Small Agency of the Year, Best Culture, Gold: Modea

Want to Work at This Blacksburg, Va., Shop? Be Prepared to Bring the Whole Family, Do Good Deeds -- and Possibly to Never Leave

By Published on .

The grass is not greener on the other side. If you're working at Blacksburg, Va.-based digital agency Modea, that is .

Modea Mad Men party
Modea Mad Men party

Since 2006, when David Catalano and Aaron Herrington opened Modea's doors a stone's throw away from where they first met on Virginia Tech's campus, only two staffers have left the 80-person company for other agencies. And both -- one who defected to AKQA and the other to the Martin Agency -- boomeranged right back.

Given the agency's unique vibe, which may be best described as frat boy meets Mother Theresa, it's not surprising folks want to stay put. While clients like Verizon Wireless (their biggest account), HTC Mobile phones, Mizuno athletic wear and Chiquita foods keep Modea very busy, the agency also makes sure it leaves ample time for fun and helping the local community.

And when not enjoying chili cook-offs and potato-sack races, "Mad Men" parties, Thanksgiving turkeys and pinatas, Modea staffers devote personal time to improving the lives of others. Knowing that Appalachia is one of the poorest parts of the country, a dozen people from the agency recently spent a weekend helping a family rebuild a water well. Another trip is in the works to travel to Guatemala City to build computer labs.

The work: HTC status
The work: HTC status

"Our work environment is something you just won't see at other places," said Mr. Catalano. "The culture we've formed in this first five years that we've been in business is just awesome. People are true friends with each other and the environment is one of team motivation and team success."

Modea -- which means "modern ideas" -- is becoming a magnet for talent nationwide. Despite its location nestled in the small, college town of Blacksburg, it has recruited execs from cities like Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta and Austin.

As a key part of the hiring process, the shop encourages potential candidates to bring their families when they come visit its Virginia headquarters. And once they've relocated, the agency will link them up with other Modea families in order to get information about schools, real estate, day care -- whatever they may need to know to settle in quickly and comfortably. "Blacksburg is not for everyone," Mr. Catalano said, "but the quality of life is one that 's appealing to a lot of people."

Considering Modea's lack of tolerance for the typical revolving door at most industry companies, appealing to spouses and kids is a smart tactic. Said Mr. Herrington: "We think of everything from a long-term perspective...we're not looking for people who are going to bounce around, we're looking for people who are going to make a commitment, just like we are making a commitment to them."

Messrs. Catalano and Herrington each have a 50% stake in the shop and say they're committed to keeping Modea totally independent in order to ensure ultimate decision-making capability over the clients they work with, content they create, and people they hire.

Modea is prepping for explosive growth over the next two years, and is already building a bigger office to house an anticipated 200-225 employees to help support projected revenue of around $25 million.

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