Agency Insider: Inside the Minds of FINE (Possibly a Bit Too Far Inside)


By The Portland Egotist / / It’s been awhile, but with 2018 we’re re-instituting our Agency Insider column in which we get a bit of a peek into a Portland area creative studio and the day-to-day lives of those who make that space great. First up are the amazing team over at FINE. Located on the SW side of the city, FINE works with a variety of amazing brands on some really creative work, but they have a special affinity for the wine and hotelier set. The studio is 25 years strong and still growing—an amazing feat in the creative industry. Read on for a bit more info about this fantastic and highly creative set of people. – – – FINE is really a brand agency for the digital age. We plan, create, and evolve the core brand expressions that define and differentiate companies today. From positioning and strategy, through identity and sophisticated digital destinations, we develop experiences with the brand gravity to pull customers in and make them feel like sticking around. Founded in San Francisco in 1994 and expanded to Portland in 2007, the extensive brand list of FINE clients includes Symantec, Cloudera, XOJet, Apple, Anchor Brewing, Kimpton Hotels, Ste Michelle Wine Estates, Pernod Ricard and many more. For more information, you can always visit Brain work is harder than it looks. Granted, there are more demanding occupations than to labor all day over the nuances of brand strategy, design, and technology. But that kind of thinking creates its own sort of mental callouses and existential angst. You’re continuously pressing a shoulder against seemingly immovable industry wheels while frantically chasing elusive ideas. It takes the right environment of diligence, dedication to craft, and persistent service-orientation. It also takes a rich, aspirational inner life that generates delusions of grandeur, childish regressions, and an affinity for cryptozoology. You must be able to muster these things at times. In a good way! FINE’s Portland office is set up to do just that. The sasquatch is our longstanding mascot that symbolizes the elusiveness of ideas and the brute force it takes to implement them. We intend to eventually lure him out of hiding with the promise of freelance work. If there’s one thing FINE’s learned after 25 years, it’s that any brand agency worth its salt somehow manages to look and act on its surface like it’s staged an open floorplan with dry erase markers, recycled wood, and potted palms for a spread in “Collaborative Workspace Illustrated,” right alongside countless other highly competent creative class companies. (You are not looking at this thinking “law firm” or “bodyshop,” are you? If you are not thinking “creative agency,” please write to us as soon as you can.) But it’s not enough to brew some coffee, bring your dog, and stream a clever playlist. Behind the soothing veneer and operational efficiency, there better be a freaking David Lynch movie cued up when you need it. You better have a real or virtual pizazz switch somewhere to trigger a heroic, demented, exhilirating fever dream that gets you through problems, both creative and logical. Otherwise, you’re going to be a blend-in company helping other companies blend in. You know who blends in? (That’s a rhetorical question, you can’t think of any, because they blend in.) Your pizazz switches can be anywhere you choose, as long as you can find them when you need them. Books. Toys. Snacks. Notions. Chats. None of the above. All of the above. It’s just a concept, guys. Which brings us to our Portland office. Portland itself is a mythical land we began migrating to midway into a 25-year lifespan that began in the like-minded land of San Francisco. In collaboration with Bora Architects, we designed our own space here in downtown, so we have only ourselves to blame if it doesn’t reveal more than obvious answers when you scratch its surface. But we’ve happily found that our environment fosters the outward necessities of our business with the deep inner reserves of awesomeness (whether real or imagined). Here, you see diligent FINE workers Tsilli Pines and Nichole Barrett wracking their brains to birth a digital concept. Look at the collaboration enabled by modular furniture and writeable surfaces! But sometimes that’s not enough – the optimal solution may require that one of these estimable women tap into her imagination to channel the glamorous goddess of a world made entirely of felt. Or something. Now, FINE Marketing Director Clay Walsh escorts a bicycle past a giant wall of awards and recognition. It’s a photo op that says everything we need to say – we live in Portland so we like bikes so much we wheel them right down the corridors where we display trophies galore! Only the gumball machine in the background humbly hints at the vast irreverent psychoses we must often mine to do our work. That kind of alternate reality is always there just beneath the surface. Throughout the office you’ll find small talismans that invite mental teleportation. This meticulously crafted, custom-made drinks cart may is sometimes simply used for drinks, but in our minds it can just as often become a sort of sled down a fantastical slope into vivid fantasies about alternate existence. You can tell by the dry ice. Here, Partner Kenn Fine leads by example. Caffeination and smiling – the dual impetuses for our bistro kitchen — are but disarming disguises for the veritable megalomania that underlies all creative direction. Necessarily so. That dog is like Cerberus at the gates of the hell you will encounter should your concept fall flat. At FINE, children are revered for having effortlessly attained that state of mind to which we all aspire. Here, one advises Partner Steve Fine on all of the things that actually matter even a little bit. A crayon-laden fishbowl materializes on a table nearby. Somewhere you hear the ring of the bicycle bell and so, so many coffee beans grinding. Now it’s on. Our special move is to invite the next generation to think differently and dream big along with us. We deny that we are siphoning their enthusiasm and perspective for our own energy. We’ve got lots of causes, but young people top the list, and FINE’s Job Shadow program welcomes students and recent graduates from Portland-area high schools, colleges, and code schools into the studio to learn our ways and their interests. If that got serious there for a minute it’s because flipping the pizazz switch isn’t all flights of fancy; it’s also about taking whatever heroic, delusional foray you may need your brain to take to envision and create a better world for yourself, for a client, or just for fun. Sometime that’s hard work. But it’s always well worth the effort. – – – Ed. Note: Like what you see? Got the chops to put your studio out in front of the pack by doing an Agency Insider piece? Cool. We’re looking for studios that want to participate, open their doors and talk about the spaces they live and work in. If you’d like to talk about doing a piece on your studio drop us a line through our submission page letting us know you’re interested.