Now that we have all the semantics out in the open, my favorites are based off of work type and personality. If you want some form of awards/reputation status you'll have to ask someone else. I know for a fact some of the best kept secrets are agency's that put out good work and just don't have the time after their 18 hour days for anyone to send in an application to all those contests. This list could grow tomorrow so don't hold me to it, but from what I've seen (from informational interviews, real interviews, friends in the office, their portfolio, and knowing employees on a networking basis) I like: (in no definite order)
- Ogilvy, I've heard some of their upper level team members speak and thought they were informative, brilliant, and charismatic. Let's just say in a networking speech setting, it has traditionally taken a lot to impress me. Most are just un-original repeats. They also are number one (depending on the day competing with Risdall) for #1 SEO for Ad Agencies.
- Where ever Lee Odden works, man I keep hearing that guys name, and people keep telling me to do coffee with him. It has yet to happen. He is said to be the number 1 SEO guy in Minneapolis. He works for TopRank.
- Catalyst Studios because of Jared Lukes. He is an interactive genius, very charismatic, and a great guy to do sushi lunch with. On a side note their site is mostly flash, and their seo still needs some work. They recently revamped their site and not all of the misspellings and proper agency terms are being used for keywords yet, but I'm the pot calling the kettle black. My site is newer with similar issues. Great interactive agency, small shop, good group, love their blog cute and witty.
- Gage Marketing in Golden Valley mostly because of Mike Kraabel. Mike is a pillar to the interactive and creative community and a wonderful mentor. I've worked with him on occasion and love his insight. The building is agency meets corporate, with the bonus of structure in their work process (which I have an appreciation for in my over-organization tendencies). They do great work for interactive, large corporations, and some smaller companies too. I prefer there interactive talents and they do a lot of contests.
- Carmichael Lynch has GREAT clients from their latest Subaru, to Harley Davidson, they used to/or do have Porsche, and a long list of other greats (those just happen to be a couple of my favs). I love their Harley work, definitely check out their portfolio. They have two sides too, PR and Advertising/Marketing. CL and CL spong or maybe three CL spong thornburg. I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to look up and correct me, but all are very well known and respected (and rewarded). I also have a huge respect for Herb Sawyer and Curtis Smith. The two men I know the most their (which isn't closely just on a networking/interview basis), but both are great guys and everyone I've mentioned so far is on twitter if you can find them. I would love to work for this company under Herb, even for a huge salary cut (hint hint).
- Martin Williams (M|W) Ok so when I first got into the industry I would have LOVED to get into this large agency (still wouldn't turn it down). Thing is never even got offered an informational after all the people I met there networking. They do good work and have a great portfolio, just haven't stayed on my radar too much. Would definitely check them out though if I where you.
- Periscope - My first introduction to periscope was from (Brian-- I can't ever think of his last name) met him networking, then again at the Ad Fed Summit of '07. He introduced me to a bunch of the team, I had a tour, informational interview and some brainstorming sessions that never went anywhere. Great team, would be one of my dream companies for when I'm senior "something." They are a larger shop near the Twins stadium. Definitely check out their portfolio. Sweet intro to their site! Other random note, their SEO is off the charts. They have their name come up under EVERYTHING (good/bads).
- PSB ( padilla speer beardsley ) They won out on a recent SEO/SEM bid for a client/friend of mine recently. They are fair priced, do good PR work, new to the interactive space, and do great work in trade shows and Media Kits. Well organized and require a typing/English grammar exam to all their candidates. I've never applied their but I've had a couple of informational interviews and know Jason (one of their interactive guys) pretty well from MIMA/AD FED. Good group, more corporate, would recommend a suit to this place-- the rest might cut your tie off if you show up in one (jeans and a sweet suit coat would be more appropriate everywhere else unless your meeting the president or something).
- August Ash is new to my radar, a smaller group, and a fun one at that. I've been looking into working there recently. They are unfortunately located in never never land... or the opposite side of town from me near the mall of America. I've heard a lot of wonderful things about them from asking around, and their president Eric is on twitter and a number of other networks. Love their web site it is VERY clean.
Y A M A M O T O | M O S S | M A C K E N Z I E - Heard lots of good things, they are more of a suit and tie firm, with an oriental/modern/clean cut decor that I've never seen. Literally Ive never been there. I applied a year ago and didn't hear back for 2 months, finally got a letter saying thanks, but no thanks. Heard good things though
- Risdall - Love the people that work there. No organization or structure to the way daily business is run. They are thirteen branches under one roof trying to figure out who does what. They have some good print and SEO work. Understaffed for programmers. Their SEM/SEO/Integration team are brilliant, charismatic and wonderful to work for. They have earned lots of webbys but I don't know how much that means. They also have fun scooters in the office, and enough candy to make the entire state of Minnesota fatter than an elephant. If you like shiny objects their is no shortage of them. The PR team is a nice group of girls, with little sense for PR optimization, but brilliant writers and good project management skills. Their creative team puts out good work, but I wouldn't expect to get in their they are all fairly project-protective even to the point of production art. If you get the chance to work with Pete, Kevin, or Lara though they definitely have talent and are a nice group to be near. The office is also filled with couples (marrieds) John, Tina, Jennifer, Mike.... all family. Josh D. is an account person for the SEO/SEM team (maybe even vp not sure of his title) great guy for showing someone around. Also very witty copy writers. They have 6 or 9 websites for some of their different branches (5 of them are practically identical and just a very LONG run-on page of keywords).
- Western Creative - They've been around for almost 50 years and have a good reputation. Also not sure what all they do. Good rep. though.
- Space 150 - Great interactive team. Never been there and only seen some of their work. Worth looking into though.
- Colle+McVoy - Great work, cool print stuff, love their business cards, everything about them is original , even have some mints with their name on them from a networking event. Ran by mostly women, small to medium size shop, never been there, would love to work there.
- - Number one agency in Minneapolis I would say. Big team, great work, they pick their work, and are as full service as it gets, even have their own video studio (periscope has photo not video as well).
- Olson- Awesome reputation. Good work. BIG team. Never been there. Met some of the team on multiple occasions though.
- www.webershandwick.com/ - International PR firm, offices in London, ny, Minneapolis, and a few other places I'm not willing to look up right now. Have lots of friends that work there and a few acquaintances. Greg Swan (@perfectporridge) works there. Cool work, very corporate meets agency structure, HUGE, again never been invited there, but would love to go!
- Chrispin porter - They had Nike. I don't know a lot about them, but would definitely look into them. National PR/Ad agency.
- Olive and Co. is a small interactive group (micro-small 5 people). Good work. Cute site, met the team for informational once. Worth looking into, but they don't want to go big.
- Ciceron - I know the majority of their team. Great group. Great work. They are always at networking events. Very involved.
- Kerker - I know one of their team members, they do good work. Great guy. Definitely worth looking into!
- Shapco -Print Company they are very good. Do a wide variety of work. Not an agency, but could have similar openings.
Best Place to start a job hunt is professional affiliations AdFed, AAAA, IAB, MIMA, Social Media Breakfasts, and PRSA ect. Good Luck.