The Firm List > The Firm List Spotlights > Elevation Creative Studios

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Elevation Creative Studios Spotlight on the Firms
FL: I always seem to ask this one, but I think quite a lot of time, thought and sometimes money goes into choosing a firm's name. It's the decision that shapes a firm's "brand." So, why the name "Elevation Creative Studios" and what has it done to shape the path of your business?
Jeff Ruth, Creative Director + Brand Development: It is actually rather simple. We wanted to give prospective clients the feeling that we could take them to new places. Our goal is to elevate their business. In rounding out the name, we avoided the common trappings of "Group" or "Agency" and went with Creative Studios so we could leave the doors wide open to ideas and experimentation. You can do what ever you set your mind to under a brand like ours. Clients who have become burnt out on the agency experience are flocking to the idea of an open "studio" focused on them. A place where anything goes!

How has it shaped our path? Perfect to plan so far. We are able to leverage ourselves against any size or type of competition because that door is left open. We have clients who want us to be a full agency and those that want us to work with an ad agency on their behalf after we do the creative. Some want the project they have asked for and that is that. We are finding, at least in our region, that this approach is enabling us to choose the work we want 90% of the time and for now, the phone is ringing. And isn't that why we are in this game?
FL: Having been born out of last breaths of the boom, how has the economic climate of the last few years affected the growth of Elevation? Has it provided wind beneath your wings and taken you into unforseen directions? Or is it like flying a kite, continually looking for another draft to stay airborne?
Jeff: Yes and yes. One of the key words to survival in the post 9/11 and post "dot.bust" economy was scalability. For an area like Central Kentucky, the greatly inflated prices for creative work leading up to 2001 found the way out of the incubator world and into the common agency and design firms. Everyone ramped up staff and prepared for the long ride of over-priced Web sites and brochures. When the end came, Elevation sat in the perfect place to instantly scale down to realistic price and work expectations where others could not. This ability, along with a portfolio of clients willing to stay with us out of the e-incubator and a list of contacts that knew of our past work, allowed us to instantly compete with more notable names in the area and quickly build a reputation that now speaks for itself. So yes, in the ability to quickly understand the rapid changing value for our services, we have made the experience a strong wind beneath our wings. Also, every young business is like flying a kite and ours is no exception, but to date, the drafts have been steady and true.
FL: Your firm offers more than web design services. Many web design firms come out of traditional design backgrounds, offering web design as part of a larger offering of services. Some firms grow from web-only backgrounds to offer more services in order to get by. Do you find that clients really are looking for a wide-range of services under one roof? Do you ever find yourself asked to work closely with other design firms, sharing various parts of the projects?
Jeff: Everyday we have people tell us that they will never go back to an "agency" again or that they have learned their lesson in trying to get a Web site on the cheap. They absolutely are looking for as much as they can in one place. Clients are smart and very savvy. They know that they need cohesiveness in their message. When they see that there is not three layers of administrative people between them and the designer they like it. They want the personal relationship that they can trust. Our partners work as a team that still personally performs the bulk of the work for every project. We are noted as much for print as we are for Web design and as much for logos as both Web and print combined. Our clients see this and want the whole package. They like talking to the person doing the work on their Web today and they like that they will be the same person working on their brochure next week.

Yes we do work with other firms on projects from time to time. Those can be some of the most rewarding projects if the other firm is as open, fun and eager to learn from the experience as we are. As you know there is a fine line that agencies ride between showing confidence to clients and growing cold to learning a new idea and being open to change and growth.
Elevation Creative Studios Offices
FL: Your site humorously states "we'll even treat you like a rock star if you want." Humor aside, do you find that clients looking for web/design services share traits in common with rock stars? Do they come to treat your firm as an equal or perhaps as a groupie, clinging on for whatever stray thing they might toss your way?
Jeff: The way we crafted our message was one part psychological experiment and one part our true personalities. If we were going to be breaking a mold in how we work we had to throw out all of the old agency clichés and get to some real language. The personality of a client that would be a high maintenance "rock star" and that would treat us like a groupie does not seem to select us as much. They do not like our tone. Those clients that do choose Elevation love us for that same tone and for statements like the rock star statement. So far the respect is there because the honesty of our personality and vision for their project is successfully communicated throughout the process.
FL: Your site starts one out with a photo from the top of a mountain. I'm almost expecting to see a Yeti pop out and attack me. Are the members of Elevation mountain climbers in their spare time? Or perhaps you're just trying to tie your firm to the idea of low-levels of oxygen?
Jeff: We love the outdoors as much as the next guy that grows up in a state as beautiful as Kentucky and yes we have some tremendous hiking here but alas, I will have to say no we are not avid climbers. Snowboarding is another story for a few of us.

The images we use are all representative of various levels of elevation and ways to get there. They all require various levels of commitment and effort to achieve maximum heights. Creative projects are very similar and we want to make that subconscious connection to prospective clients. Some are as easy as a small boy flying a balsa wood glider and others are like planning and then traversing Everest. All are important and all will take their company to new levels. It is our job to explore what level of commitment all parties are willing to make to the project so it can be successful.
FL: What's the one thing you would say sets Elevation apart from every other firm, both locally and globally?
Jeff: Personality. By that I mean that we make a point to really connect with our clients on a personal level as much to learn their needs but also so they can learn our style and philosophy better. We feel like they chose us in the beginning because they wanted an Elevation project. What they saw that they liked was just that, a piece of us formed around the needs of another client. The worst mistake is to let them love you at the start and then take total control away and turn it into the same work they had been doing in-house up until they fired the in-house designer. You have to keep reminding them why they chose you or in the end they will not be as happy as when they saw your work the first time. We want them to go away with an Elevation project.
FL: I am not sure that anyone would say that Kentucky is a hotbed of web design technology, but it would be close-minded of anyone to think that there's not some sort of web design "scene" there. What is the reality? What is the state of the profession in Kentucky, or at least Lexington?
Jeff: Lexington is the largest city in the United States not on a major waterway and is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. It has nearly doubled in size in the last 15 years. Business growth is constantly strong. The work is here. The market is predominantly equestrian and B2B so there is a high volume of very exciting work being used in sales presentations and tradeshow exhibit environments that do not reach the open Internet or retail markets. As for trends, the Web is the Web. Everyone sees the latest tech and everyone is inspired by what they see. It's the budgets that may differ. We see allot of trend and fad followers here and that creates clients who ask for certain things. It is not unlike drug commercials sending people into doctor's offices asking for the latest designer drugs by name with no idea if it is what they need. They just want it. Clients have a need and our job is to provide a solution not an expensive band-aid that may have an adverse reaction to other medications or communications. They are looking for results. In any "scene" the focus should be on the clients because they are all talking too. Whatever technology, trick, bell, whistle or just plain HTML designed site that will tell their story in the most effective way is what the client needs. Period.

There are some tight circles in older affluent cities like Lexington across America and you are either in the circles or you stand out side of them and make as much noise as you can. We make noise. Telling the truth to your clients and getting results will make allot of noise so be prepared. That is how you make a positive change in the profession as a whole and that is how you survive. We love it when a local client says "you don't look Kentucky" or when an international company says only "you're hired."
FL: As long-time professionals in the field, what would you say are some of the most over-rated and under-rated trends, technologies or aspect of web design/development? Do you think that the waves of "fads" are good for the professional or detrimental?
Jeff: Hum... this is a good one. The nice thing about the web is that it is always changing and becoming something new. I think the "fads" are ultimately what makes the web such an interesting medium for designers. We have the ability to use the other side of our brains and really mix both creative and intellect to make something beautiful and usable. Things only really become fads when they have been pushed so far that they are cliché. So that is pretty awesome to think that the Internet has been explored so deep that it has become flooded and somewhat "out of date" in just a matter of a few years.

Obviously Flash has allowed designers to truly push their creativity to an entirely new level. I think at one time clients hated Flash because designers were toying with its abilities and somewhat OVER-animating everything. Once the newness wore off, the effectiveness of the tool really took shape.
FL: Does Elevation tend to focus/specialize in any one industry/segment of the business world? Is there value in specializing (and theoretically becoming better experienced) with particular types of businesses? Or is there a lot to be said for the energy and challenges that come with tackling varied projects?
Jeff: They both present certain advantages and challenges and it depends on what you, as a design firm, are game for really. If you need to close some deals and you have done three jobs in one industry than you can instantly market yourself as an expert. The doors will open faster and close smoother. However, you said it, if you are not one to enjoy complacency in any of its forms and you want the challenge and energy of learning a new industry, varied projects are the choice. Elevation does its share of both but prefers the challenge of new industries every time.
Elevation Creative Studios Offices
FL: One of the longest running mantras about the web and web design is that it doesn't matter where you are, with the web, you're as close to someone in India as someone in India, for example. Given globalization, outsourcing, etc., do you find that most of your clients/prospects still center around your physical location or do you pursue and find work outside your area?
Jeff: It works both ways really. Smaller jobs require more face to face than larger jobs often do and there is no shortage of local work. We are fortunate in Lexington that we have satellite offices for many major corporations and the horse industry has an ability to lure executives here for long periods of time. It also opens the door for many international contacts. This allows Elevation the unique ability to drastically reduce the size of the globe on a very personal level.
FL: You spend time on your site talking about your office and how one's space affects one's work. Do you have any examples of how your firm's work or your team's daily life has been affected/shaped by the new environs?
Jeff: Well... the biggest thing we love about our new space is that it is a loft. Lofts are great because they are open and allow people to share ideas without having to walk 3 offices down to pitch a thought. We can just blurt out whatever happens to be on our mind at the time. I think some of our goofiest ideas have blossomed into some of our best work.

So yeah, our studio has definitely affected our work and as we grow it will be interesting as to how much that helps or hurts the "family" we have all become.
FL: During the boom, companies were often measured by their list of perks. While many of those benefits have gone by the wayside, some no doubt remain - because they work. What would you consider to be the one or two perks your firm offers that is integral to the well-being of your team as well as the company as a whole?
Jeff: Building a team in Central Kentucky is a mirror of building a team in "Anytown, Middle America" really. The talent can be hard to hold. We are always on the lookout for the next rising star that wants to stay here and that has a realistic understanding of compensation. The boom created an unrealistic value in the minds of a generation of young people whose guidance councilors and then college career councilors told them that they could go out and demand more money than their parents make and that a good company has a ping pong table and nap time. We are very fortunate to have found a talented group and we are giving all we can to keep them.

Flextime is the creative process' best friend. You cannot demand creativity to start and stop on a dime. Overall we keep a very relaxed office. How we price and track time is also a favorite of both clients and our creative team. Deadlines are deadlines. As long as they are met, and as long as the work is good and the client is happy, all is well with the world.
(spotlight first ran April 2005)

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