The Portland Creative Agency That Believes Happiness Is a Faceful of Pie

Renowned local firm Sockeye combines staff morale, self-branding, and delicious whipped cream.

By Rachel Sandstrom July 27, 2015

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A Sockeye staffer models the firm's latest fashions. Image courtesy the agency.

 “Everyone talks about getting a pie in the face, but nobody actually does it,” says Sara Guest, a project and resource manager at the Portland creative agency Sockeye. “It’s actually really enjoyable to get a pie in the face. It’s soft, smells good, and quite delicious.”

Sockeye’s staff of art directors, designers, writers, developers, and producers found this out  recently, when the whole crew took staff photos in costumes, makeup, and hair inspired by the 2012 Paul Thomas Anderson movie The Master (a film set in the 1940s)—and then had pies planted on their faces.

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Themed staff photos are no great innovation in Portland’s booming creative industry; the lobby of Weiden & Kennedy has long displayed a wall covered in a black-and-white pantheon of that agency’s employees. But as far as we know, Sockeye—known for work for clients like Travel Portland, Adidas, Portland State University, and Keen—is the first to post before/after face-pie shots on their website.

They used real pie crust filled with whipped cream—and “not cheap-ass whipped cream,” Guest tells me as Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” plays through the office speakers at the firm's North Broadway headquarters. True to industry self-image, the Sockeye crew consists of  creative types who thrive on frenetic energy and outbursts of fun. The agency's monthly “recess” for staff has featured a waterfight, dodgeball, paper airplane contests, and hide-and-seek in the office.

To Guest, it’s all part of a company culture that prizes authenticity. “Pulling out the artifice in client relationships and understanding brand at a deep, basement level is important to good creative work,” she says. The wall-sized mural at the front of the office encourages staff to “do epic shit,” and that mentality shows through in corporate-culture methods disguised as madness. Amidst all the recess silliness, an undercurrent of team-focused brand and advertising work runs through. It's like Mad Men, only fun, and without the undercurrents of existential despair.

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