We are an Ad Age Small Agency of the Year Award Winner

Honors by Alison Davis, COO

Why we won

When Ad Age announced Hook as a winner in the 2020 Ad Age Small Agency of the Year Awards, we were beyond excited. We are in great company with the other winners, and are proud to be a part of the cohort of agencies doing amazing things while being small.

It’s important to know that we like being small. We take pride in being small. Several years ago, Hook doubled in size. We went from 30 employees to 60 in the span of a year. It made a tremendous impact on the culture of our company, and we thought, “Mmm, let’s not do that again.” Since then, we’ve grown intentionally. Carefully. Slowly. Today we are just over 100 employees.

In this year’s Client Satisfaction Survey, the most common response for how we could help our clients be more successful was to increase staffing so they could give us more work. If our clients had their way, we’d quickly hire up, we’d embed individuals and teams throughout their organizations and we’d be at least twice the size we are now.

But the risks are too great. The experience of our people is worth more to us than the financial gain. We’ve found a structure that works for our business as a whole while providing autonomy for each individual. And we have set fairly conservative growth goals to maintain that structure.

There are many benefits of being small. In our case, it best allows us to maintain our tight-knit community and culture of collaboration, individual growth, and nimble client response.

A tight-knit community for collaboration

Everyone thinks their agency is the most special and we are no different. Our secret sauce is our culture. It is built around individuals who are what we call “a joy to work with.”

At the end of the day, we all spend more of our waking hours at work than anywhere else, so we want people to enjoy working together. We like to think everyone does better work alongside people they like and/or trust. Collaboration, mentorship, and transparency all come easier when you have a tight-knit community of people who like and respect working together.

Our smaller size allows us to keep a close pulse on our culture, both in how we work and the strength of our community. Because of our flexibility, we can consistently experiment with new ways to build strong relationships and easier workflows, with everyone open to trying new things and scrapping whatever doesn’t work.

Opportunities for growth and ownership

Being small also means less hierarchy, which in turn enables more room for individual growth and project ownership at every level.

In particular, our approach appeals to the ambitious makers who want more control over their career. At traditional agencies, they don’t have input into the projects they take on, what gets shown to clients or how quickly they advance. At Hook, things are different. You don’t get feedback through an extended game of telephone and you won’t find a CCO who comes in at the last minute to change everything.

Our culture sustains rapid skill development because it relies on individual and team participation. Every individual has a clear growth plan and goals, which are discussed in regular, transparent conversations between managers and direct reports. The growth is supported by an education stipend, mentorship programs, common interest clubs, and skill-sharing cohorts.

Nimble partnership for clients

For our clients, our smaller size means we are faster and more flexible. Without layers of decision-makers, we can be as nimble as our clients need us to be. All while saving time and money in the process.

For example, we recently worked with YouTube to transform the beginnings of an idea into Learn@Home, an online hub for families with kids suddenly at home due to COVID-19.

Learn@Home highlights educational videos and resources for families

Briefed on Sunday, launched on Thursday: a timeline made possible by a shared history, working closely to launch dozens of products and services. After years of functioning as an extension of their team, we knew their internal resources, understood their challenges and were able to help them respond to the situation quickly. Providing that level of partnership is just one way our small team has made a big impact.

Here’s to celebrating all the small agencies out there making a big impact on the work, culture, and opportunities for individuals in the industry across the world and here in the Midwest.