Advertising Age recently named Minneapolis-based Elicit the eighth-best place to work in the industry.
But Elicit doesn’t have a place to work. Or a listed phone number. And a Google search shows a picture of the outside of the CEO’s North Loop condo.
Elicit doesn’t even call itself an advertising agency but rather “a customer centricity and marketing strategy consulting firm.”
“We have evolved and the market has started to recognize that it is not just about the discipline of customer analytics nor is it just about the discipline in a creative agency and big ideas,” Mason Thelen, co-founder and chief executive of Elicit, said in an interview last week — in his loft.
“All of these things are starting to meld together,” he said.
Ad Age came up with its annual list of 50 “best places to work” based on surveys from agencies and their employees. The list is packed with big-name creative agencies with brag-worthy office perks like weekly on-site masseuses and machines that give employees free beer for updating time sheets.
Elicit, which has 34 employees, was the only Minnesota company to be featured this year. Last year, Minneapolis-based agencies Carmichael Lynch, Colle + McVoy and Haberman made the list, though they didn’t rank as high as Elicit.
Elicit was recognized as an enjoyable place to work for several reasons. The company hosts weeklong team-building activities called Mind Melds that are a combination field trip and TED Talks, where employees present various topics and have fun together. Elicit offers personality testing and career coaching to all staff. Another bonus is that employees work remotely.
“We decided early on that we would be a virtual organization so that we can draw talent from anywhere we want,” said Chuck Densinger, chief operating officer and co-founder of Elicit. “They can live where they want to because we typically travel to client sites anyway.”
There are about 10 Elicit staffers in the Twin Cities area with others located all over the country, in places like Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles. There was a time during the beginning of the company’s seven-year history that it rented a 4,000-square-foot office in an old brick and timber building. Barely anyone used it and they let the space go, Thelen said.
Elicit frequently embeds staffers in its client’s internal teams, where they wind up working several days a week at clients’ offices.
“We are teaching them to fish in the trenches with the people that still have to apply this stuff and that’s a pretty unique thing,” Thelen said.
The Elicit team works to help companies optimize their data and use it with the help of technology to make decisions in marketing, user experience, product development or other areas.
“All of those things help our clients make more money,” said Heather Johnson, Elicit’s chief strategy officer.
Some of Elicit’s clients have included Best Buy, Pier 1 Imports, and vacation rental site HomeAway, which was sold for nearly $4 billion to Expedia last year. The firm’s most recent client is newly rebranded cybersecurity company Intel McAfee.
For the last four years, Elicit worked with Southwest Airlines to help it better use its vast amounts of customer data to make decisions such as which flight routes should be prioritized and what kind of sales should be run in which areas.
It’s being able to effect change that empowers staffers, said Katie Lahti, a strategist who joined Elicit this past summer.
“You want to actually do something ... this provided a pretty clear line to action, and then measuring that and adjusting that and doing it again, and that’s not easy to find,” she said.
As Thelen looks ahead to future growth, he said the company is considering some sort of office space, even if it is just shared or temporary.
“The virtual environment isn’t for everyone,” he said.