Opening Bell

‘No Jerks Allowed’

Public relations firm Fearey’s culture is thriving, in no small part in response to the pandemic

By Rob Smith July 10, 2023

Fearey employees often get together to socialize, but are not required to be in an office

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

Aaron Blank doesn’t pretend to know what the future of work looks like.

Right now, however, Blank — CEO and president of Seattle PR agency Fearey — has no plans to bring his firm’s workers back into an office.

“I’m enjoying this lifestyle we’re offering our employees, and we’re trying to meet our employees where they’re at,” says Blank, whose 25-employee firm shed its downtown Seattle space during the pandemic and is now 100% remote, though it does have a “touch down” space with a single desk in the Green Lake neighborhood. “I’m not forcing the equation and don’t plan to.”

If anything, the pandemic strengthened the firm’s culture. On this day, Blank is looking forward to another virtual “Drag Queen Bingo” team-building event, which includes a live show, comedy, and music. Other remote events include cooking classes, crafts and painting, and games.

The company — whose major clients include the NHL’s Seattle Kraken and Amazon — has gone out of its way to accommodate employees. Slightly fewer than half of company employees live in other states (though Blank says the firm is increasingly looking to hire locally). Fearey offers Washington state benefits even in states with more restrictive policies.

For instance, an employee in a state with no parental leave was recently able to take advantage of Washington’s more robust, 16-week leave. The firm also pays Seattle-level salaries, regardless of which state workers live in.

Blank, who joined Fearey in 2005 and took over the top job from founder Patricia Fearey in 2011, notes that the pandemic forced the company to focus even more on engagement and communication. He now takes money that formerly went toward the firm’s office lease and gives employees office stipends. He is currently focused on creating a DEI policy at the firm.

“Has the culture improved? Absolutely,” Blank says. “We’re not perfect. No one’s perfect, but I’ve done my own self-help and try to continuously improve to try to create the best culture.”

The PR agency, founded in 1981, closes early every Friday in August, as well as on every Friday that falls prior to a Monday holiday. It has held virtual cooking classes with chefs in Italy; parties where employees are taught how to make sangria; and offers a range of curated slack channels such as “#FeareyFurryFriends,” “#WhatAreYouReading,” and “#inspiration.”

Its weekly free Friday staff lunches turned into weekly lunch allowances during the pandemic. It also sends care packages to celebrate employee birthdays and other significant events.

Executives regularly communicate with employees through annual surveys and prioritize one-on-one conversations between workers and senior staffers. Fearey even has a “No Jerks Allowed” policy communicated to staff members on a routine basis.

“Perks are important, but people want to work with good people,” he says. “The culture is just as important.”

Follow Us