creative partnership helpings brands be interesting

A few stories.

No "Brunos"

So what’s a “creative partnership” exactly? It sounds fancy and fussy and possibly expensive, right? Well, with this inaugural Lemmon Hughes blog post, we’ll answer that.

For quite a while at the beginning of our partnership, we maintained a (non-expensive) office at the historic (really!) Tree Studios in Chicago. Fireplace, 20’ ceilings, wood floors, beautiful courtyard...it had it all for a reasonable monthly rent. We took freelancing seriously and knew that agencies who might hire us—especially for remote work—would do so more willingly and often if we weren’t, as Kevin said, “just two assholes freelancing out of a Starbucks.” It worked, too. Having the space made our work better, our ethic stronger and our motivation to keep working fueled. We loved Tree. Loved that it was for creative people only. Loved the courtyard. Loved that Quartino was right across the street. Though we did hate that Chicago’s horrible Chili’s was also right across the street, which did, in fact, lead us away from a larger office that looked out directly at the Chili’s sign (absolutely unacceptable) to a slightly smaller office that didn’t. One of the best creative decisions we’ve ever made. Plus it saved us $75 a month.


Anyway, it was there at Tree where we learned that clients really want to understand and be invloved in the creative process. An experience all but closed off to them in an agency environment. In fact, it’s discouraged. We learned this because in addition to our freelance gigs, we had a fairly robust “second job” doing work directly for a few small clients. Because we had an office, we thought of ourselves as a business. We had rent, expenses, LLCs.

One of those small clients, redbox, soon became a big client. Big for us. With huge responsibilities. In fact, we were redbox’ ANOR (Agency not of Record). We had an exceptionally savvy and collaborative client named Greg Waring. Greg was all about keeping things lean and snappy; getting involved with work; making fast, intuitve decisions and taking advantage of opportunities to do things differently with a new brand. Plus he loved great creative work.

When we started with redbox, they had 25 kiosks in Denver. When we parted ways five years later, they had over 22,000 nationwide. And we had done everything for them. Print, POP/POS, Email, Google Adwords (at one point we were paying Google over $35,000 a month), website, GUI design, radio, retail, co-op, merchandising, HR materials, internal comms, trade show, event and livery design.

It worked because we were able to craft ad hoc teams for all assignments. Greg trusted us. We trusted Greg. We all trusted the approach. Over those five years we pulled in 31 different creative, media and production professionals to freelance on redbox projects.

It worked because the client was very close to the product, which is the creative output. He was not separated from us by human or process layers. He could—and did—call us directly. We didn’t hold meetings. We had quick conversations, we wrote a brief that went back and forth once or twice, was signed and then executed. 

It worked because there was no ponderous infrastructure, no intimidating process cogs, and no fraudulent creative algorithm.

And it worked because the cost was significantly lower than what redbox would’ve paid to an agency that would’ve assigned 24 people to the business.

We have no problem with account executives. We’ve worked with some exceptional people in that role. We have a problem with what happens when the practice of “account executiving” is subverted.  In our experience, hiring a project manager is actually a better approach. They’re close in temperament to a producer and have top-notch organizational skills.

Oh, yeah. About fancy and fussy. Well, we’re not. OK, maybe a little fancy sometimes. But never precious. Creatives are not a Dan Brown-level mysterious caste of medieval guild members. There’s no crazy, savant-type mentality or behavior here.

Creative. Partnership. It's not just us. It's you, too.

Kevin Hughes