Ruff/Coffin Is Formed in Austin

Former executives of the disbanded Leo Burnett Technology Group have established a new agency called Ruff/Coffin.

The principals of the Austin, Texas-based shop are Todd Ruff, formerly vice president and director of client services at LBTG, and Mike Coffin, previously vice president and creative director.

Leo Burnett Technology Group shuttered its 21-employee, Austin office in May, rolling up the final remnant of an erstwhile tech-oriented regional network.

Ruff and Coffin began talking about opening their own agency almost immediately.

“It’s something we both wanted to do for a long, long time,” Ruff said. Also, he joked, “Nobody else would hire us.”

The two used their own savings to hire employees this summer in the absence of a charter client. While still operating out of Ruff’s house, the nascent agency managed to attract the business of Internet service provider Texas.Net. Other clients followed, including Community Health Systems of America, an insurance company that specializes in providing coverage to children in rural areas, and The Warren Group, a consultancy.

Last month, Ruff/Coffin moved into its first office space in downtown Austin. Its 10 staffers include copywriters, art directors and strategic planners.

“We’re lucky,” Ruff said. “Two years ago there would be no way we’d be able to get the kind of talent we’re getting now. We buy our furniture from dead dot-coms. And most importantly, the clients we’re going after are survivors.”

Prior to joining Burnett, Ruff served for 10 years at Dahlin Smith White in Salt Lake City, wherehe helped launch the Zipdrive for Iomega and worked on Intel. Coffin has held posts at Burnett in Chicago, The Richards Group in Dallas and GSD&M in Austin.

The agency co-founders said they plan to emphasize creativity at their new shop.

“[Other] agencies … want to go in and charge for a three-month planning exercise and then the creative people get two weeks to come up with something,” Coffin said. “We’re kind of flipping that around.”

“Ingenium fervium humanitas” is the motto of Ruff/Coffin.

“It’s the best Latin we could find for ‘talent, passion and niceness,’ ” said Ruff. “Those are the criteria by which we hire people, judge ourselves and look for clients.”