18 March 2024

Sara Green on Running a 25-Year-Old Agency and the Art of Letting Go

You may have seen People People cropping up a lot on Creative Boom recently. From their rebrand of Washington State Parks to their branding for mixed-use development Kirkland Urban, we've been super-impressed with their work, and it turns out they've been around for quite a while.


Founder and principal Sara Green started her branding and interactive agency in 1998 in Leavenworth, Washington, USA. After landing a local ski resort campaign, she made her first hire: a senior designer who remained on the team for the next 20 years. In 2000, Sara moved the studio to Seattle, branching out of the real estate development realm into the food and beverage and non-profit sectors.


Today, she manages a team of 12 senior-level creatives (many of whom have been with her for over ten years) and works with notable clients, including Washington State Parks, Pike Place Market, and Seattle Pride.

How does she do it? Sara responds that she uses Slack religiously, offers a profit-sharing program for employees, and recognises work is not the most important thing in life. Instead, balance and flexibility are key.

Client Diversity

Sara largely credits People People's success to date to client diversity. "We watched a lot of agencies flounder and sink during the 2008 recession, as well as during Covid," she explains.


"Working with clients in different industries has helped keep us financially sound when times are tough. This model also helps keep our team happy; having an opportunity to dive into different industries keeps work interesting."


With 25 years of experience, Sara is also well-versed in the ups and downs of running a small business.


"My biggest challenge was learning to let go and delegate," she recalls. For a long time, I felt the need to be at every meeting and involved in every project. As the company grew, though, that just wasn't sustainable, especially once I started a family.


"Learning to lean on my team members and entrusting them with more responsibility, shifting titles, and giving them the opportunity to step up was difficult," she adds. "But honestly, it was the best decision I ever made."

Secrets of management

So, what's the secret to managing people? A lot of it, she adds, is about hiring the right people. "If you've compiled an amazing team, you don't need to do much managing," she explains. Of course, there are logistics, but with a crew of respectful, senior-level creatives, it's pretty easy. The most challenging aspect is ensuring that each person feels heard and understood.

"Everyone's goals and needs are unique," she continues, "from career growth to communication style, so it requires thoughtfulness and flexibility to ensure those individual needs are being met while also meeting the needs of the company.


"I strive to create an open-door community within People People, meaning I'm here if anyone wants to discuss anything, and so far, that has worked well. Everyone on the team knows I have their best interests in mind."

Quest for work-life balance

Importantly, she also looks out for her best interests, saying she's been on a personal quest to create a healthy work-life balance since the early days of the business.


"Then, as People People grew, I made an effort to ensure that everyone on the team felt that same balance," she says. "Life is way too short to work in an unhealthy environment or to work too much. Even if you love what you do for a living, you'll be better at it if you take the time to play. I like to think I lead by example by taking time to travel, be outdoors, and prioritise spending quality time with family."

Of course, attitudes have changed across the board in this area. "Over the last six to eight years, I've seen a trend in the corporate world, or at least the creative world, that encourages balance," Sara says. From bringing your dog to work to work-from-home Fridays and corporate gym memberships, there has been a healthy shift.


"I think that was perhaps a silver lining that came from our collective Covid times, having more time at home and with family, and less time commuting, and finding parking. Many people have found that it's not necessary to be in the office nine-to-five every day to be successful!"


In short, Sara firmly believes there is value in achieving a healthy work/life balance, especially for creatives. "Burnout is real!" she exclaims. "It takes a lot of foresight, planning and open communication to make it a reality, but the return on that investment is invaluable."

Positioned as equals

In short, to bring out the best in people, Sara leads with respect. "That is the ultimate bounty," she stresses. "Everyone wants to be respected, myself included. I don't like to be considered 'the boss'. I want to be a team member and a colleague.


"Of course, there are benefits to having that leadership role," she adds. "But I don't want to wave that flag. I never introduce anyone on my team as an employee; we are team members who support one another. Even when talking to my kids, and I reference someone on my team, I never say, 'So and so, who works for me,' I say, 'So and so, whom I work with.' It's a perspective that is important to me.

"One thing we all know well in the creative realm is that positioning is key," she explains, "and I never try to position myself above anyone else on my team. I position us as equals. I'm aware that we would not be where we are today if it weren't for ALL of us putting in the time, creativity, and effort."


And so far, it's all paid off. "I'm really proud of the team that I've built," she says. "It's been so rewarding to see them flourish creatively. They are such good people and so incredibly talented!


"It's also extremely satisfying and fun to see our work out in the world, on shelves at the market, on buildings, and on signs," she adds. "I absolutely LOVE helping people see their dreams come to fruition. Working with small businesses that are just getting started is especially rewarding."

Working from home

That doesn't mean running an agency is without its challenges, of course. "Our most recent overarching challenge was, of course, going 90% remote," she recalls. "And I think we've nailed that. Years ago, we decided to all work from home on Fridays, so when the pandemic hit, we were all accustomed to working from home. We had laptops, methods for accessing our server/files, and home offices."

The biggest struggle, in fact, was figuring out how to maintain a healthy work culture from afar. "As I'm sure many are aware, going from collaborating in person 90% of the time to working from home, you have to figure out ways to not be working in a silo, ways to continue to collaborate on projects, and not only foster but build team culture.


So, what solutions did they settle on? "We use many different methods for continued collaboration," she responds. "Slack has been hugely instrumental. And we make a concerted effort to connect as a team, with weekly team meetings, monthly Zoom lunches, quarterly in-person happy hours, and yearly team retreats. In my mind, nurturing our team culture is just as important as building our creative portfolio."