World to get glimpse of award-winning billboard

By Jane Roberts

Published by the Commercial Appeal, Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In the Madison Avenue offices where plastic surgeon McCarthy DeMere once tweaked the images of the city's best-known, Tactical Magic smoothes out wrinkles in corporate images.

They call it branding. If you want to see it up close, take a look at the billboard at Shelby Drive and Interstate 55 for Harper & Stroud, the two-man law office in Southaven that for years has watched the personal-injury fodder in its back yard head Downtown to the "high-rise" firms.

"We're not stuffy and unapproachable," says James Harper, partner. "We enjoy what we do, and we want the public to see that in our advertising."

The public has seen it. Since the billboard featuring a banana peel and the law firm's phone number went up in December, the phone has been noticeably busier. And the rest of the world is about to see it because the billboard received a gold award in Graphis' international print advertising competition and will be included in its annual hard-cover compendium -- out next month -- featuring the best print advertising in the world, including work done by international firms such as BBDO, Publicis and Saatchi & Saatchi.

Graphis is among the world's arbiters of fine taste in graphic design. To be in its bestof- the- best portfolio is high praise, says Sheperd Simmons, president of Counterpart Communication + Design in Memphis.

"I would describe it as one of the annals of great design. If you're in their book, you know your work is going to be distributed globally and seen by designers all over the place, and that certainly feels real good."

Tactical has been in the yearbook three times in four years, a rare showing for a Memphis agency.

"We're a small company trying to do disproportionately big work," said Trace Hallowell, managing partner of the three-person design team that in the past year hasturned out impressive standings, including national prizes in several contests for a novel business card it designed for sBox Storage, a division of Memphis-owned Folk Investment.

The card, folded along scored lines, becomes a miniature storage box, sBox's whole reason for being in business. A judge at the district Ad Federation competition, where it took best of show for print work, called it brilliant.

If Tactical had done what 95 percent of designers would have done, "it would be stuck in a wallet," said Curtis Smith from Cramer-Krasselt, one of the 50 biggest marketing groups in the world.

In July, the project received the One Show design award at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York. Tactical was the only Memphis firm honored.

With the Stroud and Harper project -- the first billboard the law firm has ever done -- the challenge was to divorce the firm from the stereotypical law firm image, Hallowell said.

"Personal-injury lawyers have bad TV ads, raucous Yellow Page ads. You think of them as pushy.

"These guys are very down-to-earth and extremely thoughtful. Instead of coming to Memphis and paying $20 to park all day, they're saying, 'We're here, and we're just as sharp as the guys in Memphis.'"

The firm also does employment labor work. Tactical designed billboards for each division.

Hallowell's theory on billboards is that they are despised because they hold such promise and blow it.

"Even those of us who hate billboards, we look up with the promise that it will be fun," he says.

"Then urrggggh, it's filled with clutter; it's selling at you. There are too many pictures and too many words. It's abrasive because it adds more noise to the cultural landscape. You end up resenting it."

But an elegant (his word) billboard, "makes you smile. You don't mind seeing it every day for a month."

If you can't remember the feeling, Hallowell asks you to think of the times you've seen someone shell out $20 to buy an old magazine ad.

"I want to do stuff people enjoy seeing and that makes their lives richer."

Speaking of richer, Stroud and Harper don't say how much business the billboards have brought them, but here's a clue: There will be more.

"We're excited to see what comes next," Philip Stroud said. "Yes, we're definitely doing more billboards."

--Jane Roberts: 529-2512

More info:
Tactical Magic
Managing partner: Trace Hallowell
Address: 1460 Madison
Employees: 4 full-time, 2 interns
Phone: 722-3001
2006 sales: $500,000

"A house of brands is like a family, each needs a role and a relationship to others."
- Jeffrey Sinclair