This is the first of a series of San Diego agency interviews for you to gain the skinny on what its like on the inside. Figure out what they look for in a resume and gather tips on how to succeed and thrive in this creative industry.
SixteenFifty is a bright, irreverent enclave of intelligent and witty outliers. Located in posh, palm tree and credit lined La Jolla, California, the agency is an airy two-story agency composed of a mash-up of a Harvard graduate, a double major entrepreneur, a valedictorian of the Art Center, a mad genius with a penchant for exotic vitamins and even wilder ideas, a wall of awards, and a mohawk poodle. Needless to say, this saucy stucco cubby is crammed full of the right ingredients to create wild, cheeky and original creativity.
You may know of SixteenFifty from its famous Las Vegas clientele, like the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Wynn Las Vegas, the Palms, Red Rock Resort and the Stratosphere, or from its local work with L'Auberge Del Mar, the Grand Colonial Hotel and its many high-end restaurants. AdAge talks about 16.50 here in "As Vegas Comes Back, Hard Rock Repositions: After Two Years with Flat Ad Budget, CMO Phil Shalala Gets Creative in Branding Hotel's Evolution" by referencing the agency as "ahead of the curve" of big-picture Madison Avenue-type agencies.
I recently spoke with SixteenFifty's team about what it is that sets them apart, and what they look for when hiring, as well as the challenges of staying "cutting-edge" in this technological culture, and what performance tips you can implement personally.
Set Apart: When you walk through the open front door of SixteenFifty, Jack the mohawk poodle greets you and you are immediately swept into a whirlwind of activity. With a open air plan of two stories, you can hear conversations taking place both upstairs and downstairs simultaneously as computers glow from every direction. It's obvious something special is going on here in La Jolla.
When talking to the team at 16.50, you notice that they work towards a strategic focused goal in record time. Stories trickle by of full, commercial quality projects done in 3 days from start-to-finish. Their action-oriented culture allows them to move freely with purpose without the encumbrance of red tape. As a witness to their agile meetings, they are quick and decisive, and most meetings take place standing up before they briskly move on to make it happen.
From naming a restaurant to completing its full look from logo to windows, textures, reoccurring visuals, silverware and chef/waiter uniforms in days, they make client meetings happen faster than you can say "lickety-split". Seriously, its impressive. An agency not for the faint of heart, they have the best from the top schools and are not afraid of profanity or the outrageous. SixteenFifty flies in the face of the mundane, as naturally as the local La Jolla gulls soar into the ocean tempests. From the adept eye of their expert designer, Wendy Belt, a former valedictorian of the Art Center, here is what an example of a detailed visual creative brief done for a high-end restaurant in a radical turnaround includes:
- · Reflections
- · Pattern Evolutions
- · Photography/Mood
- · Colors
- · Fonts: Primary/Secondary
- · Tone/Messaging
- · The Story
- · Elements
- · Spreads/Ideas
- · Old + New
- · The Experience
- · and, of course, a personal Thank You.
The way they say they work is with a "Wow", and it's true. From their gorgeous visuals and strong concepts to the targeted 360 satellite marketing, their execution is dependable and their turnaround is nimble and quick. The clients are happy, and they add new clientele to their expanding roster monthly.
Robert Earl Wells, the brilliant mastermind who weaves this smart team together, has been featured in everything from Fortune Magazine to InStyle, and often stars in many of the agencies more humorous pieces, is quick to point out that one key in every project, whether it is a core brand redesign or a commercial, is to provide differentiation. What is that key thing that makes the client different? From that strong positioning and research, they proactively deliver every time. When asked what their goal is, they seriously answer that it is "to be gnarly at the gnarliest level".
When Hiring: When SixteenFifty looks to hire someone, they keep a sharp eye out for something special. In your resume, make sure you show your added value. Put "something cool in your cover letter", whether that is something about yourself that would make them want to know more, or a personal handwritten note. Another piece of advice is to always go above and beyond. Be excellent. Be gnarly.
The Cutting Edge: As AdAge said, this agency is "ahead of the curve". From implementing scan technology that provides the user exclusive experiences to programming interactive social media hubs, they believe in "designing things on brand to the tiniest details". With the work they did for the classic L'Auberge Del Mar, they are literally on the cutting edge of design. Check out these cutting boards they did, as well as this case study:
Jay Cruickshank, a double major and entrepreneur nominated for top people under 40 in the San Diego Business Journal and San Diego Metro Magazine, has an active hand in the marketing and brand strategy of every project, as well as the social media of the agency. From starting JunkMD and naming 30 outlets, to grilling people in their Docubites, Jay not only produces video (also nominated for a Shorty Award, written up in Fast Company and has numerous ADDYs) but also edits the rough cuts while dexterously juggling everything else in midair. As a modern day renaissance man, he encourages you to:
- · Be a great listener
- · Be a strong communicator
- · Be involved in social media to fully understand it
- · Have a unique point-of-view to share
- · Always be learning and improving
- Think 5 steps ahead.
- Work hard.
- Be driven.
- Have passion.
- Go above and beyond.
Breakfast: Last, seeking to learn what fuels the fire of this cheeky agency, I had to ask: What'd you eat for breakfast? Mr. Rob Wells had a fiber smoothie with ice, flaxseed oil, a banana and psyllium husk along with two cups of green tea. Mr. Jay Cruickshank had three eggs, an avocado and water. We didn't get a chance to ask what the Harvard grad and Art Center valedictorian had, so we'll save that for another time.
At times extravagant, hysterical, impetuous, bold, and elegant, SixteenFifty's work reflects a consummation of its team's perspectives from Harvard, the Art Center, double majors, and the school of hard knocks through their spirited execution of original ideas. How gnarly.