A Digital Marketing Agency in Seattle’s Smith Tower

Justin Brasser Aug 25 2016

As a child from a small, rural town, I was fascinated by skyscrapers. My family would often drive through Chicago and I would gawk at the monoliths and later, brag that I had seen the World’s Tallest Building. I maintain this fascination today as evidenced by my favorite Wikipedia page about the tallest buildings in the world.

Fresh out of college, I moved to Seattle without ever having visited before. Appropriately, I landed on a rainy evening. Heading north from the airport, I gawked at the skyline just like my eight-year-old self. I’ll never forget my first glimpse of the Space Needle that night, but there’s another building that stood out.

A friend and my de facto Seattle tour guide, pointed to this white building with a pyramid on top, “That used to be the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.” My inner eight-year-old stirred as I recognized significance.

Smith Tower at Night - Portent

Now, I’m proud to work in that building. Portent’s headquarters are located in the Smith Tower, Pioneer Square, Seattle, USA.

It’s an iconic building in a neighborhood with a storied history. Completed in 1914, the Smith Tower is over a hundred years old, and when it opened it was the fourth tallest building in the world.

Along with the Space Needle, the Smith Tower is symbolic of Seattle’s big ambitions as a city, a “portent” if you will.


What does this have to do with Portent?

Marketing analogies are a Portent specialty. Did you know Internet Marketing is just like making soup? We can learn about marketing from Tom Cruise’s filmography, 747s, cooking, the gold rush, the animal kingdom, and even Dungeons and Dragons.

Every day, we step into this piece of history, ride the elevators up and go about our jobs. But, what can we learn from this place?

Be Significant

Lyman Cornelius Smith originally planned to build a 14-story office building on this parcel of land, but his son, Burns Lyman Smith, had bigger plans. Inspired by skyscrapers in Manhattan, Smith knew that a much taller and more significant building was possible. An office building taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza and St. Peter’s Cathedral was awe-inspiring in 1914. Immediately, marketing efforts in Seattle and around the country depicted the Smith Tower with all the architectural wonders of the world in full-page newspaper ads.
Lesson Learned: Make something that matters. Stand out by providing real value.

Smith Tower Construction 1913

Smith Tower Construction in 1913

Keep Learning

The architecture firm of Gaggin & Gaggin had never designed a building taller than a few stories. The proposed plans for the Smith Tower were daunting, but the Singer Building and the Metropolitan Life Tower in New York provided inspiration and proved that it was possible. The Gaggins used the best practices of their day to design the Smith Tower.

Lesson Learned: Keep learning from the best. Seek out and use best practices.

Choose the Right Spot

In 1910, Seattle was ripe for something big. The Klondike Gold Rush launched Seattle out of the boondocks. It was a boom town with something to prove. The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition was held in 1909 to publicize the Pacific Northwest and claim the region’s spot on the world stage. Undoubtedly, this influenced Mr. Smith’s vision. He recognized the region’s ambition and built a tower to match.

Lesson Learned: Choose the right spot. Know your audience. Communicate with them effectively.

Smith Tower Seattle - Portent

Build a Strong Foundation

South and west of this building, Pioneer Square is built on top of infill covering ancient tidal flats. There’s a significant earthquake risk to the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the Smith Tower is built on solid ground with deep foundations. Construction began by sinking 1,281 concrete pilings 22 feet deep into solid earth and clay. These pilings support a grillage made from almost 6,000 tons of iron and concrete. Massive metal plates on top of that grillage provide the ground level foundation for the 50 load bearing columns that form the base of the 462-foot building we know and love today.

Lesson Learned: Your team and your marketing strategy need a strong foundation. Portent’s Marketing Stack visualizes how we think about marketing. Every component of the stack supports and impacts the ones above.

Smith Tower Seattle - Build a Strong Foundation - Portent

Built to Last

In its hundred year history, the Smith Tower’s strong foundations helped it to survive three major earthquakes. After a severe 7.1 magnitude earthquake in 1949, inspecting the tower for damage cost more than the actual repairs. After a hundred years, multiple owners, earthquakes, and recessions, the Smith Tower still stands as beautiful, proud and significant as ever.

Smith Tower Seattle After Earthquake - Portent

Smith Tower after Seattle's 2001 earthquake

Lesson Learned: There are no shortcuts. Tactics change, but great marketing doesn’t. Portent is still standing after more than 20 years in spite of tech bubbles, recessions, and more “-geddons” than you can shake a stick at. We set ourselves apart through future-proof marketing. This is doing digital right.