?’”
Bade and Austin have learned many things themselves since opening TAP, one being that when people are told they’re allowed to fail, great things can happen. “Experience is the best teacher,” Austin says. When the employees aren’t driven by fear, they’re more willing to take risks, and they’re more willing to push the usual limits. “We’ve had several first-to-market services in the sector that we serve,” Austin says. “People think of us as innovators. I don’t think it’s necessarily because we’re smarter, even though I do think that we have bright people here. I think it’s because of the spirit in which we persevere through the hard stuff.”
Another aspect of the company’s culture is giving employees individual accountability, and trusting that those hand-picked team members will do their jobs. “If you want people to love where they are and have ownership of what they do, then let them have it,” Austin says. And if someone isn’t performing right, they don’t immediately pull the plug. “We don’t go to that person and say something is broken about them,” Austin says. “We’ll say, ‘Maybe we don’t have them in the right spot yet.’” Then they’ll figure out what job might best fit their skill set. “A lot of managers try to fix people’s weaknesses,” Bade says. “We leverage their strengths.”
And while individual respect, spirit of experimentation and willingness to take risks are all huge driving points in TAP’s culture, Bade and Austin also understand the importance of their employees being able to have a good time. TAP has a culture club that plans various parties, lunches and activities on at least a monthly basis, and they even have an annual TAP camp day where the entire team loads up and heads outdoors. Although on the surface it’s about beer and food and sunshine, it’s also serving a greater good: giving the associates a chance to free up their minds. “Happy people are free to create,” Austin says. “They have the mind space for creativity.”