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posted by Cathy Monetti Oct 31,2017 @ 02:35PM

A Storied Past: 30 Years of Riggs

 It has been 30 years since I first opened the doors of C.C. Rigg’s, more years than I had been alive at that time. (Okay. Wow.) I look back now at that 27-year-old with great affection realizing what a naïve, idealistic young girl I was, recognizing all these years later the great gift in making that kind of leap when I didn't know any better. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, as they say, I had no clue how complicated and risky and unpredicatable running a business would prove to be.

Day One was October 19, 1987. It will go down in history as Black Monday—so named due to the dramatic dive of the Dow Jones—the greatest single day drop ever, and a turn of events a more knowledgable entrepreneur might have interpreted as a sign. It was lost on me. I don't remember the news even registering, to tell you the truth, my focus so narrowly zoomed on the one sure-bet client giving me enough confidence to open those proverbial doors. 

And so I sat at my Bell Office Furniture used metal desk, straightened up the set of newly sharpened pencils, and picked up the phone to call Anne, the marketing director for the client I planned to recruit. "She's no longer with the company," said the operator on the other end of the line. "The entire marketing department was 'dissolved' over the weekend."

I kid you not.

I don't remember what I did next. Sat in stunned silence for a minute, I am sure. Then probably I got up and served myself a large Diet Coke.

 

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 circa 1987

 

Those first years were tough. I was single, then a newly wed with a husband who supported my crazy idea and the resulting business in a quiet but beautiful way. For the life of me I don't know how anybody in the ad business made money in those days. In addition to the requirements of sound strategy and great creative the mere development of the ad executions was incredibly time and labor intensive. We used drawing boards and radiograph pens and t-squares and press type. If you needed an image you drew a sketch, then hired a photographer or an illustrator. If you wanted to test color for an outdoor board you put tissue paper over the thing and colored it in. I created my own accounting system: every payment I received I split between two checking accounts. Into one I put every dime I owed on behalf of clients, and I paid those bills immediately. Into the other I put the "profit" out of which I paid the agency bills. I never mixed the two and as archaic as the system was I am proud to say it established a wonderful and important precedence. To this day our agency has never used client money to pay anything but their own bills.

I also didn't pay myself a regular salary, at least not for the first few years. I believed it to be a smarter business practice to put that money away in the event the agency needed it. It's a practice I counsel against strongly these days when I talk with new entrepreneurs, a terrible practice that sets up an unrealistic and unsustainable model.

 

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at our 10th birthday party 

 

It was tough, but the rewards were great, too. The first to come along was a sweet high school student, Julie Smith, who called out of the blue to offer her free services as an intern willing to do anything to get some advertising experience. This included emptying the trash, she noted on the telephone, "and you don't even have to pay me." I had not considered adding any type of employee at that time—even a free one, and certainly not a high school student—but Julie's infectious enthusiasm won me over. She remains one of the brightest lights in my life.

 

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Julie's joy is infectious. See? 

 

We enjoyed success, too. A little billboard campaign we created for Dutch Door Artists Supplies won gold and then Best of Show our first year in the Addys, something we never dared dream in a market with big reputation agencies that had big budget clients. We were particularly proud the work was honored since it represented more than good creative—it established an uncompromising ideal that to this day has been our standard. I had woken up the day the campaign was to be presented to the client with the knowing feeling my recommendations were not right. I called my dear friend and freelance art director Tim Burke very, very early and asked him to meet me at the studio as soon as he could get there. "I know the pitch is today," I said, "but the work isn't right and we're changing it."

 

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 Can you spot the press type?

 

So many people with incredible talent and great dedication have been a part of our story since those early years. It takes my breath to consider it. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 78 or 79 folks are Rigg-ers past or present, not including the many interns for whom we don't have viable records. The aggregate number feels surprising since our staff numbers have, by design, remained relatively small. I look over that list with awe and remember what each and every person brought that pushed us forward. So many gifts. So much grace.

 

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 Lisa, Tim, me, Julie: the early years' C.C.Rigg's crew

 

It is the thing I am most proud of, if you will indulge me that, more than the work for which we are known, more, even, than the honor it has been to serve exceptional clients who have trusted us with both their investments and their businesses. We have hired well, by and large, knowing beyond knowing that the best thing an entrepreneur can do is be brave enough to surround herself with people who are smarter and more talented than she is.

This goes doubly true for my beloved business partners. I am neither kidding nor exaggerating when I say I truly believe each and every one—individually—is the secret to our success. (I do realize that is not possible. And yet.)

Teresa Sarvis Coles, who was the answer to a prayer I didn't even know to pray when she stepped in and took the reigns during the years I was geographically removed from the business, whose smarts and vision took us from creative boutique to bonafide Mar Com agency, whose little idea became big CreateAthon and who serves as the program's grand champion today, who in every personal and professional way is my heart and soul;

 

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two girls with some big dreams 

 

Kevin Smith, who literally knocked on the door as a recent college grad and talked his way into a job that didn't exist, who brought us our first Big Client, who had his sights set on NYC and spent those years away reminding us what a special place our little agency was, then returned bringing everything he learned, whose gift for strategy is beyond comprehension and who, without fail, elevates our standard;

Ryon Edwards, the finest person I know, the most generous and patient and kind coworker I know, the most talented designer/art director I know (quite possibly in the universe), who always—always—delights and surprises with his other-worldly talent and sweet, sweet spirit;

Tom Barr, the incomparable Tom Barr, who is In Charge Of Everything and makes it all look effortless, the ultimate juggler of 10,000 things and still always has time and an answer, money man, spreadsheet man, my I-can't-survive-in-a-world-without-him-and-wouldn't-want-to man, thank you Tom Barr.

 

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my people: Tom, Teresa, Kevin, me, Ryon

 

And I must mention Michael Powelson and Katy Miller, both with their own superpowers, both providing so much support and smarts and doing their jobs so well they have given me the grand, grand gift of stepping back a little, opening my life a little to some awesome new experiences and challenges.

I am also deeply proud of my insistence that we evolve as the years have gone by. I always think of Riggs as having shape, a literal shape I can see in my mind's eye, and I can visualize it morphing from this to that as we meet changing market conditions or changing client needs. This matters whatever the type of business, I believe, but never more so than in an industry dedicated to understanding and anticipating trend. To still be around, and relevant, and independent, 30 years later is a testament to this commitment to change, I think, to re-thinking and reconsidering everything every single day.

 

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before we cutted and gutted the Yugo (and painted it purple)

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and attached it to a billboard 

 

This is a business for young people, there is no doubt about that. How grateful I am to those who populate the WECO building as Rigg-ers today. We have never had a more talented, cohesive, supportive, and yes—loving--group, not in all the years, and that's saying something because we've had some mighty strong teams. I thank each and every one of you from a place of deep affection.

 

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 Riggs Partners today

 

It has been a lovely, bumpy, joy-filled ride, and I am humbled to my core when I look back to see the 30 years all lined up, pretty maids in a row.

 

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How grateful I am.

 

 

posted by Stephanie Owens Aug 16,2017 @ 11:27AM

Shoestring Budget? Challenge Accepted.

Over the weekend, I attended the District 3 Leadership Conference with my fellow AAF of the Midlands board members. And while I was eager to learn how we could improve our organization and take advantage of bonding as a board, I was most excited to hear Rich Stoddart, CEO of Leo Burnett Worldwide give the keynote at Friday’s dinner.

He didn’t disappoint.

However, amidst laughter at Allstate’s Mayhem campaign and the entire room’s battle against tears when watching Always’ #LikeAGirl viral video, I felt that familiar feeling of dissatisfaction. That awful little voice we all know too well when we see mega-agency creative, whispering these crushing words: “most brands don’t have that kind of budget.”

I mean, come on! An ostrich flying to an Elton John song while wearing Samsung VR goggles! The music royalties alone would give most of us a heart attack.

Then Rich crushed that little voice.

Take two minutes to see how:


How much did it cost, you ask? Around $37,000!

The results? “Van Gogh’s Bedroom” sold out immediately, generating massive PR and a 250% increase in online ticket sales—the highest attendance of any exhibit in 15 years.

So, what is your excuse? What is mine? With so many low-cost digital options available at our fingertips, it is up to us to figure out a way to engage our audience no matter how big or small the client’s budget.

posted by Michael Powelson Oct 26,2016 @ 08:18AM

A political ad you can learn from (believe it or not)

Everyone hates election season. But I’m not sure anyone hates it more than advertising creatives. In addition to the usual indignities that put most all of us off our respective lunches, political campaigns subject the ad professional to a host of more specific crimes. They inflate the price of media. They stoke public cynicism to a point that it can carry over onto even the most ideologically neutral brands. And then there’s the simple fact that political ads are, as a rule, terrible.

Grating, unimaginative, and insulting to nearly everyone’s intelligence, most campaign commercials defy all principles of creativity. They shout. They pander. They lie. They take shortcuts no self-respecting brand would dream of because, unlike brands, they have only short-term objectives and media war chests large enough to bludgeon audiences rather than doing the conceptual work of winning them over honestly. And we all get dumber in the process.

That’s why my vote for Biggest October Surprise goes to the fact that a senate candidate in Missouri has made one of the best spots, political or otherwise, I’ve seen all year.

Take thirty seconds:

 

 

Yes, this may be the last post I’m permitted to write in this space. Not only did I just encourage you to view a political ad, I just encouraged you to view a political ad about guns.

Easy now. Rest assured, I have no interest in your opinions on gun control. Nor does this piece have any intention of advocating for either side of that complex issue. As proof, I need only confess my own convoluted stance — one that I’m sure both camps would find equally contemptible. On the one hand, I own a handful of rifles and shotguns for sporting use and a handgun for home defense. On the other, I’d sooner join the Church of Scientology than the NRA and see no reason why a civilian such as myself should be able to possess the type of militaristic weapon that Kander poses with in his ad.

None of that is particularly relevant. But hopefully it ushered the ideological elephants out of the room so that we can get to the real point. What Kander’s ad can teach us has nothing to do with its content and everything to do with its execution.

Kander felt that an opponent had mischaracterized his relationship to firearms simply because he supports background checks. But rather than counter with the usual hallmarks of the category (blood-and-thunder voiceover, overwrought imagery), Kander fights back in a calm, confident voice. He speaks straight to the camera, albeit with one unique twist: He faces the lens through a blindfold while expertly assembling the AR-15 he carried as a lieutenant in Afghanistan.

The performance is at once understated and unforgettable. His words are simple, finely sharpened nails. His action, a hammer that echoes long after the thirty second mark.

The takeaway for marketers illustrates what good creative directors have preached for decades. Kander didn’t tell viewers who he was and where he stood. He showed them.

Ad Yoda Luke Sullivan likens this distinction to the advice of Miss Manners who famously noted, "It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help."

Where Kander’s good qualities begin and end is not for me to say. I don’t know anything about Missouri politics. I don’t know if he should be in the Senate. I don’t know if he’s a good guy or just a good actor. But I do know I’ll be thinking about the standard his commercial set for every project our creative department works on in the near future.

Next time a communication opportunity arises for your business, (be it on TV, the web or social media feed), remember Kander. Push yourself and your team beyond the single dimension of telling and into the impactful territory of showing.

After all, customers vote with their dollars. And no business can afford to leave them undecided.

 

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posted by Julie Turner Jun 08,2016 @ 10:17AM

Why Advertising isn't Dead

I’ve worked in this industry for 28 years. In a business that thrives on what happens five minutes from now, there are times I feel like a relic. Especially when I see alarmist predictions about the demise of this crazy business that I love.

I can remember almost the very moment I fell in love with advertising. As the managing editor for the now-defunct student newspaper at my high school, The Viking Shield, advertising was my responsibility. In addition to writing stories for the paper, I had to ensure the right ads made it into the right issues, create ads that didn’t exist, and then put the paid-for foundation together for the editorial. I could create my own Absolut vodka-style campaigns with a smaller palette of yogurt stores, card shops and pizza restaurants. At 16 years old, I was already all in to my future.

 

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Then

 

I could sit here and let you think it was that easy. That my work on the high school paper led me to where I am today: writing for clients. But it wasn’t simple. Nor was it easy. So much happened in the middle. I started as a designer, became an art director, and even enjoyed stints in the paper industry and as a nonprofit marketing director before finally settling into the life of a word wrangler. Fun fact, I have worked almost everywhere I worked, twice.

What’s been central in these 28 years is not the art directing or writing; it’s the ideating. What I love most is the brainstorming. When I was 16, it was creating a small space ad campaign to honor the sponsor of our journalism lab: Pepsi. Then studying at USC and later working in the business, it meant coming up with varied concepts for campaigns that clients would use in the holy trinity of pre-Internet media: TV, print and direct mail. Idea after idea. Bought and sold. Every now and then one of those ideas would bloom into a huge success. I have to say, it’s been a great way to earn a living.

But the real beauty of what we do is often confined to the brainstorming sessions. Of course the output of brainstorming was reliably good — a kernel of a campaign concept that we could thresh into something bigger. But the fifty or hundred other ideas we dreamed up had bountiful possibility, too. Even better, I’d say because they were a little more out of the media-driven box. For every kernel created, there were also a few great ideas custom-tailored to support it.

Things that weren’t in the budget. Things we weren’t asked to do. Things that were never presented to the client. Little things, big things. Things the client could do, things their customers could wear. Things that had the real potential to make a mark in our media-cluttered world.

 

Yes, the three-headed print campaign king has been toppled and for some time. But the new king isn’t the latest CMS platform or even a keyword. It’s bigger than character counts and Snapchat.

At least for the next five minutes in marketing history, what’s king is the interesting extra ideas that for years were idled on the sidelines. The strategic anthems built to rally empassioned people together. The funny t-shirt that boosts brand recall and spreads the gospel. The targeted event that puts a product in exactly the right place and time for sonic impact. The “wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-we-could”s.

 

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Now
 
I, for one, am happy the other ideas are finally getting their era in the sun. And, even though I am squarely from the Spraymount and press type generation, I believe I have a lot more ideas in me.

Yes, the industry is different, but the work that goes into even the newest fangled digital campaign is decidedly old school. It’s built on an idea. And as long as there are people like me — and hopefully you too — there will always be ideas.

When the ideas are gone, that’s when we’ll really be in trouble.

 

So with my 28 years of experience I’m going to tell everyone to just settle down and relax. Advertising isn’t dead. It will exist as long as there is commerce. And as for us being relics? That’s not true either. If you’re a dreamer or a thinker, there’s business to be had.

posted by Alexandra Frazier Jan 14,2016 @ 07:36PM

On brands that take their sweet time

A large stone fireplace dominates my aunt's keeping room. During family visits, there is no better way to greet the morning than to curl up on her leather loveseat and read one of the half-dozen cookbooks that tend to pile the end tables. Fire blazing, a steaming mug of coffee in hand and her furry smudge of a dachshund in lap, the space invites savory journeys of the imagination. 

It was here, a few months ago, that I began flipping through a Napa bakery's guide to recreating its most popular pastry and desserts. From the sundrenched photos of layer cakes and lemon squares to the author's description of her shop's temperamental brick ovens, it was easy to envision the bakery's perfect treats coming from my own less-than-perfect kitchen. 

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And yet, despite the book's many calls for ungodly amounts of European butter, there was nary a greasy thumbprint among its blush-colored pages. I asked my aunt about this—no cookbook worth its literal and figurative salt should be so pristine—to which she replied that the recipes, though lovely, were too long and labor-intensive. Too much effort, she said. I asked to take the book home anyway.  

As a maker of both baked goods and branded content, I can't help but connect the prep work and precision required of baking to the process-driven means by which we bring brand strategy to life. In the office and the kitchen, we plan, mix, wait and bake until we've created a product worthy of consumers' attentions and appetites. It's not easy, exactly. It takes effort.

My aunt was right in that the recipes I've tested so far are long, and they do take time. Lots of it. That said, the resulting confections have been decadent, intensely flavored, and frequently Instagrammable. More importantly, they've been worthy of sharing with the people I care about. Perhaps there's a lesson there. 

We live in a world that values convenience over quality, a place where food is fast and technology faster. The pressure to take whatever shortcuts necessary to keep pace is intense. But, just as your taste buds can tell the lovingly homemade from the pre-packaged, audiences can quickly discern original thought from canned content. Only one merits sharing. 

When what your brand says aligns with what it stands for, when its purpose is the star ingredient of all your communications—that's when your audiences will take notice. The real stuff takes longer, obviously. However, if you're doing it right, consumers will always come back for second helpings.

 

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