The STL’s Ad Scene: ‘Dangerously Creative’

By Kiran Aditham Comment

As part of our ongoing collaboration with The Egotist network, AgencySpy checks in for the first time with the St. Louis operation, which talks about the local ad scene in the aftermath of InBev’s Anheuser-Busch acquisition. Which shops have been thriving and which have gone the way of the dodo since? Read on to find out…

St. Louis: The city you can see from 30,000 feet as you fly over from your most recent photo shoot in Los Angeles or after returning from an inspiring TED conference in New York, thanks to a beautiful, gleaming stainless steel arch created in the 60s to make us look cooler/more visible than Kansas City. Aside from being the best place to live in all of Mimal, we’re here to tell you why St. Louis is the most dangerously creative place for agencies at the moment.

It’s no secret that St. Louis found its way into the contemporary advertising and creative world on the shoulders of the beer-giant, Anheuser Busch. The king of beers provided an endless opportunity of work for some fledgling creative shops around town, making it easy to succeed and/or develop a name for yourself off of anything AB – and the beer-maker was happy to oblige and make everyone who could design a point-of-sale a wealthy individual.

Unfortunately (or fortunately in our eyes), the “recession” came early in the STL as AB was sold to Belgian conglomerate InBev in 2008. InBev was ruthless in pulling out the fat retainers for pretty shitty promotional work that AB had financed previously throughout the years, and shops started shutting down and/or laying off people in droves.

The STL creative community went completely batshit crazy and instantly, the market was flooded with out-of-work creatives who had worked on alcohol marketing promotions their whole careers. It was a good cleansing period for the market, as we had rested on our beer-soaked laurels for far too long and grown stagnant on a national level (not that we had ever attained any widespread national renown as a creative depot in the first place).

Fast forward a few years and much has changed; local shops that formed earlier in the decade have made a name for themselves in a range of areas while also attracting interest from all over the map. We’re going to take a look at the old birds who sustained the multiple concussive blasts from the implosion of the AB money tree and the recession, phoenixes that have risen from the ashes, hatchlings breaking their way onto the scene and the dodos who have vanished completely. This is only a small sampling of creative firms that have been on our radar recently – mainly because they actively contribute to the St. Louis Egotist in one way or another.

Old Birds (10+ Years):

Momentum – We had heard rumors of the STL branch minimizing their digital (or Phygital™) role in this area but our sources couldn’t have been more off. They launched a successful program for AB called “Band of Buds” which blended TV, print, OOH, tons of local bar events, social media campaign and regional competitions. Currently they are hiring like the dickens and expanding their role in this area.

Toky – Either you love ’em or hate ’em but there is one indisputable fact, Toky does the work everyone else in the area wishes they could claim as their own. Run by power couple Eric and Mary Thoelke, they maintain a high level of quality in all their work and remain some of the biggest supporters of the St. Louis area with a large focus on local pro bono.

Rodgers Townsend – They have been winning a boatload of awards recently and remain one the most successful post-Zipatoni multiple discipline ad firms. They designed a beautiful FWA site recently and have bolstered their ranks with some amazing national talent.

Paradowski Creative – The only news from this secretive bunch came when they moved to a new building earlier this year. As a result of this and the lagging economy, they had to let go of a number of employees, a move which received some flack and that was only kind of addressed. We only wonder how they have managed to maintain a presence in the area with lagging relevance and weaker work that centers around the red-headed stepchild marketing practices, such as direct mail.

Hoffman|Lewis – H|L pumps out large local campaigns regularly and you can normally find them featured on the St. Louis Egotist for their television and print work. They created quite a hoopla earlier this year for the Kidnapped Chicagoan campaign. We look forward to hearing news from them and seeing their productions get a little bit better with each pass.

Phoenixes (Past 10 years or so):

Coolfire Media – CFM is the clear winner for up-and-coming agency in St. Louis. First and foremost they produce good work and secondarily, they win awards. They are attacking the St. Louis market without looking back and are still friendly with everyone – mainly because a good portion of the agencies rely on their talent to produce successful spots. We are happy they are successful and turning the national eye inward.

Atomic Dust – One of the few digital shops around town that has their shit together, they seem to be on the pathway to much more success. Really, we don’t have too much else to say, just that you should be aware of them and we’re happy they call St. Louis home.

Moosylvania – We don’t know very much about the most curiously named agency in the midwest or the people who work for them (or their supposedly amazing workspace), but we do know that they have maintained a higher level of success than other agencies. While not working for AB (that we are aware of), they have cornered other various alcohols and seem to be producing strong work for them. You should know by now that St. Louis loves its booze.

Infuz – The other top digital agency right now would have to be the Infuz crew. You can tell just by visiting their site that they have their ish together and they mean business. They also seem way more intelligent than we could ever hope to be. We would love to see more case studies and work samples but they have already put St. Louis on the Twitter map more than anyone else in town with the creation of STL Tweets. (We’re secretly hoping that this article can at least trend a little bit on this site.)

Cannonball – If there is one thing that is important about CB it seems to be that they are the only shop in St. Louis that was not let go when the merger of AB and InBev occurred. Clearly, this is a sign of creative and account coming together to maintain a strong relationship with one of the larger companies in the world, although they have experienced a little competition lately with other national firms, namely Anomaly.

Hatchlings:

Boxing Clever – BC is admittedly an older hatchling and some of the people behind the scenes have been around the area for years, but this summer they truly came out swinging by landing some AORs from within the luxury liquors circle. Seems that they are developing a nice digital niche for themselves with the top-shelfers and other happy clients.

Cherokee Print League – There is a massive creative surge going on in South St. Louis City on a street called Cherokee, and leading the pack is the printshop/indie band Sleepy Kitty, Firecracker Press and All Along Press. This is definitely the creative core of St. Louis at the moment and we look forward to seeing them define the city even further in the future.

The Able Few – This small digital shop has been around since 2001, but only recently have we seen any “buzz” about them in the agency world. There may be more there but PR is seriously lacking – like the majority of firms in St. Louis.

HatBox – One of the more frequent commenters who came out of nowhere and unleashed a very strong, clean, pixel perfect design standard not normally seen in the St. Louis area. HatBox is an example of the kind of quality design that we hope to see more of in the post-AB era.

Anti-Agency – Another frequent commenter on the Egotist, we look forward to seeing what kind of work this collective will release in the future to accompany their minimalist website and ballsy name. What we have seen so far, though, looks pretty promising.

Rukus – We’re not gonna lie – we literally just found out about Rukus as we were trying to find the link for Technisonic (see Dodos). This newest incarnation by former members of Technisonic has much room to improve upon but looks poised to strike in the video production arena where there is much work up for grabs (if Coolfire somehow misses it).

Dodos:

Adamson – Piece by piece, taken over by Barkley in Kansas City. No one cared.

Technisonic – Once the largest video production firm in the area, Technisonic bit the dust sometime this summer to not much fanfare. Their website now leads to Rukus, mentioned in the Hatchlings section.

Core – Although they officially dissolved earlier this year, there had not been much news coming out of this shop for years. It was a rather disappointing loss for the community as they had been one of the few firms to push the boundaries and openly not worry about what anyone else thought although the consensus is that they brought it about themselves. Agency heads were siphoned by local shops or headed to other national firms.

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Whew, that took a long time to write.

So yes, that’s what’s up in the STL. No we aren’t NY, LA, SF, PDX, etc. Yes, some of the websites above are outdated Flash experiences. But clearly, in the shops named above (and in the multitudes unmentioned), there is a vibrant mixture of scary creativity, relevant digital focus, and an acknowledged underdog mentality that makes us hungry for more than just a small piece of the pie – we want the whole damn thing. Vague metaphors aside, St. Louis is a creative center to be reckoned with and, yes, we actually DO love our city and know that it will kick your city’s ass at the drop of a hat. We’re not the most dangerous city for nothing. (We’re really not that dangerous at all. That ranking is total bullshit and everybody knows it. Seriously, calling St. Louis dangerous is like calling Los Angeles calm. Come here and you will see.)

The St. Louis Egotist presents the good, the bad, and everything in between with creative industry news from the best city touching the Mississippi. We’re also just one spoke in the steadily growing The Egotist Network that is reporting on the local ad scene for AgencySpy.

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