Why More Agencies Should Drag Their Staffs Out to the Middle of Nowhere

We venture out to Carmichael Lynch's 'classy as shit' farm outing

Drive a little ways southwest of Minnesota's Twin Cities, past the suburbs and exurbs, and you might find yourself in the pastures of a small town with 559 residents. It's a place called Green Isle, where a sign welcomes visitors to "a little bit of Ireland."

It's not necessarily the first place you'd come while visiting the land of 10,000 lakes, but on a recent Saturday night, a large portion of Minneapolis agency Carmichael Lynch was there. It wasn't for a meeting or some outdoorsy Instagram shoot. They were there for dinner.

To help vent some pressure from the deadline-driven world of agency life, the management team at Carmichael Lynch wanted to find a unique way to let the entire staff enjoy a brief escape. Sure, they could have gone to one of the many trendy bars or restaurants near the office, but that wouldn't have provided the decompression that comes from unplugging in an entirely different environment.

Of course, it does require some adaptation. There is an extra utensil for agency dinners in this part of Minnesota. It's longer than a knife, sharper than a spoon and flatter than a fork. It's a fly swatter:

It was Carmichael Lynch CEO Mike Lescarbeau who invited the agency to flock from the city to the farm, which he bought from a former Minnesota Orchestra violinist a few years ago as a weekend retreat for his family.

Leaning on the fence for an interview occasionally interrupted by squealing piglets, Lescarbeau said the 32-acre farm has become an ideal getaway for the agency.

"Our people love it," he said. "We have a lot of 20- and 30-somethings who are really into the farm-to-table thing, and don't get a chance to get out into a farm situation, and they like it. We've done a number of events here and the turnout's always great. People seem to have a good time, so we keep doing it."

For the event—dubbed on posters as "classy as shit"—the agency partnered with a number of other locals from the Twin Cities region.

Many of the menu ingredients were grown or raised right on the farm, thanks in large part to Tangletown Farms, which houses the 40 cattle and 50 or 60 pigs on the property. Lakes & Legends Brewing, a new brewery opening in Minneapolis this fall, brought plenty of a half-dozen types of beers for its first semi-public tasting. J. Carver Distillery, a distillery in nearby Waconia, was there serving its J. Carver Minnesota Mule.

The evening finished out with a barn dance party. There was also, of course, plenty of flannel and plaid.

"One of the great things about living in Minnesota is that you can drive an hour outside of the Twin Cities in any direction and be completely away from civilization," said Courtney Thomas, an account director at Carmichael Lynch. "Having Mike open up his farm to us for a day was an amazing way to relax and bond with co-workers that wouldn't be possible in another city, or at another agency."

Lescarbeau said bringing the brewery and distillery for the night helped showcase other ways of being creative outside of office hours.

"If you're in your 20s (or) 30s these days, I notice young people might have nine careers," he said. "And who knows? Maybe that want to have a brewery—and still keep their jobs. They might want to do a distillery, and I think that's really cool. We want to throw gas on that. We like that. We like having people who are interested in stuff, who are entrepreneurial, experimental and fun."

While there are plenty of award-winning agencies in the Twin Cities, Lescarbeau said recruiting talent from the coasts for the Midwest was, until recently, often a challenge. However, the area has in recent years won much more acclaim for other parts of life.

"I think you've got a much more social town that engages younger people in a different way," he said. "It's not a hard sell that way at all. Winters? We're still working on that."