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Agency Profile: Red Tettemer + Partners

Posted on March 14, 2011 and read 6,655 times

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ignaciocreditpic Agency Profile: Red Tettemer + PartnersIgnacio Oreamuno

Whenever we at ihaveanidea set out to visit a city, we try to schedule as many agency visits as we can, in order to bring you more agency profiles. Sometimes our schedules and meetings get changed, and we can squeeze in an extra visit that we didn’t plan for. It’s sort of like a bonus, a two-for-one deal.

But I believe this is my first one-for-two visit.

Allow me to explain. On my recent trip to Philadelphia, I had planned to meet with two respected indie shops: Red Tettemer and Stick & Move. I did in fact meet with both Steve Red of Red Tettemer and Steve O’Connell at Stick & Move, but something seemed a touch off, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Shortly after I returned home, the mystery was solved; Red Tettemer was in the process of acquiring and merging with Stick & Move, and the two Steves couldn’t say anything about it at the time! So my tale of two agencies has now become a single story, one with both Steves coming together in creative bliss as Red Tettemer + Partners.


Of course, the new twist doesn’t negate a fascinating backstory. Red Tettemer was founded back in 1996 by art director Steve Red and writer Ed Tettemer, who were a creative team at a prominent Philly agency called Earl Palmer Brown, working together on the Turner Broadcasting System and its properties such as CNN and TNT. “Ed eventually left the agency to become a freelancer, and we continued to work together in that capacity,” reminisces Steve R. “Pretty soon I left, and we looked at the business we were doing together and thought, hey, we could probably make a living out of this, so we decided to open our doors.”

From the very beginning, Steve and Ed intended Red Tettemer to be a very small agency. “We figured we’d have a nice little business out in the suburbs, with no more than ten or so people and a few choice clients. The thing is, we were both very passionate about the ad business, and once we started, that passion took over.” Today, Red Tettemer + Partners is right in downtown Philly with a considerably larger staff of about sixty.

Red Tettemer occupies the top two floors of an old building, and the penthouse, complete with vintage fireplaces and crown moldings, is dedicated to the creative department. Of course this is where you’ll find art directors and copywriters in ‘traditional’ teams, but you’ll also find a host of graphic designers and digital magicians, ready to jump in and lend their expertise to any project. And since Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement “the medium is the message” is more true today than ever before, Red Tettemer’s media department is also right in the mix with the ADs and CWs. “We’ve started to break down the idea that a team needs to be a writer and an art director,” says Steve O. “Now we’re partnering writers up with designers, digital people with art directors, and senior creatives with junior ones, whatever. If the vibe between two people is right, they’ll work together. And everybody gets to work on everything, so there’s always a wide variety of ideas.”

As for the average day in the life of a Red Tettemer creative, you can expect to find most people in the office by 9:30 AM or so. There’s always lots of activity, especially when it comes to new business. If the day doesn’t go off the rails, things usually wrap up at about 7 PM, but hey, this is advertising; the occasional late night is expected. “The agency pulled an all-nighter a few weeks ago,” says Steve R. “There’s a real sense of camaraderie when it’s not just one or two of you at the office at 4 AM, but a few dozen of you. That and the Red Bulls get you through the night.”

To make those long, long nights worth it in the end, every late spring or early summer, the entire Red Tettemer staff go on a three-day retreat. “One year it’ll be to the mountains, another year it’ll be the beach,” says Steve R. “It’s a  celebration of sorts, reflecting on the past year and getting ready for what we plan to do in the next seberal months.”

But the Red Tettemer team doesn’t have to wait once a year to have a great time. The agency has a ‘Rock Band’ room, and every Friday afternoon a die-hard group strap on the plastic guitars and get loud and rowdy well into the evening, fuelled by their very own gin.

Yes, you read that correctly. Red Tettemer has its own brand of gin.

Launched about a year and a half ago, TuB Gin is now available throughout the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. One of the late night activities the agency likes to do is seek out bars and restaurants that carry their product, and “help out the cause” by partaking of their efforts. “It’s been a really fun exercise, launching our own product,” remarks Steve R. “From working with the distillery to develop the original concoction, to the naming and marketing, to pounding the pavement to look for a distributor, it’s been a great experience. As advertising people, we are used to only doing a few of these steps. This gives us a greater appreciation for what clients go through. Who knows, maybe we’ll get out of the ad business and start selling booze fulltime.”

The love of gin around these parts might in fact be the reason why Red Tettemer and Stick & Move joined forces. “I think we all went out drinking one night, had totally too much to drink, woke up the next day and found that the deal was done,” jokes Steve O’Connell. In actuality, the process was a lot longer than a one-night moment of inspiration. When Stick & Move opened its doors in 2006, Steve O. and his partner/fellow Crispin Porter alum Jared Scott found a kindred spirit in Steve Red, and met frequently for drinks and to discuss their businesses. “We were doing great work, but I felt we were growing too slowly for my liking,” comments Steve O. “Steve and I always joked about working together one day, but over the past year we started to really consider it a possibility. Finally, last summer, we made the decision to just go with it. It’s been incredible so far. We’ve been on a new business tear, and I think we’ve really found a place within Red Tettemer’s philosophy.”

That philosophy Steve O. speaks of is one that Red Tettemer has been crafting for the past fifteen years.  ”We’ve built our culture around having a number of tenets,” explains Steve R. “We were sort of inspired by David Ogilvy’s ‘Magic Lanterns’ and created the ’14 Trailblazers’, the king of which is ‘the idea is the boss.’ That’s our mantra, and it drives in whatever we do, whether it’s deciding on new hires or which pieces of new business to pursue, and of course with the work that we created for our clients.”

“Of course that’s just our mantra,” Steve R. quickly adds. “Our real company policy is: no shitheads. We expect everyone here to have strong points of view and be prepared to defend them, they just can’t be assholes about it.”

So what’s in store for the new Red Tettemer + Partners? Are they ready to make waves within Philadelphia, or even put that city on the ad industry map? “I’m in love with the city of Philadelphia, and I’ve been here for 25, 30 years,” says Steve R. “When I started in the business, Philly was bubbling with ad agency activity. Wieden + Kennedy had just won Subaru and had opened an office here to serve them, Earl Palmer Brown was doing pretty significant work, as was Gyro (known today as Quaker City Mercantile). Today, much of the noise about the Philly ad scene has quieted, but as long as we concentrate on being the best agency out there – no matter what city – we feel that some of that former glory will return. Both Red Tettemer and Stick & Move were founded by creative people, so that is where our passion lies. We are relentless in trying to find new ways to express that creativity. The cowboy is our logo, and we feel we are always ready to gallop into new frontiers.”

Thanks to the two Steves for chatting with us at ihaveanidea — seperately at first as two agencies, and a second time as one.

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