Ex-Thinkers Resurface as Sweetgrass

LOS ANGELES Eighteen former staffers of the now-defunct Think Seattle have banded together to form a new branding and communications firm called Sweetgrass.

The Seattle venture is led by co-founder and managing director Bill Toliver, who previously held the same title at Think, as well as creative director Ron Hawkins, co-founder and director of strategic planning Jeff Idler, co-founder and director of client services Caroline Ballaine, media director Brett Dennis, and Teresa Riefflin Ellis, who is co-founder and production director.

Toliver, 40, said the shop will provide research and marketing strategy, branding, creative, Web site design, direct marketing and media planning services.

The agency gets its name from the sweet grass that used to cover the prairies, said Toliver, adding that Native Americans burned the grass to attract good spirits. “It’s simple, unassuming, and it conjures up the right ideas,” Toliver said.

Sweetgrass is working with five former Think clients: UW Medicine, Destination Hotels & Resorts, the Humane Society of King County, Friends of the Children and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It anticipates 2003 billings of $5 million.

“We’ve tried to build our agency so that we are an extremely bad fit for about 80 percent of the clients out there and a really great fit for about 20 percent,” said Toliver. “The clients that we’re interested in are those whose product and approach to the marketplace we can believe in, those who are willing to contemplate more substantive questions than, ‘How do I sell more widgets next quarter?'” Sweetgrass will seek clients that ask “bigger questions,” such as “Why do I exist as a company and why do I deserve the loyalty of our customer base?” he added.

The shop is located in the same building that previously housed Think, at 71 Columbia St.