Crushing the Rumor-Mill: The Truth about Working in a Digital Creative Agency

By Andrea Pollock, Talent Manager

So you’ve decided that working at a digital agency might be right for you. Fantastic! You’re envisioning your first day of work in an office environment that’s the lovechild of Google and Sterling Cooper. First point of business is trying to unseat the reigning Foosball Champion of the office, and second point of business is deciding where we are going to grab our selected craft microbrews at lunch. At some point, we’ll probably come up with revolutionary ideas that will aid us in designing and building awesome, life-changing solutions that are going to completely change the way you and I walk through the world, right?

Not quite. While we do have a lot of fun, and creativity is inexorably woven into the fabric of our culture, it can be much more structured than people think. Here are some of the things that the rumor-mill would have you believe that fall far from the truth.


RUMOR: “They’re all run like startups. Frenetic pace, crazy hours, and just 6 months away from going belly up if something goes sideways.”

TRUTH: This one may be true for some, but for the most part, there’s more structure and stability than people anticipate. Smashing Ideas has been around for 20 years, and is owned by Penguin Random House, one of the largest media publishers in the world. We work with Fortune 500 clients who trust us to help guide their product development. Smashing Ideas is definitely fast-paced, but we value balance in the lives of our employees so that they can do their best work, and we can continue delighting our clients. We didn’t get to this point by engaging in risky business practices, overworking people, and ignoring sustainability. Case in point: average tenure for a Smashing Ideas employee is 6 years!


RUMOR: “The average employee is an Ivy-League educated 22-year-old guy who has been coding since he was 9 years old.”

TRUTH: Nope. Cognitive diversity is paramount to our success as an innovation-focused company. We genuinely want as many different voices contributing to the creative process as possible, and we’ve found that the best people aren’t relegated to any one specific type. At Smashing Ideas, we’ve experienced the value that diversity in age, gender, educational background, and areas of interest can bring to our craft, and we’ve seen the very real ways that it benefits our clients and our own environment.


RUMOR: “People who work at digital agencies get paid to sit around and think.”

TRUTH: Thinking is a part of all of our jobs, but in a creative design agency, there’s a steep bias towards action! We are doers and makers, and we don’t pull our ideas and insights from thin air. There are hours upon hours of research, brainstorming, and structured exercises that go into Smashing Ideas’ Motivational UX™ design process. We may not be digging ditches, but there’s plenty of sweat equity that goes into our Strategy, Design, and Development work.


RUMOR: “People who work in agencies are all super temperamental about their ideas being the best. You’re best not to make any waves.”

TRUTH: Collaboration is key! Not only do we work on diverse project teams that reach across discipline, we thrive on the feedback of our clients as well. The best idea can come from anyone, anywhere, regardless of their profession or area of expertise. Our structured brainstorms make sure to include people from Strategy, Software Development, and Design in order to be certain that a number of perspectives are represented, and the best of the best ideas rise to the top, where they can be iterated on by the entire team.


RUMOR: “I heard that they all zoom around the office on scooters, and have Ping-pong and Bimini Ring Toss tournaments. Even the CEO!”

TRUTH: OK – You’ve got us there. That part is actually true. There’s an awful lot going on at SI, and if you need to get from one meeting to the next, scooters can save time!

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