Chris Preston, partner and chief creative officer at Minneapolis ad agency Preston Spire has some of his best ideas while riding his bike.

Preston's rides range from his 22-mile round trip to work to biking the length of Minnesota, a 685-mile, north-to-south trip with friends for his 60th birthday. He typically pedals 80 to 100 miles on weekends.

"The nice thing about an endurance sport like that is you do have time to think about things," said Preston, who started in advertising four decades ago. "There's a certain boredom that I think is actually very good for creative thinking."

One of the agency's biggest clients, UCare, has ads featuring health plan employees riding five-person bicycles. But beyond brainstorming, cycling also helps reduce the stress of a demanding job in an increasingly competitive and challenging sector that faces the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) tools that can churn out creative work quickly and cheaply. Creating a healthy work environment has been a priority since Preston joined former partner Chuck Kelly 20 years ago at then-called Preston Kelly. The agency became Preston Spire in July 2021 when Jennifer Spire became partner and CEO after Kelly's retirement.

The agency's longtime commitment to a positive culture culminated earlier this year, Preston said, with its recognition as one of Ad Age's Best Places to Work 2024. The award reflected employee survey results on issues including pay, benefits, leadership and engagement and the agency's policies, practices and demographics. That award meant more to Preston than winning Midwest Agency of the Year from the same trade publication.

Preston Spire aspires to "supercharge the good in brands so they positively grow," according to Preston. Revenue grew 30% last year after major opportunities with Medtronic and the Mayo Clinic. The agency has about 40 employees and is an independent, employee-owned firm through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

Preston, the son of two English teachers, traces his interest in advertising to critiquing ads with his dad in the 1970s. He foresaw a future for himself as an ad man when, while he was in middle school, his idea for marketing Fritos corn chips won a national contest. His work as a summer intern for a Denver agency continued through his senior year at the University of Colorado, where he majored in journalism.

In an interview edited for length and clarity, Preston shared his thoughts on the future of advertising:

How does cycling contribute to your wellbeing?

Advertising is known to be among the more stressful industries. And being the chief creative officer, you're expected to be on call to come up with ideas every single day and work with a large variety people, all various emotional levels throughout the day. Getting on the bike and forcing myself to focus on something exclusively is really a healthy escape. The "biker's high" or whatever you want to call it, getting out in a way, is hugely important. That's why I do commute to and from work.

What's new at Preston Spire?

We've just started an in-house production studio called Meerkat Studios, where we can shoot video and record radio voiceover. These days, there's downward pressure on both budgets and time allowed to be creative and develop both concepts and executions, production. We like it because things can happen much more quickly. It allows us to be very nimble. I call it at the speed of social.

How is Preston Spire using AI, if at all?

We're using it as a behind-the-scenes, offline tool right now. Note-taking during meetings. Creating storyboards or comps so clients can see what something might look like, were it actually produced. We've done very little, if any, use of AI for client work at this point. We're experimenting with it quite a bit right now. Most of our clients are taking a very cautious approach. With the risk or the gray areas, the lawsuits and ownership and copyright and so forth, rightly, we're being very cautious.

What are AI's potential effects on the industry?

Cautiously optimistic would be maybe a slight overstatement. With a fair amount of fear and trepidation that some jobs are going to be in jeopardy as AI becomes more prevalent. Where one person can do the work of potentially 10 people. I've heard the quote a few times that AI is not going to take your job, but somebody who's good at AI is going to. I am concerned with the actors I work with, with the photographers that I work with, with the musicians that I work with. There's at least a pendulum swing toward a lot of use of AI that might put people's livelihoods in jeopardy. I am not fond of that part of it.

What other concerns does advertising face?

With the mental health issues in our industry and in a lot of industries these days, I do think that having a healthy culture, a healthy place to work, a work environment that respects the need for both physical and mental health, is vital. We pride ourselves on being that and constantly working toward that. That's been very much a positive for us, and we think it should be part of work culture everywhere.

What's the significance of Preston Spire's independence?

Being independent means that at Preston Spire, we do what is right for our clients. We aren't held to the same corporate profit motives that prevent teams at many holding company advertising agencies from helping the communities where they work and live. This allows Preston Spire to take on pro bono projects, like the work we have supported with YMCA,, Second Harvest Heartland, the New Life Vest and Free Guitars 4 Kids.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Chris Preston's former partner. His name is Chuck Kelly.