News and Insights

Finn Partners Hunter Retreat

October 22, 2019

By Jessica Sagoskin and Nick Umnov

[Overheard somewhere on the back roads of upstate New York…]

“I wonder if this will work? Can we connect 35 talented brains together to solve a complex problem in a very short timeframe with little background research?” asked Barry, FINN’s head of Research, Planning & Measurement. 

“You mean like hooking up CPUs to mine bitcoins?” chuckled Matt, FINN’s Chief Strategy Officer.

“Yeah, kinda,” said Barry. 

Darn good question! 

The Finn Partners staff retreat was about to take place in colorful Hunter, New York. This retreat was a little different than previous years, it was a high-stakes experiment in design thinking where 35 mid-level communications experts from all over the world would be put together in a refurbished mid-century barn and tasked with an important mission. Who doesn’t love a little competition, right?

The challenge placed before them was to answer the mystifying question: “how to make millennials and Gen Zers embrace a luxury brand (one that their parents might love)?” The big insights would be used in an actual client pitch several days after the retreat ended. So if the experiment was a flop, the client pitch wouldn’t go well. Just another thing to blame on millennials….. 

Finn’s leadership had significant obstacles to overcome: maintain enthusiasm, ensure everyone understands the exercise and generates useful insights, foster a level of healthy competition and get the good stuff for the pitch. 

Over 72 hours– one bonfire, snacks from the Singapore office, a bear sighting and a few cut-throat games of ping pong– the Finn staff delivered!

Five teams quickly researched, debated, and found insights to develop invaluable ‘big ideas’ on how to capture millennials and Gen Zers. Teams exceeded expectations, developing video content, memorable hashtags, and thoughtful tactics. Equally as important, connections were built between global offices and people made new friends.

There were several reasons why this experiment worked:

  • Clear Direction and Guidance:  Finn senior staff dedicated time to explain the big picture and frequently visited every team to answer questions on the small details. They provided guidance and plenty of examples. 
  • Fun: It is a retreat after all and a bonding experience. Ping pong, nature hikes, a few Whiteclaws, good hearty meals, bonfires, and some improv activities quickly broke down barriers among participants. Likewise, senior staff didn’t keep their distance and joined in to ensure everyone felt included and empowered. 
  • Making everyone feel important: Senior staff emphasized that there are no bad ideas when developing insights which gave participants confidence and creative license. 
  • The exercise itself works: The moderators ensured participants were fully bought into the methodology of research, collaboration, and teamwork that they were presented with. Working together under these circumstances created a sense of unity and respect. It didn’t matter what office you were from or how long you had been working at FINN, everyone was engaged in the process of the exercise. Throughout the exercise team members kept remarking that they had never worked in this way before and this method is something they intend to bring back to their individual offices.
  • The proof is in the pudding: Senior leadership was impressed. While none of us were actually present in the client pitch, we’re pretty confident that some of our ‘big ideas’ were used. 

A lot can happen in 72 hours. Several ‘big ideas’ were produced, valuable connections established and great memories took place in Hunter, NY. Perhaps the most successful outcome of this crazy experiment was discovering the talent and creativity of the next generation of FINN. 


Watch out board rooms, here we come!!