Swift Collective's Profitable Playground

Big-time clients flock to the local digital marketing agency.

By Tamara Feingold February 19, 2013

By nine in the morning, Swift Collective’s offices are a bustling terrarium of activity. Clusters of brainstorming employees nursing coffee mugs huddle near an atrial sitting room. Velvet-eared dogs lounge on Pendleton wool pillows. Contestants are already lining up at a local Phloem Studio black steel Ping-Pong table. Amid the chaos: Liz Valentine, who is silently pointing an arrow from a strained, custom-designed bow at a target 30 feet away. 

“It’s really cathartic,” she says. “There’s something about archery that’s extremely exhilarating, yet there’s a lot of sport to it.” 

Valentine (on the left), 38, and cofounder Alicia McVey, 39, crafted this Pearl office-cum-playground as the headquarters of their digital marketing agency last May, after leaving their NW Upshur Street warehouse. Founded in 2007, the company employs 27, designing social media strategies, websites, and mobile apps for everyone from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Barre3 to Hawaiian Airlines and Disney. 

The duo met in 2004 while working for Lucy Activewear in digital marketing and graphic design. Before long, a certain Portland itch set in, and they traded in stable careers to open their own studio. 

“Pretty much the minute we opened our doors we were busy, and it hasn’t stopped,” says Valentine, who boasts a degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Portland has this ‘if you want it, do it’ attitude. That’s very freeing.” 

—Alicia McVey


McVey, who has a communications degree from the University of Texas, and Valentine credit their success to being able to attract top talent to their work environment. Employees jog in groups on lunch breaks (a tradition aided by the in-office shower), schedule a hundred-guest holiday party and snowy mountain trips, and make annual pilgrimages to watch birds dive into a chimney at Northwest Portland’s Chapman Elementary School (Vaux’s swifts, hence the company name). Building that creative environment has paid off: Swift has seen 50 percent growth each year since opening and 100 percent growth over the past year.

McVey, who handpicked the new office’s décor items, says their success is one of culture as much as economics. “We liked the idea of these different people coming together to create something really wonderful.” 


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