Danny Koteras took the miniature basketball behind an office cubicle partition.
“I call this one the blind intern,” he said before bouncing his no-see shot off the pint-size goal. No matter. Laughter filled the third-floor creative circle at Stone Ward, maybe the zaniest office space in town at 3 in the afternoon.
The advertising agency’s 47 employees in downtown Little Rock, and six more at its Chicago office, find that fun and games — among other amenities — leaven a stressful workload.
A game of P-I-G, the shorter version of the match-my-shot contest H-O-R-S-E, is a gleeful afternoon tradition and one small reason for the firm’s recent selection by PRWeek as one of the nation’s best places to work in the agency world.
When employees aren’t playing basketball at 3, they’re playing trivia games at the circular table near the hoop. The backboard sports a bright capital O, Stone Ward’s logo.
“I’m one of the 30 percent of people who have been here at Stone Ward for more than 10 years,” says Koteras, a creative director. “In fact I’ve been here 17, almost 18 years now. I can’t imagine working anywhere else.”
PRWeek put Stone Ward’s workplace in the top dozen or so ad agencies and in-house communications departments among 78 agencies that competed, and the firm was one of just four midsize agencies (51 to 200 employees) honored.
It’s the kind of office where dogs and scooters roam the halls, everybody gets an extra week off at Christmas and food — “great fruit, veggies, basically anything you want for lunch” — is constantly available in the Skybox, a windowed aerie with views of the Arkansas River and the River Market district.
A good physical work space is important, but flexibility and work-life balance are paramount, said Millie Ward, the agency’s president and half of the Stone Ward name. The other half comes from her husband and business partner, Larry Stone.
While the firm keeps traditional office hours, it treats team members “like adults,” Ward says, letting them work from home without taking leave time if they have family or personal obligations. “Your career is not your life,” Ward said, quoting a company maxim and noting that Stone Ward was one of just 56 percent of agencies surveyed to be rated “excellent” in work-life balance. It also got perfect grades from employees for its performance reviews.
“They are important for career development, and we look at them as a way to not only tell employees what we expect, but to hear their aspirations and what they want to work on,” Ward said. “We’re not a boastful office, and reviews give people full permission to go sit down with the boss and brag about themselves.”
Stone dropped by to say he still has fun at work. “If I didn’t still enjoy it, I’d be paying attention to the folks who keep asking me why I’m not down in Mexico or some other beautiful place, taking it easy. But they call me boss, so I’m not the best person to judge.”
O.K. Let’s let the employees talk.
Brian Pappalardo, a digital specialist, likes his co-workers: “Some of the smartest people, I think, in town work in this building.” Bill Brookshire, a creative director, appreciates the Friday staff meetings, where colleagues share highlights of service to clients and trumpet personal victories. “And once a month,” he says, “we do free breakfast and everybody can leave at 2” if the workflow allows.
“We work hard but we also play hard,” said Mandy Wilkinson, a media planner/buyer. “Every afternoon you can find us at the creative roundtable either playing P-I-G or trivia, and our field trips and our parties are a great way to grow the team.”
Anna Clare Pearson, another media planner/buyer, draws inspiration from “puppy time.” Playing with the dogs, she said, is a great pick-me-up. “Furry friends are always welcome … they help lessen stress and jog our creative spirit,” said Liz Hamilton, a PR account executive. One pooch getting adoration in the office a week ago was Holly Jolly, winner of Little Rock Soiree magazine’s cutest dog contest.
But there are bigger perks, too. Dana Dussing Berry, a PR senior account manager, described the rewards of reaching 10 years at the firm: “In your 10th year, you get an extra week of paid vacation and a $2,500 check that goes toward travel. So I used it to go on a big trip with my roommate from college, and I got to go to Europe for the first time.”
She has a picture of herself at the Eiffel Tower to prove it.