The Innovative Horse

Jörg Pierach and his crew at Fast Horse are leading through nonconformity and in doing so, proving that sometimes the fastest horse is actually the most innovative one.

By Nancy Eike

From the get-go you realize Fast Horse Inc. is a little different than most other public relations/marketing/advertising agencies. Take the name: In a business where most agencies brand their companies with the founders' last names or some lexical mixture thereof, Fast Horse, to say the least, is different.

And that's exactly what founder Jörg Pierach was shooting for when he opened the doors of his boutique consumer marketing agency in October 2001, after landing an internship and spending the next 12 years at the PR giant Weber Shandwick.

"I wanted a name that would stand out a bit more," says Pierach. "I wanted it to be different."

And that's just the beginning of the innovation at Fast Horse.

Pierach and his staff of seventeen spend their days in their über-creative collaborative space in North Minneapolis with its open concept, cozy furniture and unassigned seating arrangements. Or they spend their days in coffee shops or at home, with their dogs snoozing under their desk, or in a restaurant eating sandwiches, or pretty much any place they'd like; you see, Fast Horse employs the hot-desking philosophy that allows employees to basically work wherever they want as long as they're productive.

In an effort to kick up their technology a few notches, two years ago they ditched their typical website for a daily blog, aptly named the Idea Peepshow, which is a compendium of ideas, information, client lists, projects, videos and a whole lot of other interesting stuff; each day a staff member offers up fresh content on anything from stuffed-animal purses to group buying sites to, oh, yes, marketing and advertising nuggets.

"We wanted to create something where we could showcase our thoughts and bring people into the culture," says Pierach. "Our site traffic has gone through the roof because people come back every day to read the new posts, and it's allowed us to get the traffic that agencies many, many times our size are getting."

They have the "Coveted Parking Spot," spa gift certificates for jobs well done, the "Best Year Ever" vacation for the employee who has made the most impact in a given year and the "Muse it or Lose it" perk where employees can take macramé lessons, learn how to play a harp, go rock climbing-basically anything that would help get those creative juices flowing.

"It's little programs like that that we're constantly using to keep our talent happy, and to push each other to try new things," says Pierach, "because that type of innovation ultimately moves the whole vision forward."

In another nod to that innovation, they're pushing the social media parameters by literally hiring an intern via Facebook. Close to 400 candidates compiled a digital informational interview, joined the Fast Book Experience on the Fast Horse website and created some buzz to get themselves one step closer to the job-the ultimate hands-on foot in the door. Pierach and staff interviewed a handful of the candidates, narrowed them down to three, and Facebook fans determined who got the gig. 

"What's really gratifying about the whole situation is that the candidates are from all over the country, and from great schools that we might not have been able to reach," says Pierach. "It's created a fair amount of excitement and is a new way to engage people and find talent; we don't know of anyone else who's done it quite this way."

But, in the end, it's all about putting this innovation to work for the clients. Fast Horse has worked with small nonprofits to locally owned Marvin Windows, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and Radisson Resorts and Hotels to some of the largest companies in the world, including Coca-Cola.

They've helped create buzz for The Next Big Thing, a cooperative of apple growers who, along with the University of Minnesota, are developing a brand new apple, Sweet Tango, that will, they hope, give Honeycrisp a run for its money; they've aided a super-hero-loving boy to find his calling ,in a short film for Radisson Hotels and Resort to promote their Freddy Frees Friday; encouraged more than 120,000 visitors to the Minnesota State Hockey Tournaments to eat better and move more with their work on the "doCampaign" for Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the list goes on.

Their hard work has paid off and those at Fast Horse have garnered numerous awards and industry accolades. And it appears the time is right for smaller companies such as Fast Horse to keep going strong.

"I think nowadays larger companies, blue-chip marketers, are really much more interested in creative, innovative agencies than going with the safe choice," says Pierach. "In this economic environment it's not about the size of the agency, but how creative you can be. It really seems that big ideas trump big budgets."