It doesn’t take long to realize that Michael Nieling, Ocupop’s owner, creative director, cat wrangler for a roster of employees from Honolulu to Brooklyn, skateboarder, former zoology major, unicorn admirer, former MIAD instructor and spiritual descendant of Paul Rand, operates on a different plane. Did we mention he surfs the glittery (and often frigid) waves of Lake Michigan? His office, in a nondescript warehouse on the shores of the Kinnickinnic River, afforded him enough room to install a skate ramp – a must in Nieling’s book. The loft-like space houses pods for four art directors, the ramp, a Herman Miller conference table and some plywood that protects the Macs from errant skateboards.
While you might not know his agency (there’s no signage outside), you have definitely seen its work. In addition to partnering with for a growing collection of not-for-profits, Ocupop has been tapped by Silicon Valley stalwarts like Facebook, Google and Mozilla to help evangelize their words and deeds. And he’s been at it for 14 years, never once spending even one greenback on advertising. When he’s asked to share his business philosophy, Nieling worries about sounding cliché when he says Ocupop “does good work for good people,” but there’s no hint of cliché in Ocupop’s portfolio. He is quick to add a caveat: “I’ve never worked anywhere else, so we might be doing it all wrong.” We doubt his clients see it that way.