- AAF Memphis recognizes Combustion at 2010 Addys
- Daisy Rock Girl Guitars profiled in USA Today
- Advertising firm cuts down on the barriers between customers, managers and artists (from Commercial Appeal)
- Combustion finds a Soul mate in Stax
- An encore performance for Elvis
- They like us, they really like us
- Introducing a new brand of fun
- The return of a old favorite
- National publication honors Combustion work
- Combustion helps Campbell Clinic redefine service
Advertising firm cuts down on the barriers between customers, managers and artists (from Commercial Appeal)
Article by Jonathan Devin
October 19, 2009
Billy Riley believes that the fewer people he talks to, the better — that is, in terms of keeping ideas flowing directly to his clients.
Riley, 46, started Combustion, a design and advertising firm in Midtown, based on the premise that eliminating the layers of account managers between artists and clients keeps fresh ideas from getting lost in translation.
“We’re too small of a company to have a corporate culture,” said Eric Christopherson, 39, Combustion’s creative director. “It’s important that the people we’re working with like us and that we like them because we’re going to be in constant contact with them.”
Riley and Christopherson met while working entry level jobs at Sossaman Bateman McCuddy Advertising, now called Carpenter Sullivan Sossaman. Riley went out on his own 13 years ago, hiring design directors Ben Couvillion and Leah Jones before Christopherson rejoined him. Combustion now employs 10.
“Having been at bigger agencies and gone through the minutiae of having all these layers between him, the person coming up with the idea, and the client, the person with the need, Billy realized that’s it’s just not the most efficient way to do things,” said Christopherson.
The agency started out at the Kimbrough Center on Union Avenue before occupying two floors of 88 Union Ave. Three years ago, it relocated to a former T-shirt printing factory on Cooper Street in order to get back to Midtown and to have its own dedicated building.
“The process is a lot easier when it’s not translated by someone who doesn’t have the same creative vocabulary that we have,” said Riley. “It’s not that we don’t have account managers or account executives, we’re all account executives.”
While Combustion does traditional advertising through print and broadcast media, they focus more on other forms of design.
“We do identities, promotional materials, annual reports, packaging, Web sites — that’s the bulk of our work,” said Christopherson. “People come to us with crazy requests and we bring them back solutions that maybe they hadn’t envisioned.”
One client, International Paper, needed Combustion’s help to design a larger-than-life statue of a dog with a message of environmental sensitivity as part of a campaign for the Humane Society of Greater Memphis.
“We named him ‘Barky the Eco-Dog’ and he was covered with this handmade bark paper made by native Indians in Mexico just the way they made it for hundreds of years,” said Riley.
Another client, the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, needed a creative development campaign on a budget.
“In the midst of a bad economy, (the Conservancy) needed a way to attract corporate sponsors to support their very ambitious plans,” said Riley. “They needed to break through the clutter of tons of groups asking corporations for money. Leah came up with this really cool, limited-edition, handmade book.”
To keep costs down, Jones enlisted the help of interns from the Memphis College of Art to construct each of the books by hand.
Combustion has had an on-going relationship with the college, which is Riley’s alma mater and his first client since starting his own agency.
Susan Miller, the college’s vice president for enrollment and student services, hired Riley to create a new student catalogue the same week that Combustion opened.
“Billy went to a paper company and got us a discount and really went out of his way,” said Miller. “We were just so proud of our product. Pretty soon we started filtering all of our design work through Combustion.”
Miller also said that being on time seems to be a Combustion signature.
“Projects like these take so much time,” said Miller. “I have to say they’re so good about keeping us here on track. Instead of us keeping them on track for scheduling, they’re keeping us on track.”
Combustion has 30 clients, mostly on a project-to-project basis. Christopherson said that many are requesting help with figuring out social media as part of their overall Web presence.
The bad economy knocked out a few major clients in hard-hit industries, but some others became more active. So far, the agency’s revenue is up 22 percent over 2008.
“When there are downturns, some of the clients that we’ve worked with on an occasional basis will come to us more often because we’re not a 60- or 70-person agency that has to charge all the layers of fees that a big agency has to have,” said Christopherson.