What’s Best in the Northwest? The PDX Egotist Fills Us In

By Kiran Aditham 

As part of our ongoing collaboration with the Egotist network, we check in for the first time with the Portland operation, which offers us a glimpse of the Pacific Northwest ad scene that includes blue-chip to smaller shops not named Wieden + Kennedy. Let’s read on to see who’s now and who’s next, shall we?

Portland, Oregon. It’s not your typical advertising town. More like a small town that has been jammed full of creative scenesters that were forced to make ends meet by getting a job. Much less an advertising job.


People way outside of Oregon still have the same mentality that they did 20-30 years ago before Wieden+Kennedy showed up. The tune goes like this, “There’s an advertising agency, where? Portland, Ora-gone? Where’s that?” Fortunately, for those who are familiar with the advertising and design situation know the rest of the story. Wieden+Kennedy is the big fish but they aren’t the only game in town. There are quite a few contenders that work under the gray cloud cover making some great work. Honestly, they’re pretty much killing it locally and nationally. You might not know them, but you know their work.

Below are some highlights of the big-boys and some small fries. It’s the inclusive hippies within us at The Portland Egotist that drives us to include them all. Without further ado, let the drum circle begin!

Here are the blue-chippers (in The Portland Egotist’s warped opinion) in our fair city.
Alright, you know Wieden+Kennedy. They won some big awards of late. We really don’t have to go into that. You can read it in the news. It looks like they’re on the upswing. Good Super Bowl ads and good interactive with Old Spice and Nike.


They’ve got a short and sweet client list.  But the stand out to The Portland Egotist is that they’re in charge of Burgerville. It’s a Northwest brand that focuses on local ingredients and sustainable practices. Here’s a case where the local burger joint ad campaigns looks better –correction – IS better than the national burger chain garbage we see.


Mostly local clients, but with a few biggies. Freightliner Trucks, Milgard Windows and Doors, Oregon Community Credit Union. Somebody has to do that type of work and it looks like HMH would be that agency.


Another solid go around for these guys. Like most, they are plodding ahead with a solid client list. Jeld-Wen, Oregon Health and Science University, HP, Cisco and Microsoft. Same type of thing for another 3 letter agency.

Leopld Ketel & Partners

They work on knives, rum, cheese and whiskey. If you partake in any of those products in excess, LK&P has the balance for you with all their healthcare clients. Plus they’ll fuel your brain with Oregon Public Broadcasting work. This group is doing some fun stuff as well. Check out the Oregon Humane Society. If one thing Portland’s got, it’s got a lot of animals.

Borders Perrin & Norrander

Another funny agency is BPN. They have some funny work coming out for Oregon Lottery. They also have Mountain Hardware and Sorel. They’re still riding the Columbia Sportswear subsidiary wave, even though they lost the Columbia business a while back.

Bigger Than They Are


Beer and music makes the city go round here in Portland. And it seems like North is pretty much taking up all the big hitters in those categories. They’re doing work for Deschutes Brewery, SubPop, Matador Records. And they have electricity.  Not in the chemistry-vibe sense. More like Portland General Electric.

Last time The Portland Egotist checked, interactive is becoming traditional advertising and traditional advertising is interactive.  We don’t know what that means because everybody and their mother throws that concept around, but these are the places that seem to make interactive a bit more creative and human.  There are a few stand outs like Razorfish’s Portland branch, Harlo Interactive, Instrum3nt, Second Story. They’re making nice looking creative stuff that is actually moving product.

Flipside of the internet coin, what if you had interactive agencies that were built on purely numbers, ground breaking strategies, and measurable results? Anvil Media, Babcock and Jenkins, Pop Art, White Horse, The New Group and eRoi. Those names come up each time we think of how nerds rule the world. Well, there you go and they’re hiring.

If you are reading and wondering why the advertising and the design agencies look similar here in Portland. Duh. It’s because they are.  Maybe it’s because we’re where people don’t really see much of the sun and just trip out because they can’t crawl themselves out of the Willamette Valley. Perhaps another reason is that they are drafting off of clients that value design. In essence, there are clients who have centered their businesses around design, performance, and creativity. Take a look at Oregon’s textile and sportswear landscape. Portland is within arm’s length to Nike, Columbia, Jantzen, Adidas America, Pendelton, Keen and Nau. Look a little deeper and you see technology clients such as Intel, Microsoft and HP also spending their money around Portland.

Thus, local ad and design agencies mirror their clients.  Or at least try to put creative and design work over typical advertising work by bean-counters.  And since there is such a concentrated group of superpowers in a small space, there seems to be plenty of work for everyone.  Big and small alike.  The only standard is that since there is such a high caliber design clientele the advertising and design work needs to be just as sophisticated.  Not in a hoity-toity upper crust sense, but more of an authentic, communicative sense.

Design Shops to Keep Your Eye On

ID Branding

One of the smaller agencies that is working round the clock to make cool stuff. Their name speaks to what they do. Perfect and succinct. They just did the Nike Black Mamba PR kits for influencers. ID Branding works on a combination of projects that make people take notice: Zune, Tri-Met, and Redington.

There are places of note like: Roundhouse, Felt Hat, Grey Matter, Cinco Design, Anthill Marketing, Hub Collective, Steelhead, Big-Giant, Nemo Design, Sandstrom Design, Plazm, Incubate Design, OMFGCo, Feel Good Anyway. Blah. Blah. Blah. The list can go on and on. We could be doing this for weeks.  Honestly, freelancers can come and survive.

There are other creative studios that are making waves and it is not unusual for these creative places to team up with strictly advertising agencies. Here’s only a sampling of what’s going on in or around Portland proper. All of it fuels the fire.

Ziba Design, a leading global industrial design firm with clients ranging from TDK, Memorex, Kitchen Aid, and Herbal Essence. They have the capabilities to design your product, create the identity, create the brand DNA, and build the retail environment for it. What did you do today?

Laika. This animation company was once Will Vinton Studios but morphed into what it is today. Laika has an entertainment side where they do short films and animated feature films like, Coraline. They also have Laika house which makes commercials, music videos and branded entertainment.

Similar type of work is done by a group called Bent Image Labs. They work a lot on commercials, music videos and the like.

And since we’re on creative tangents, Dark Horse Comics is the third largest comic book publisher in the United States and they’re a few miles outside of Portland. These geeks came up with many quality comic book titles in recent history. Titles like Hellboy, Buffy, and Star Wars. Not only do they do comics, but books, toys. It’s another universe, really.

And let’s not talk about the food scene. Even the New York Times talks about Portland’s restaurant scene. Everybody here happens to know a chef or a restaurateur. It’s like saying you have a bunch of buddies in 3 or 4 bands.
Okay, now it’s getting boring.  You’re probably asking, “Yeah, yeah. Portland is so stinking creative. I get it. Who gives a flying dirty hippie about that?” As you can see there are a lot of things going on, but what is more important is that there is a lot of work to go around. You see, Portland is a strange, small place. Since there are a lot of big clients here who do great work and appreciate good work from their agencies, it really isn’t difficult to get a foot in the door.  Just ask.  People here are generally friendly.  Some may be passive-aggressive friendly, but you can deal.  You can even try working on the client side.  And depending on the client, you can do similar work that you would be doing in an ad/design agency.

And guess what? Not only do people move here, but there are plenty of state institutions that grow their own local talent. We have some people coming out of the trenches of community school, art school, and state colleges that are ready to get to swinging with the job thing. And if they are anything like their instructors: Liz Charman, Kate Bingaman-Burt, and Frank Chimero it’s a great place to get your feet wet.

And there we have the circle of life.  (Sorry, hippie rearing its head again). Hope you enjoyed a long-winded, non-sequitur street beat rant from a rogue hippie.

By: PDXEgo of The Portland Egotist.

The Portland Egotist features the best creative from the Pacific Northwest and is one of several Egotist sites reporting on the local ad and design scene for Agency Spy. Need some Ego with Oregon Flavor? Go to http://www.theportlandegotist.com/ at an internet near you.