Indie Influence: How homemade album covers & photography keep creative hearts beating at Drumroll

Diorama created by Kirk Drummond, co-founder and chief executive of Drumroll

Welcome to Indie Influence, a series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies across the country. This week we're featuring Drumroll's Perspectives project, which tasks employees with completing an artistic challenge once a month.

Taking a break from client work to play with miniature figurines, mess around with disposable cameras and concoct memes might sound like a waste of time to some agency execs, but at Austin-based brand experience and engagement agency Drumroll, this kind of behavior is encouraged. It’s all part of the 10-year-old shop’s Perspectives project, an internal initiative that encourages employees to step away from their day-to-day responsibilities and find inspiration in their surroundings.

Perspectives started roughly three years ago as a way to help employees creatively recharge and think outside the box. According to co-founder and chief executive Kirk Drummond, the goal is to provide staffers with opportunities to experiment with mediums that they may not usually work with in their daily role, something he thinks can ultimately help them approach their client work with a refreshed mindset and innovative thinking.

Here's how it works: each month, a new Perspectives challenge is set for employees. One of the first challenges tasked staffers with photographing how shadows and light manifest themselves in the world, which resulted in a series of photos that showcased how each person interpreted the assignment. Another challenged each member of the Drumroll team to use a singular Post-it note as a creative canvas.

Once each challenge is completed, the results are curated online so staffers can take a look at each other's. One of Drummond’s favorites to date was inspired by Tatsuya Tanaka, a Japanese photographer who creates miniature dioramas using tiny figurines and everyday objects. When Drumroll’s staffers were tasked with creating their own mini dioramas, many of them ran with the concept to create funny, thought-provoking scenarios. One person used a crumbled piece of brown paper to create a hill for the figurines to summit, while another used a few dabs of Sriracha sauce to construct a murder scene.

“The diversity of what people did with it was really funny. It’s funny to see what people come up with,” he says. “The one I did was a bunch of characters sitting on Life Savers on spilled milk. It looked like they were literally trying to be saved from the spilled milk.”

Aside from providing staffers with a creative outlet, Perspectives also gives employees the chance to learn more about one another’s skill sets and interests, both of which Drummond says help contribute to the hyper-collaborative and fun culture that he is continually trying to foster at the agency. Some Perspectives assignments have even doubled as team-building efforts to help coworkers get to know one another outside of a strictly work context — for example, one asked employees to write a mini biography about one of their colleagues using only an image and a short story.

“Culturally, we draw a lot of inspiration from each other,” says Drummond. “I think that means that you have to constantly give people a chance to talk about something other than work. Because if you’re not careful, you only get to know the people around you through the context of work you’re doing for a client. I think things like Perspectives are all chances to get to know the team the you’re working with. You may have worked with them for years, but you still get to know them at a deeper level and draw inspiration from their creativity, their unique perspective.”

Another way the agency fosters a sense of community within its walls is through its Album Covers project, which tasks new employees who join Drumroll with creating an album cover that reflects something about themselves. After their first week at the agency, employees are asked to pitch their album cover concept to the rest of the team.

After the pitch, these new staffers are encouraged to ask their colleagues for help on the assignment — whether they’re looking for photography, illustration or writing chops, Drummond says the whole point of the experience is to give employees who might have that “new kid on the block” feeling a chance to collaborate with their new coworkers right off the bat while sharing a bit about themselves throughout the process. Once the album cover is complete, it’s hung in Drumroll’s lobby alongside everyone else’s.

“Since most people need help with some part of the assignment, they quickly get the opportunity to work with their new teammates in a fun, positive way,” says Drummond. “When they're done, they reveal their final result at Fuel, a weekly catered lunch designed to let us connect with each other beyond our working relationships. In the process, I think they really get a sense of the Drumroll culture and how supportive it is and how fun everybody is. We find that it breaks the ice down really quickly to where they feel like cultural Drumrollers very quickly.”

According to Drummond, having the freedom to create things like Album Covers and Perspectives on a whim without having to go through any sort of formal processes or planning is one of the biggest perks of being independent.

“One of the greatest benefits of being independent is that you can move quickly to do things that you think will have a positive impact on the team," he says. "I think there is a real correlation between being able to do programs like this and the ability to be nimble. One of the things that we said about these programs early on is we don’t want them to be a burden. So we’ll stay attached to them as long as they feel like they’re providing value. We’re intellectually hungry people. We’re going to get bored with stuff and want something new to think about, so we’ll adapt as we go.”

Indie Influence is supported by Choozle, an independent digital advertising platform.

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