R/GA in 2010 was the biggest agency in the city. They had amassed an enormous team of talented engineers and designers. Poaching from all the other agencies in the world to pull together a best in class team that spread out across a single street in NYC that held 900 people in various buildings with a central hub in the middle. It was a time of great change for R/GA as the founder had announced a new advancement in the agency model. He was predicting a change towards more hollisitic services that built out not only marketing campaigns but full technology products. The most notable at the time being Nike+.
LBi was a grind, and I was a low-level designer taking in whatever work needed support. I was hungry for projects I could stay on for longer than a week. I wanted to design real technology for the world's biggest brands. I wanted to work with the best designers and learn in an even more competitive space. I wanted the name R/GA on my resume because it was a key to overcoming my financial struggles. I had to pay off my loans and get a solid footing, and the first step was getting big clients in my portfolio.
After 3 of my friends had were poached by R/GA, I was introduced to the recruiting team at R/GA by the same person that had taken me to LBi. He wanted to bring a talented young designer who could ride sidecar with him as he embarked on a similar mission. Climb the agency ladder by taking on more prominent and more high-profile work. I worked feverishly at night to pull together a new portfolio with my work from LBi, IBM, and a smattering of self-initiated (fake) design projects. I came to the R/GA campus in Midtown and interviewed with a seasoned and hard-nosed creative director from Russia. I got an offer the same day and left LBi from R/GA with a pay increase and a notable client to start working on. I spent the next year + working with a small team to build out a (redacted) client's financial platform that they believed would shepherd in great change for their company.
After working on the project for over a year, i was offered another role in the company. I had proven myself enough to rise to the ranks of senior designer. Since the company was large, other client teams often acted like mini agencies. The Nike group was spinning up a new team to help reinvent the internal workings of Nike, which we believed at the time would save them millions of dollars in efficiency created by our tech. After working with the team for over a year, I felt a similar itch that I had previously. I had started to sour on my role at R/GA. I saw it as too big, a massive creative factory where it was too easy to be lost. I realized that smaller agencies were creeping up with the ability to build impressive technology for notable clients but with a fraction of the team. It sounded like a place where a young designer could gain traction at a rising company: more ownership and greater chances to collaborate directly with the best in the industry.
So, once again, I started putting together an updated portfolio. Only this time, I put it behind "lock and key." At the time, I was building sites on IndExhibit, but Cargo Collective had surpassed them. I started making my site, putting a lock on it, and interviewing at the agencies I thought were best in class. I ended up with an offer from Code & Theory. In my last week at R/GA, my "locked" portfolio had been scrapped by a search engine and brought to the attention of my first client at R/GA (rhymes with Shmoldman Shmax).
My last week was a firestorm. The most prominent financial institution tried to sue me personally. The company I worked for locked me out of my phone and told me they'd be in touch. Luckily, R/GA wasn't about to back down, and even more lucky for me, I had a new job. So they told the company they had fired me, and I got to sneak out the backdoor to my new role.
Unfortunately, when it rains, it pours. I had an emergency appendectomy and was hospitalized for a week. So I sat in the hospital, finalizing my start date with my new company as I recovered from having my appendix drained out of my body. I seethed at the experience that happened to me. I thought about what agencies are and how they create profit from the ignorance of wealthy clients and the hard work of the underpaid staff.
That final experience cemented something profound within me. I would never find myself in a situation like that again. I wouldn't be pushed around anymore. I'd pay off my loans and get myself out of the hole. Then, I'd start building from the ground up.
I started my next job entirely on fire.