The Fusionfarm team shows off their cheer in last year’s Christmas photo. The agency has earned a reputation for its creativity and open atmosphere. PHOTO FUSIONFARM

 

By Dave DeWitte
dave@corridorbusiness.com

A culture that fosters creative freedom, mutual respect, collaboration and learning lifted the creative agency Fusionfarm to the title of Coolest Small Company for 2019.

“That’s the culture we’ve cultivated, one where everybody is inspiring each other to be the best,” said Director Kelly Homewood, fresh from a trip to the Ad Age Small Agency Conference in New Orleans, where Fusionfarm was invited to pitch to Procter & Gamble.

Fusionfarm is a team of about 15 creative professionals who’ve been piling up a growing number of honors for their work. Creative Director Michael Zydzik says the essence of the company’s coolness isn’t that it has a foosball table (it does), a chihuahua named Wally running around (it does) or that the group often goes out to see movies together (they do).

“We’re really not in competition with other agencies, but we are all individuals in competition with ourselves,” he said. “We come to work every day, wanting to do the best damned work in our industry.”

That can often mean challenging each other’s ideas, sharing video or music content that could inspire the next great ad, and – not every day – telling clients when to deep-six an idea they’re in love with.

Kacie Long, a “Fusionite” who’s been with the company for about a year, says the place has a family feel to it.

“I’m allowed to be who I am,” says Ms. Long, who often brings Wally the chihuahua to work with her. “I don’t have to filter.”

Fusionfarm is part of Folience, an ESOP family of companies. The employee stock ownership gives employees a clear picture of their company’s financial performance, and helps them understand how they can improve it. They are rewarded for strong performance with a higher ESOP valuation, which can mean a better retirement, or a nice nest egg to take with them if they ever move to another company.

Ms. Homewood said the company’s culture has evolved since it was launched under Mr. Zydzik and herself seven years ago. The biggest improvement, she said, has resulted from a different approach to candidate evaluation. Rather than just looking at education and skill sets, Fusionfarm focuses on identifying employees who are motivated to learn, collaborate and create. Equally important, she said, was to identify candidates with the ability and personality to respect each other and resolve disputes.

The results have been stellar. Fusionfarm has won two Emmys for its work with the Cedar Rapids Kernels and an unnamed client, and two Davey awards for its work with the Kernels. It has also received Daveys for its work with Lincoln Savings Bank, Security Coverage, JMI Labs, ImOn Communications, the city of Cedar Rapids and Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust.

In such a culture, there’s rarely a need to correct or closely supervise employees, according to Fusionite Shaina Spencer, because team members rely on each other to complete projects, and hold each other accountable when deadlines or results are at stake.

“We get the sh** done here,” Mr. Zydzik said emphatically. “Very few times do we ever have to remind someone.”

Fusionfarm is located in the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids, with floor-to-ceiling windows opening out onto Second Avenue. In addition to a feeling of being connected to the city, they have great collaborative spaces, an employee lounge and a cool audio production facility.

Although they may be texting each other at all hours of the day and night when inspiration strikes, being a Fusionite isn’t all work and no play. The team shares time at potlucks, museum tours, conferences and “FSOGSD Days,” during which the team brainstorms to discover or produce a new product or service.

Even mundane tasks like scheduling meetings are done with the aim of boosting creative flow, Mr. Zydzik says – a kind of mental zone that frees creative thought and communication.

Although millennial workers are sometimes portrayed as the office mates who don’t like to stay late or take work home, Mr. Zydzik believes they’re onto something. He says millennials are helping the rest of us understand that we should all be able to feel happy and inspired at work. And that’s what Fusionfarm’s culture strives to do.

“We are doing work that is challenging, that gets noticed and that’s super-fulfilling.”