Canines, culture and creativity
This is probably the fluffiest article ever on Mumbrella.
What, if anything, does having a pooch on the premises add to company culture? Does man’s best friend contribute to the creative process? Or do they, much like procurement types, tend to bark at people and shit on everything?
Like graffiti on office walls, a dog in the agency is one thing I’ve noticed a lot lately on my travels around adland. I wondered if lap dogs in hospital wards help the healing process, what role do they perform in an ad agency?
The first agency I noticed for its canine credentials was Spinach Advertising, an agency in Melbourne, a city where I’ve noticed plenty of dogs in agencies.
I was at Spinach’s office in St Kilda to catch up with their media director Ben Willee. After walking out of the lift, I was met first by a receptionist, then by Ben, and seconds later a bounding Staffordshire Bull Terrier called Barney.
Happily, I love dogs. And despite Barney’s powerful odour, I was instantly reduced to a coochy goo-ing simpleton.
Spinach first took in dogs 13 years ago, when the agency started.
One of the partners, Craig Flanders, didn’t want to leave his beloved staffy Gracie at home. So he snuck her into the office early and hoped that building management didn’t notice her. Things seemed to go well, and one or two days a week became three or four.
Sadly, Gracie is no more. And now the role of chief morale officer has been passed down to Barney, who has had a caricature of him drawn (at the top of this page) and his own Facebook page.
Patting a pooch is scientifically proven to boost the immune system and lower anxiety, depression and blood pressure.
Dog petting leads to an increase in all the positive brain chemicals. Dopamine, oxytocin (known as the “love drug”, which is also released during orgasm), prolactin, beta-endorphin, and norepinehrine. These chemicals are connected to feelings of exhilaration, excitement, pleasure, social bonding and contentment. Dog petting also reduces the levels of cortisol, which increases during stress.
Time to swap the caffeine and cocaine for a canine?
At a time when the industry is desperate to hold on to its best people, a dog is a cheap way to keep a work environment relaxed and happy. “Our industry is going through some big changes. Every little thing we do to keep staff happy and healthy makes a difference,” says Willee.
But it takes a certain type of dog to work in an office. Like human staff, it comes down to personality.
Willee explains: “As much as we hate to admit it Barney is not a human, so he needs to be very good natured and friendly. But not too friendly. Sometimes he needs to make himself scarce. The right sort of dog can read the play and act accordingly.”
And house rules need to be obeyed.
“It’s sometimes hard to ignore a happy face begging for a few scraps of your lunch. But we learnt the hard way that accidents happen when Barney gets fed too much. So we now have a rule that nobody is allowed to feed him,” says Willee.
Like Barney, Rory, who hangs out at Melbourne social media shop Get Glossy, has her own job title. As HR manager, the cavapoo (a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Poodle) even has a page dedicated to her on the company website.
Get Glossy’s boss Peter Davis says having a dog around is a sign of a company that doesn’t take itself too seriously. When they see a dog in the lobby, candidates relax when they come in for an interview, and prospective clients get a flavour for the sort of people they’ll be working with.
“Having a dog in the office is a fairly left-field prospect and shows an agency with a sense of independence,” he says.
Like a dog who resembles its owner, does the type of dog reflect an agency’s brand? Is a funky start-up more likely to have a fashionable small dog like a Beagle, and a more established, traditional agency better suited to a Labrador?
“Any office dog needs to have a similar nature – chilled out and everyone’s friend. Our team takes energy from our dog, and vice versa. But on the other hand, no one in the office has a black perm or sleeps on the floor,” says Davis.
Dogs are as common in creative environments as skinny jeans in some parts of Melbourne. Like at Burnley Street Studios in Richmond, where Sue Perry and Damon Garrett recently launched their ad agency 1der.
A dog brings a sense of perspective, says Perry. “Dogs love you no matter what. If your work gets a kicking, the dog doesn’t care,” she says.
Garrett’s dog Benson is considered a founding partner of the start-up, but is not always an easy colleague to get on with. “Once, when we were in full flight with clients, Benson decided to leave the premises to go for a walk outside, across busy Burnley Street. The dilemma was to stop dead short when presenting, panic and take up a dog search… or pray that the beast found his way back.”
Of course, not all agencies are dog people. One company that you might think would have dogs around is media agency Ikon, well known for putting culture first. But they fired their dog.
Dan Johns is Ikon’s CEO. “We run a pretty relaxed and flexible work environment at Ikon – not many rules and regulations. Something we are keen on though is for our people to ‘do their business’ in the facilities we provide. For over ten years this unwritten rule worked well, no major dramas.”
Then someone brought their poodle Laurie to work.
“Of course, like small children, everyone’s dog is the cutest and best behaved. Perhaps the dog wasn’t briefed properly, or our induction process fell down,” Johns explains. “But the dog didn’t do its business in the facilities provided. This incident had an immediate and negative impact on company culture and creativity; pursed lips replaced smiles; accusing glances replaced hugs; pencil tapping replaced elaborate ideas sessions. The dog had to go.”
“It’s a shame, I sort of like dogs, I even own one,” says Johns. “But dogs, whether they are Dobermans or Daschunds, from Sydney or Melbourne, shit where they want, not where you want them to. It’s for that reason alone you won’t find a dog at Ikon.”
Some companies don’t allow dogs at work for health and safety reasons. None of the clients companies I asked – Coles, Nike and Cricket Australia – have dogs at work. Others, like media agency group Aegis are toying with the idea of introducing ‘pet leave’ for new dog owners.
Some companies use dogs as a crafty, one-off diversion. A boss of a Brisbane radio station brought in 100 puppies from the RSPCA one day for his staff to play with, just before the release of a demoralising set of ratings.
Clemenger BBDO Melbourne has the Pedigree account. So having dogs sniffing around the corridors of 474 St Kilda Road makes sense. For focus groups, perhaps? Besides, James McGrath, the agency’s creative chairman, is a dog lover and won’t have Scooby, a mongrel he picked up at a dog pound, left at home.
“A creative environment should not feel like work, and having a dog around brings the home into the office. It makes the place feel more human,” says Clems boss Peter Biggs.
Clemenger holds an annual dogs Christmas party in the park opposite the agency. One year Scooby disgraced himself by interfering with another dog, and was sent home early. Nevertheless, the party is a fixture on the agency calendar.
Biggsy even suggests that having a dog around helps the creative process.
“For a creative, anything that takes you out of yourself, and into another world, is a good thing,” he says. “Which is why we have pool tables and other distractions in the agency. Creativity depends on a certain amount of chaos, and dogs help create that environment.”
- Got an office dog who deserves a mention? Send us a picture (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll add it to this article.
Updated with your dog (and cat) pics:
Harry, a rescued Greyhound, at the offices of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts.
Marlon the resident Dachshund puppy at BMF Melbourne.
Wilf Sweetland’s dog Billie, who comes into production house The Sweet Shop four days a week.
Frontier Australia’s pooch Bailey. “He attends all meetings and is an expert in cross platform media solutions, he also loves to sunbathe in reception,” says group account director Jessica Woodward.
Clems Melbourne’s executive assistant Ellie Henderson’s dog Billi. “He loves to get involved in the lunch time basketball sessions,” says Henderson.
“While not a dog, Harvey (our affectionate, friendly and loyal office chum) sure acts like one, especially when it comes to food (bacon and Red Rock Deli crisps are his fave). Here he is sitting in our office microwave,” says Helen Nolan from Brand I Am.
Marketing Eye’s Maltese-Schnauzer Pippa comes into work every day with founder Mellissah Smith. Marketing comms executive Eliza Sum explains: “Our pooch meets and greets clients, attracts people to our office and entertains us when deadlines loom. She’s also great for a cuddle when we’re stressed! Of course, being a female dog in a 90% female working environment, Pip has a fab wardrobe (Lleyton Hewitt’s kids recently bought her a jacket from Harrods) and loves checking out the girls’ handbags. She’s also well-travelled and has flown to Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville and Perth.”
Vida Marketing is part home to Merlin, the Collie. Creative director David Keogh says of the dog: “He loves all the staff, but in particular, can’t wait ’til the postie, Ken, turns up each day… (and Ken can’t wait to see him). Afterwards, Merlin then does the rounds with whomever’s turn it is to distribute the mail that day. We only have to hide him from one client who’s a little uncomfortable around dogs… (and of course, she’s the one Merlin inevitably jumps up on!)”
Dexter the Poodle comes in to the offices of MercerBell every Monday and Tuesday.
The office dogs at RSPCA Australia, Jera, Ringo, Bella and Chip. “These are our own dogs, not shelter dogs. We actually have an Office Dog Policy,” says comms manager Elkie Stuart.
Boutique Sydney ad agency Task2 has employed Dweezil as office manager for the last nine years. Dweezil was a stray puppy wandering the streets of Blacktown before he was rescued by Monika’s Doggie Rescue, which is where Task2 director Leanne Pyne found him. “From there, Doggie Rescue became our charity client,” says Pyne. Dweezil is featured on the cover of Monika’s Doggie Rescue calendar, which is produced by Task2, as well as on billboards to promote the charity.
Maxi the Jack Russell cross at Morris Walker PR’s office in Fyshwick, Canberra, even has her own business card.
Angel, the pooch at brand communications agency Channelzero, goes to meetings with the agency’s director Francis Callanan. Angel has her own space on the website as part of the team, and, says Callanan, “shits when and where she is told and sometimes hangs on between eight in the morning to six at night without a squeak.”
Penny at post house Cutting Edge in Brisbane.
Lottie, the Cocker Spaniel, is the “office bitch” at social media consultancy Agent Sydney. “We’ve had to increase the company shoe budget significantly as she practically inhales them,” says co-founder and director Damien Eames.
Wilson is the chief canine officer at PR agency Text 100 in Sydney. “Wilson’s main duties include cuddly stress management, soothing companionship and technical support,” says content developer Mark Yeow.
“Pierre is a working dog. He works in events and PR at Vibe,” explains Maree Neale at Deadly Vibe Group.
Tuffy is the office receptionist at digital agency New Republique.
Little Bear is Raoul Bedford’s dog, who visits PlayStation’s Surry Hills offices on Wednesday and Fridays.
Free postcard company Avant Card’s pooch Poppy hangs out at its Sydney office. Avant Card has had dogs for all of its 18 years in business.
One Management Talent has had their dog Basil since the start of the year. “In an all girl office we thought it was important to have a man around and a lot nicer to Basil than being at home all day by himself,” says One Management’s Caitlin Sullivan.
Barry is the office dog at GPY&R Melbourne.
Melbourne digital creative agency August has had rescue dog Suki, a Beagle-Maltese cross, for three years now. “She doesn’t like people in flouro, so delivery guys have a hard time, but she loves clients and our staff give her lots of walks and loving,” says director of creative services Zoe Warne.
Bobbi Ray is the office dog at design agency Re. “When things get tough he jumps on a mac and creates brilliance,” says design director Brad Stevens.
Alfie is the resident Schoodle (cross between a shih tzu and a poodle) at Australian Traveller Magazine. Here he is providing inspiration for editor Georgia Rickard.
Boi is MassMedia Studios’ office pooch.
At the Australian Veterinary Association, an office pooch is perhaps to be expected. But Hugo, executive officer David Imrie’s Daschund, not only has security duties, he’s also the cover model for the AVA’s magazine Companion this month.
Inside Out PR is home to 50kg Bernese Mountain Dog Tully, seen here looking somewhat embarrassed.
Queensland design and comms firm Brio Group hired Tilly the Blue Heeler and Stella the Cocker Spaniel as part of their stress management group. Stella likes to help out on cleaning day…
At the offices of Saltmine Design Group in Chippendale in Sydney, Mavis has the job title of chief smile officer. “She never fails to put a smile on the face of everyone who walks through our doors,” says marketing manager Amy Anderson.
Here in a picture sent in by Octagon in Sydney is a black Labrador called Samson and a Beagle called Robbie. “One is our GM. The other is a dog,” explains Octagon’s strategy director Adam Hodge.
Oscar, a Spoodle, is the youngest of three dogs who visit Sapient Nitro in Sydney. His colleagues say he’s a cross between Kermit and Gonzo from the Muppets. Here he is, sprawled on the lap of one of the agency’s designers, during a meeting. “Oscar likes to bring his toys to meetings and chew on people’s laces while they are on the phone,” says client services director Georgia Antill.
Hudson, the office dog at Sydney agency The Concept, is 15 years old – that’s 105 in dog years. “Where would we be during brainstorming sessions without this little guy?” wonders creative director Alison Fowler.
Lulu, who’s half Labrador and half Ridgeback, likes eating coffee cups, says Duncan Wakes-Miller, managing parter at Core Sydney, where Lulu is a regular in their Surry Hills office.
Minnie is the office pup at Hard Hat Digital.
Ad agency Tibet has kept an appropriate breed of dog – the Tibetan White – for the last seven years “to protect us from couriers and other visitors for seven years”, says Brian Witts, the agency’s MD. Here is Jemma pictured with the dogs of clients and staff for Christmas drinks.
At the Sydney Theatre Company, Roly ‘belongs’ to the Casting Director “but really he makes us all happy,” says marketing manager Carmel England.
Bruce the French Bulldog at Whybin\TBWA\Sydney is another office pooch to have his own Facebook page.
At the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the charity says it wouldn’t be walking the talk if it didn’t have rescue pup Safari in the office. “Safari reminds us every day of why we are doing what we do,” says Naomi Schofield from supporter relations.