If you were to walk into one of BLKBX Creative Group’s brainstorming sessions, you might be surprised to learn that the group — decked out in costume, surrounded by themed props and assuming character identities — isn’t workshopping a skit but pitching a high-profile entertainment client.
It’s the norm at the Los Angeles-based digital agency, where each employee’s talents and passions are nurtured to influence the company’s work. With social strategists who double as standup comedians, creatives who train as MMA fighters and diehard racecar fan social media managers, BLKBX draws out the individuality of its talent to drive its business forward.
“Our culture is a mixed bag of tricks of creatives. We have really colorful characters who have talent and are able to utilize it in the agency lifestyle,” said BLKBX CEO Frank Donner. “I want [the agency] to be a virtual playground.”
Embracing these individual interests is critical to not only shaping BLKBX’s company culture but also shaping the company’s work. “We’re making sure that our work-life balance is all in one,” said Donner. “People love what they do, they talk about it at home, it inspires them and then it gets re-circled back into the work.”
Primarily an entertainment agency, BLKBX lists big names like Disney, DC Comics and Pixar among its roster of clients, which is a draw to many of its employees. Case in point: One of BLKBX’s client services managers, a fanatic for all things animation, regularly comes to work dressed as different Disney characters.
True acts of passion like hers have deeply influenced BLKBX’s core, encouraging the team to engage with the work on such a level and truly connect with the clients. A BLKBX producer interpreted this passion during a pitch for Ang Lee’s movie Life of Pi, in which she related Pi’s loss to her own harrowing story of leaving Vietnam at seven years old, and a social media strategist’s love of IndyCar even initiated the agency’s partnership with 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi and Team Rossi Motorsports.
“We try to build a unique openness so that people feel the ability to speak deeply about something,” Donner said. “[Our connection with clients] is happening at the ground level because of our team’s fandom… We’re engaging our clients as real fans, and they see it.”
BLKBX’s unique brainstorming process contributes significantly, fostering the agency’s passions and talents. “When we’re working on a campaign, we really live and breathe the campaign,” Donner said, pointing to a recent Nordic-themed brainstorm, which featured inspirations from Nordic foods and artwork plastered on the walls to the team dressed as the characters and donning furs, Viking hats and kilts. Once, Donner himself went to the lengths of cutting his long locks to inspire the team during its pitch for Barbershop 3.
But the talent nurturing doesn’t stop there. BLKBX is constantly exploring the team’s passions and interests through a number of agency-supported programs, including weekly talent forums, employee-organized outings to museums and movie screenings and even a recently added $10,000 grant that allows employees to further develop their talents.
“We have a really key understanding that we want peoples’ passions to be driven here… We’ve landed new clients and new verticals that are taking us to unique places, and it’s because we’re trying to get at the core of what makes people tick,” Donner said. “This is a new age for agencies, and it comes to how you’re going to engage and inspire your talent and tap into their strengths.”
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