How Does the Largest Independently Owned Ad Agency Inspire Award Winning Creativity?
THE RICHARDS GROUP has a new headquarters – and it is not your everyday office building – but more like a concept car. Prominently located near Dallas’ West Village area, the innovative design of the nation’s largest independent advertising agency rivals Silicon Valley empires like Google with thoughtful customization for a unique work culture. These creative giants seem to intuitively understand the power of the workplace environment, and the wisdom of investing in innovative ways to inspire creativity.
Sole agency owner, Stan Richards, chose Perkins + Will’s Ron Stelmarski to execute his vision. What they completed, within seventeen months of land purchase, is phenomenal. Let’s start with Stan Richard’s vision:
“There were several key elements I wanted to see exercised in the building. First, it needed to be a transparent building. Our place is a beehive of activity and it was important to make that apparent to people walking or driving by. Second, there’s the critical nature of our stairwell as it’s a huge element of our culture. It needed to be bigger and better than before. And third, I wanted a fitness center that would generate enthusiasm among our associates to have exercise be apart of people’s lives.”
The eighteen-story building is a concise, well-considered sum of innovative details that might provide clues to why The Richards Group has not only won so many industry awards, but also made multiple “Best Place To Work” lists. The workplace design details that a creative industry legend would formulate for his employees are impressive to say the least. The project’s lead designer, Ron Stelmarski, weighs in:
“I like to say that working with Stan was a situation of creativity matched with creativity. Early in the process Stan and I seemed to be on the same page and could complement one another’s ideas.
Few clients have challenged me the way Stan did – and I mean that in the best possible way. The rigorous transparency of the design was based on Stan’s belief in egalitarianism. He understands space and scale very well and often when reviewing floor plans he suggested improvements or asked questions like ‘can we have fewer structural columns?’ or ‘can the window mullions be smaller?’ We had to be smart about how we spent money, but the decision-making was never based on cost. Each idea was evaluated on a how it enhanced the quality of space or the quality of their culture.”
Upon entering the building, the eye is drawn to a jaw-dropping wall of awards. Yet, these represent only a portion of the awards. Most in the display are advertising industry awards: Clios, Effies, AAAA, Communication Arts, Obies.
Did you know that three of the ads in this year’s Super Bowl were the work of The Richards Group: Blue Pill from Fiat, Wisdom from Dodge and Beautiful Lands from Jeep. Not bad. It is safe to say that the new offices will easily inspire continued greatness.
The Richards Group employee ID provides access to the elevators and automatically checks employees in when they enter the garage. The destination dispatch elevators have no buttons in the cabs, to efficiently handle volume during peak times of day.
Stan Richards has two rules: 1) arrive by 8:30am 2) turn in your timesheet at the end of each day. The Richards Group currently employees 700 “groupers”, with annual billings above $1 billion. Richards’ motto is “let’s go have fun”. He believes that his employees should have a life outside of the office in order to give their best efforts when they are at the office. Unsurprisingly, the average tenure of groupers exceeds the industry standard.
In the previous office, The Richards Group had a three-story stairwell.
The new office boasts one about twice the size and four stories, serving as the only place where the entire staff can gather at one time and have a view of Stan Richards on the catwalk.
The stairwell atrium is used to introduce new clients to the agency, welcome existing clients back to the agency, share any news of new business wins, new building updates, announce 20-year anniversaries or generally any thing that is important enough to come from Richards. The meetings tend to be brief, about 15 minutes or less.
“It’s a place where Stan likes to communicate important information to everyone – they all get to ‘hear it first’. Larger size, better views and a sound system were enhancements – as well as a backdrop of the highway and surrounding cityscape” says Stelmarski.
Richards believes in a non hierarchical workplace. There are no titles, which increases the level of involvement and interaction. Rather than dividing the agency by rank, title or account, The Richards Group mixes the seating up with different jobs sitting side by side to increase collaboration. “That way, people not only learn from each other, they see how hard their counterparts work. That breeds respect.”
Having said that, there are respectful tenure perks factored into the office design. The longer you have worked there, the closer you will sit to the windows. Long-term employees get their name on a room.
Every floor has an open plan with majestic views of Dallas on all sides.
When one exits the elevator on any given floor, the eye encounters a visual sea of eye-popping color.
The uncluttered diagonal rows of workstations feel disciplined; all chairs are exactly alike, allowing the eye an uninterrupted sweep across the entire floor to take in the magnificent sight of an idea-stimulating environment.
The floor-by-floor color sequence creates an optical vertical rainbow effect that can be seen at dawn, dusk or evening from afar by drivers-by and inhabitants of other buildings along the skyline – another thoughtful design detail that is perfect for an ad agency.
Stan Richard’s own office goes by the no door policy. Positioned in the middle of the 16th floor, his “non-office” is the company command center.
Photo Details: The poster is for the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations that the University of Texas named after him. The Chick-fil-A cow is an icon of the award-winning, hall of fame winning, hilarious advertising work of the agency.
There are 32 glassed-in rooms for brainstorming and telephone or video conferences.
On every floor, the ladies rooms score a panoramic view of the city. Richards thoughtfully consulted with female employees during the planning phase to see if women tended to exit the stalls dressed or undressed. Because of the feedback, he graciously gave the views to the ladies rooms- and the mens rooms, next door, are just normal mens rooms.
Even service spaces such as kitchenettes, copy areas have full access to views and daylight.
Focus Group Rooms
This theatre seats 100. Impressive design element: the seating is tiered but the floor is level. Stelmarski weighs in on this:
“Stan was the one that suggested the seating. He wanted tiered seating, but we advised against anything structurally permanent to maintain flexibility …and you see the very effective solution….he got both.”
Stelmarski on the in-house Audio Production Studio:
“The room is raised in order to isolate the recording space from the surrounding structure and prevent vibrations or other sounds from interfering. Metaphorically it’s like the carton that holds eggs to prevent them from cracking…or bubble wrap when isolating a fragile object. They had a recording space in their previous space and it gives a chance for the creative directors to work directly with the talent or remote, if needed.”
The Social Media Command Center
Meeting areas throughout-
“Stan has great design taste and is very decisive which allowed us to move quickly without sacrificing creativity. I looked forward to every meeting I had with Stan because he always brought a new idea for discussion –“ – Ron Stelmarski
Richards on health/fitness as it relates to creativity:
“Health and fitness relates to everything that a human can accomplish. If you’re fit, you’ll be more creative. If you’re fit, you’ll be more attentive; if you’re fit you’ll be more energetic and tireless. If you’re fit, you’ll be healthy. It’s central to everything.”
The Richards Group state of the art fitness center takes up ½ of an entire floor. There is no better gym in the city of Dallas – or view from a gym. Richards did not skimp on the impressive equipment or layout of this 18th floor gym that he offers to employees.
The Spin Studio. By the way, there are also 40 bike racks downstairs for those who want to ride to work.
Stelmarski on Health as a design element:
“Every dimension of the space is about healthy living. From the fitness level, to fruit in the juice bar, to walking from point to point, to wonderful panoramic views and an outdoor terrace for fresh air. While discussing the offset elevator core and the fact that those on the east side of the building had a longer walk everyone agreed that the healthfulness of the walk outshined any burden for having to walk. The building location is also expected to invite more walking and bicycling to work.”
Employees are welcome to recharge in one of the four Nap Rooms (while their car recharges in one of the 4 charging parking spaces). There is also a mommy room. And locker rooms. Richards and Stelmarski thought of everything.
Just a side note:
The Richards Group is not just an ad agency, but more of a “brand building shop” also offering full service PR to clients. This gorgeous new office building is a testament to the research and thought that goes into all efforts of the Richards Group.
One last thought about this bevy of awards- if these represent work done at the old address, BAR THE DOOR for what the new headquarters will inspire…