Employees work in a renovated Lucky Strike factory where involved partners, philanthropy and professional development are keys to success
If culture is a weapon, then McKinney follows a “no-jerk” policy (they use a stronger word) when stockpiling its proverbial arsenal, hiring talented people who also fit culturally. “We believe that there are too few great places to work, and that culture can be a competitive weapon,” said Brad Brinegar, CEO, McKinney. “The kind of people we work with matters—and we think that you don’t have to be a jerk to be talented,” he said.
“There’s an atmosphere of possibility,” said Art Director Nick Jones. “It’s about, ‘how can we make your ideas happen?’ instead of, ‘here’s why we can’t.’” In 2009, Mr. Jones was lured from a comfortable freelance life partly because of McKinney’s commitment to training employees to work laterally across media.
Still more professional development happens at the in-house Blackwell School, named for the Durham-based agency’s street address. Courses include everything from HTML5 to “How We Make Money,” a show of transparency about a topic many companies prefer to shroud in mystery.
Meanwhile, who wouldn’t love working in such a cool-looking space? Every design decision in the renovated Lucky Strike factory—including the floor plan’s 50 meeting places—was made to cultivate the exchange of ideas. Workspaces aren’t divided by discipline, and people can expect to get their own darn mail. Why? So that they bump into each other.
That includes the executive team. “The partners aren’t just figureheads,” said senior VP-Communications Strategist Gretchen Walsh, who, since presenting her case for working flextime hours in 2006, has balanced work and children on an alternative schedule. “They’re involved in the day-to-day—in shaping the work we do. So it’s not just a matter of access. They’re active participants.”
Another important ingredient in McKinney’s secret sauce is its ability to show employees that working there is more than a job. McKinney employees effect social change directly. A “Give to Get” program includes the opportunity for them to pitch their favorite charity to coworkers, who vote to determine which will become the agency’s pro-bono client. McKinney’s current “Give to Get” account is emergency-services organization Urban Ministries of Durham.
“When people can connect with things that are bigger than themselves, it creates value beyond what any paycheck can give you,” said Mr. Brinegar.
Location: Durham, NC
Giving Back: Since 2006, McKinney has hosted the Triangle Corporate Battle of the Bands, where local corporate bands compete to raise funds for charity. Taken together, the “Battles” have raised more than $300,000. (McKinney’s band Role Playaz won this year.) Proceeds were directed to a program from educational institution The Hill Center, whose Operation Literacy program provides children in the Durham Public Schools with individualized, after-school tutoring.