Freckles, gapped-tooth smiles, bowl cuts and pigtails highlight Strada Advertising’s bio page. When the fast-growing agency — which specializes in “placemaking branding” for communities, developments and mixed-use locations — found itself searching for a new office space that could accommodate its team, Strada embraced the branding serendipity. The Denver-based space? A former elementary school.
“It was actually perfect for us. Because we are an insatiably curious team, we are always learning, so what better office than a schoolhouse?” says Jenn Salvatore, Strada’s Creative Services and Operations Director. In fact, that shared passion for exploring has helped the 22-year-old agency to not only stay relevant but build a great roster of clients, nation-wide.
Strada, which opened its doors as an advertising agency in 1998 and extended its marketing and branding services through the years, found a great niche at the intersection of placemaking and marketing. Its team marries the disciplines of geography, history, psychology, planning, and branding to help articulate the essence of a place — and even envisions and builds excitement for some new developments before the ground-breaking. That business has really put Strada on the map and has led to its doubling in size over the past few years.
In 2015, the firm had 16 people, a growing client roster, and was moving offices. Jenn, a seasoned creative services manager, had recently agreed to take ownership of people operations as well. She inherited numerous, onerous paper processes, like filling out a printed form for every vacation request. It was hampering their ability to scale, so Jenn started looking for HR software. She found Zenefits.
“Here, we are all multi-disciplinary and jump in wherever needed to add value. As we grew, we needed to formalize HR, so I became a student of HR. The first big step was writing the company handbook. This was a labor of love that is our first impression to new employees. We managed our handbook distribution through Zenefits and it is so clean and well put together.
“In the last few years, our company has doubled in size,” said Jenn. Zenefits has made it easier to scale up. From onboarding new people and managing benefits, to payroll processing, requesting and approving time off, and performance management: all of these are seamless and streamlined with Zenefits.
“Best of all, it’s easy to use. It is a smart, intuitive, and mobile interface. The things that used to take days to process through analog paperwork now take minutes. It’s accurate and accessible.
When it comes to managing our people operations, Zenefits is an online resource we can’t live without.
Resilience in Action: Anticipating vs. Waiting
The ability to envision outcomes makes the Strada agency sought after. It has also helped them triage, reset, and support their clients when the pandemic struck a huge blow to US business in the spring of 2020.
“We were quick to be ready and available to our clients. We decided Thursday, March 12th to begin working remotely and quickly moved into action to help our clients pivot their plans. We even hosted a forum to bring them together to explore ideas.
“The future is uncontrollable, but you can shape your participation in it with hustle, opportunism, and diversification,” says Jenn. “We’ve even added new business since sheltering in place.”
Jenn says that the leadership team expected that the economy would decelerate in 2020, so even though it had a record year in 2019, they chose to stay lean. Jenn credits Strada’s three strategic priorities for the year for setting it up better to manage the new normal: organizational optimization, a culture of empowerment, and a focus on joy and well-being.
That said, Strada also secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan to bolster its business during this uncertain period.
“Each of us continues to evolve and contribute to our new normal. We are getting really efficient at working remotely, optimizing our skill sets, processes, and contributions at this moment. We will have new capabilities and offerings for clients. And we know how to find amazing partners, like Zenefits, to provide coverage so we can make work happen anywhere.
Leaning on a Virtual Community
Jenn is involved in many HR organizations to continue to advance her skills, to stay ahead of compliance issues, and to gather examples and ideas on how to balance the black-and-white staffing regulations with compassion.
“HR people are responsible for listening and problem-solving for the business, so it is helpful to have a network of other people leaders where we can lean on each other. There’s a generosity in HR groups like the Zenefits’ customer community, ClubZen, where I go to learn and share.
She also leverages Zenefits’ new small business news site, Workest, for timely articles. And listens to Zenefits’ weekly HR Office Hours video recordings to stay in front of coronavirus specifics.
“I love that Zenefits stays on top of things like the PPP loan. I’ve watched each video several times and shared the knowledge with our leadership team. In one week’s time, so much can change. I appreciate that Zenefits has empathy for how complex this is and is working to make it digestible and actionable.”
“From the products to the community, I am always excited to tell new hires and colleagues we use Zenefits for all of this. Zenefits does not disappoint: it does what we need and so much more.”