The day after Donald Trump’s election, the D.C. office of creative agency Huge was a somber place, one where employees seemed uncertain and fearful of the times ahead.
“It felt like a funeral,” recalls UX lead Natalie Be’er. The atmosphere and the election’s impact on the team were clear to executives as well.
“I don’t mean to disrespect, because there are going to be some Trump supporters, particularly in D.C., so I need to be respectful of those folks and have an environment that’s nurturing for everyone,” said Kate Watts, president of U.S. regions for Huge. “But it was definitely somber overall. There were tears, and everyone was just really, really sad.”
The day after Trump’s inauguration, however, everything was different. The global agency’s D.C. office became both a gathering hub and a makeshift hostel, with cots set up on the floor for staffers arriving from other branches across the country, from Detroit to Los Angeles.
Thanks to support from agency leadership and a strong sense of cultural togetherness, staffers were working with each other more directly and more passionately than ever before. They were ready to turn their moroseness into motivation, their angst into activism.
They were ready to march.
Formulating a plan
Huge’s game plan was simple yet logistically complex: to help get as many interested women and men from the agency’s 13 offices to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington.
Watts was visiting the Brooklyn office in the days leading up to the march and heard a number of New York employees wanted to attend but might not have the means to get there or a place to stay. Watts threw an idea out to the team: Anyone looking to attend the march in Washington could spend the weekend at Huge D.C. A bus was also arranged to shuttle employees from the Brooklyn office to the D.C. office.
“Management has been really aware of people feeling strange and unclear of what’s going to happen, especially on the agency level of how agencies are going to have to shift the work they do,” said Mariam Aldhahi, a design editor at Huge. “I was planning to come anyway, but when Huge rolled out this plan, it just was kind of ideal.”
Descending on D.C.
A group of about 15 employees (along with an Adweek reporter, whom they had agreed to let chronicle the journey) arrived at the D.C. office on Friday, finding the city largely empty due to road closures for that day’s inauguration. As the crew from Brooklyn rolled in to the office around 1:30 that afternoon, the office started to hum with excitement.
The group from Brooklyn was met with warm embraces from the D.C. crew. Many recognized each other by name but had never had the chance to meet in person. Others, who spend more time traveling between the 13 Huge locations or had previously worked in other offices, greeted old friends and introduced themselves to new ones.
After everyone settled in, a group walked over to a massive warehouse next door to the agency where No Kings Collective, a creative agency run by Brandon Hill and Peter Chang, was housing a dozen 24-foot parachutes designed and painted by female artists. The Huge team walked around the space in awe, taking in the designs and discussing whether they would be able to help carry one of the parachutes the following day. (Each parachute required nearly 20 people to carry it.)
Seeing these massive, freshly painted parachutes with empowering images and slogans (one featured a pair of lips with the phrase “Don’t tell me to smile”), had the team feeling inspired as they gathered around a communal table at the agency for pizza, wine and beer.
Discussing the rapidly approaching march, some expressed concerns over whether it would be safe, after incidents of violence had been reported in D.C. on inauguration day. Others discussed which signs they would carry the next day.
To help make sign selection easier, a Brooklyn staffer created five different posters to choose from, each a different color with a different slogan written in signature Huge font. Slogans included “Yes, we will,” “My rights are not wrong” and “Ufck Tronald Dump.” Those signs would later make for an excellent way to find other team members in the massive sea of protestors. With the team laser-focused on the march and its potential impact, there were few discussions of work issues. They were co-workers, but on this Friday night, they were compatriots.
After dinner, with the team growing restless for the next day, a group set up some of the camping cots shipped in for guests to sleep on at the agency.
Everyone was antsy and needed something to do. Sleep seemed impossible, so the team stayed up a few more hours, gathered around the communal table and reflected on how appreciative they were to work for a company that supported their passions and concerns so greatly.
“When where you work understands that at the core you’re just a person with your own opinions, morals and values, and they appreciate that stuff, it makes you better at your job,” Aldhahi said.
Marching on Washington
On the morning of the march, more than 30 people arrived at the office ready to create their own signs and mount premade posters sent from the Brooklyn office. As more people arrived, friends from across the agency network, some who had never met before, introduced each other and embraced.
On the walk from the Huge office to the starting point of the march, staffers proudly held their signs and cheered as passing motorists honked their approval. They speculated on how large the crowd would be compared with the turnout for the inauguration the day before and how fired up they were to do something to support people across the world.
Reflecting on the march
Any hope of staying together was soon lost when the Huge staffers flowed into the ocean of Women’s March participants. (The city was later estimated to have a turnout of nearly 500,000, making it the largest of any Women’s March event worldwide.)
“As far as the eye could see there were just people,” one employee said. Those that returned to Huge’s office that evening expressed similar sentiments—the experience was exhausting but thrilling and uplifting.
“We saw a lot of things today that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” said Mariam Aldhahi, a design editor at Huge. “We can take that back to work with us and be informed in a way we wouldn’t have otherwise been. When we go back to work on Monday we will be better because when you fulfill your employees, they’re just better.”
The event also allowed the team to express themselves creatively on a personal level, instead of just for clients. Aldhahi, who also works on Huge’s digital magazine, Magenta, spent much of the march looking for artistic, well-designed signs for a story that will run on Magenta’s website this week.
While it’s not lost on the Huge team—from management on down—that attending the march for Huge employees will impact and inspire the work they do day-to-day, the most common take-away from employees was an appreciation of Huge for helping them find a constructive outlet for their fears and concerns.
While Watts wants to be supportive of all employees and not just Trump critics, she hopes that by helping young women and men experience something historic like the Women’s March, it will leave them feeling supported and give them a positive outlook on the possibility for success in the ad industry.
“One of the things I’ve experienced in my career is the incredible support from women mentors and for others who haven’t had that,” Watts said. “I think that’s such a disservice. I didn’t realize how much I had internalized through my process of growing into this role until the election results came in and I was so emotional and didn’t even realize what I was harboring in all of that. I want to make sure the next generation of leaders doesn’t experience that.”