NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Sure, Squeaky Wheel has a loft space and a communal vibe. The company put in showers and a full working kitchen, and every Friday one of the partners cooks lunch for the office. But the agency stands out for its fiscal return to employees as much as for fostering creativity outside of the client pitch.
After potentially having to lay off employees in the first half of 2009 due to client cutbacks in the recession, founder Anthony Del Monte decided instead to keep his staff intact by foregoing bonuses. After Squeaky Wheel did some brisk business in the latter part of the year, however, Mr. Del Monte not only reinstated bonuses, he did so retroactively to include the whole fiscal year. "My lawyers thought I was crazy to do that," he said. "But I knew it was the right thing to do."
Mr. Del Monte launched the shop in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks after spending time at a shop called Renaissance. "I took a few clients with me and I told them we'd work for free in 2001. And from there we grew incrementally."
So far, Squeaky Wheel has grown from two employees in 2001 to more than 30 this year with revenue approaching $4 million. But perhaps more impressively, seven employees have been given partnership stakes, making the company entirely employee owned.
"We try to trump whatever energy our employees have," said Mr. Del Monte, pointing out that one of the agency's employees has become the in-house DJ.
For client presentations, every employee is encouraged to bring ideas, no matter their station at the company or their backgrounds, and that is an aspect that has worked well for clients.
"They have a great attitude, all the members of the team," said Stefani Cohen, Revlon's senior director of media and communications. Squeaky Wheel undertook a major redesign of the cosmetic company's web presence. "They get everyone involved when it comes to the creative process, from high to low, and their creative level is very high." Ms. Cohen said the agency's 5,500-square-foot open-plan office space further lends itself to that kind of collegial ethic. As the founder, Mr. Del Monte touts the agency's working environment, which lends itself to late nights.
"The whole philosophy of how we built this space," he said, "is we spend more time together than we do with our significant loved ones. You really have to enjoy what you do to do that. It may sound like a commune, but that's how we work."
That kind of proletarian pride extends to the agency currently sponsoring three employees for work visas, which is a significant time and financial commitment. "I'm doing it because they have worked for me for two years and they want the American dream, and I think it's my duty. It just seems right," he said. Mr. Del Monte further boasts the fact that more than half of the agency's staff is female and most of the employees are minorities, including his main partner, Mailet Lopez, who is a Cuban exile. "I'm half-Italian, half-Puerto Rican, I grew up in a black neighborhood and I'm married to a Filipino," he said. "I don't go out of my way to hire minority employees. Diversity just interests me."
When asked about his unorthodox approach to fostering employee esprit de corps, he said, "We are a service business, and everything we are as an agency is based on these people. If I can't share the wealth, what's the point? I mean, who wants to work for that guy?"