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Independent Influence: independent space and thought rules at Dallas’ Greenlight agency

Olivia Cole, Todd Lancaster and Erik Herskind of Greenlight

Welcome to Independent Influence, a weekly series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies across the country. This week we're featuring Dallas agency Greenlight and its space for creativity.

Sometimes a space can be an inspiration and a catalyst for creativity. That’s the case with the converted warehouse that is Greenlight, an independent agency out of Dallas, Texas.

Their space, and the adjoining meeting/creative spot, called HowDo, embodies who Greenlight is, their spirit of independence and their motivation to bring together the Dallas creative community.

“During the last year and year and a half, we really kind of leaned into the mindset of being a creative independent leader in Dallas. That’s been a part of how we have structured our company, from the space we chose, where we relocated our offices, even dedicating an entire section of our new space to bigger thinking. For us, the word independent naturally comes out of high level of curiosity and creativity,” said Erik Herskind, co-founder and chief executive officer at Greenlight.

Herskind and co-founder and chief operating officer Olivia Cole opened up shop in Dallas in 2006 with a vision to form an independent agency. They have remained small and independent for over a decade now, moving offices three times until they found their dream space in the city’s “design district”, the Trinity Industrial District.

That space has become a gathering spot for the city’s creative industry, one that allows the agency to rub shoulders with other independent thinkers.

“We’re not just an ad agency, we’re not just a creative shop. We want to be independent explorers. That’s what we do, that’s kind of our mantra,” said Todd Lancaster, Greenlight’s creative director.

A space for creatives

Independent exploration now has a location in HowDo, the adjacent meeting space separated by a glass wall from Greenlight. There, aside from renting the space for meetings for creative types, Greenlight hosts a monthly gathering called The Doers. It features different creators and ‘doers’ in the community presenting what they’re working on, or something they want to feature.

“It’s a blend of them talking about what they do and how they’re part of Dallas, and how there’s a unique creative element to Dallas that can be interpreted in many different ways. We’ve had authors and muralists come in,” said Herskind.

“Once a month, we can open our doors and have anyone in Dallas, everyone’s invited. You can walk into our shop, understand the philosophies about why people are doing what they’re doing. People are doing stuff and we want to give those people a voice in the heart of Dallas for people to do that,” added Lancaster.

The Greenlight space was built for the employees and opening up their creativity with an atmosphere that is comfortable, flexible and freeing for those who want to think. Translated over to HowDo, people outside the agency can have access to a place that safe to work and create, according to Cole.

“We’re in an incredible neighborhood that is very much true to its original intention. These are all warehouse spaces and very creative people have moved in and have taken over spaces. So we got to work on the branding for this space. We named it HowDo – the tagline being ‘Change the Way You How, Change the Way You Do.’ It was very much built as a small replica of Greenlight, and the way we work and the way we (come up with) ideas,” she said.

Cole added that they learn from the people that use the space, and HowDo is also used as a kind incubator. When they develop ideas for clients – they work a lot with hotels and lifestyle brands – they are able to test things there, which gives their people the opportunity to do things that are “wild and crazy,” according to Cole.

“The way that the Doers has played out has given them a blank canvas to just create. We can have a lot of fun with it and do cool things,” she added.

Having a free-thinking space allows the agency to bring original ideas to clients as well. Lancaster said that the agency is always creating content, so when they can tap into authentic people and see what’s happening in local art, trends and thought leadership, they can take that back to our clients in real time and give some direction. Surrounding themselves with creative people rubs off in a way that he thinks doesn’t happen in traditional cubicles and high rise buildings. Considering Greenlight’s clients can use the HowDo space for free also means that there is a free flow of ideas.

While clients and employees can all use the HowDo space, they have to use it with an intention to get something done, not just to eat lunch or take a call.

“We tell the Greenlight people, don’t go over there to eat a sandwich, that’s not what it’s for. If you go over there, it’s with intention, it’s with a plan. That guideline has helped frame people’s use,” said Herskind.

Greenlight and HowDo were designed by Cole and designer Billy Milner and blends vintage pieces with modern touches, and Cole says that people feel at ease in the space, which includes a chef’s kitchen, plenty of light and plans for a rooftop deck, since the space has uninterrupted views of the Dallas skyline.

“It’s easy to move around and it holds a lot of people, which is really important, especially for this community. What’s awesome about being a creative in Dallas is that the community is really rallying for you to succeed, and they bring a lot of people to these events,” said Cole.

Independence shows in the work

The Greenlight space obviously provides plenty of inspiration, which the staff say shows in the kind of clients they work with and the work they do. They have a unique mix of big and small clients, ranging from La Quinta hotels to local vodka to a café that trains those just out of the juvenile court system how to be a part of the restaurant industry so they can learn life skills and be employable.

“The smaller things that we are able to work on as an independent agency, and the way we are set up, allows us to work on things that are a little different. A year and a half ago we started working with a new brand, Texas Wildflower Vodka. We got to name the vodka, we got to create the brand for the vodka, and because it is a startup, we’re using influencer marketing as a tool to grab a foothold in the Dallas market. At Greenlight, we all pitch in,” said Cole. “The minute we stop exploring and doing things that people haven’t done before, we’re gone. We have to stay true to the reason that these guys hired us – because we are independent.”

Added Herskind: “For us, our independence allows us to have a more confident tone in our project work. We don’t feel constricted by any outside forces that are guiding us to do things a certain way or politicize things in any way, with holding companies. We’re just really glad that we get to work on these cool brands and do things our way. I’m convinced that the work we are able to produce would not be the work that we can produce if we weren’t of an independent mindset.”