Thompson & Co.’s creative cornerstone seeks new thrill

By Tara Milligan

Published by the Memphis Business Journal, July 27, 2001

In some ways, Trace Hallowell could be called a matchmaker.

As the creative director for Memphis advertising giant Thompson & Co., Hallowell says it’s his job to give consumers an excuse to fall in love with a product.

But this week, Hallowell will see a longstanding union come to an end. After more  than 13 years at Thompson & Co., Hallowell is leaving the firm to pursue his own advertising venture.

“I’ve been there a long time, and I have this dream of something I want to do,” Hallowell says. “I’ve always wanted to start an endeavor -- to create something -- and I feel like it’s now or never.”

Thompson & Co. founder and president, Michael Thompson, will assume the duties of creative director in the interim. Thompson says his fi rm will continue to work with Hallowell on freelance projects.

“Trace is a person, fi rst and foremost, of great character and integrity,” Thompson says. “He’s a great guy, and he’s very talented.”

Hallowell joined Thompson in 1988 when the fi rm was just 10 years old. During his tenure there, the advertising fi rm has grown from 15 employees to over 80, making it the secondlargest firm in Memphis.

Hallowell’s creative leadership at Thompson has led to numerous industry awards for the firm, and he’s thought of highly by his peers in the industry.

“He’s brilliant. That’s the fi rst word that comes to mind,” says Sheperd Simmons, writing director for Oden, a Memphis advertising fi rm. Simmons worked for Hallowell at Thompson for eight years, and he says Hallowell’s abilities are on par with the caliber of work seen from fi rms in New York or Chicago.

“He’s very strategic-minded,” Simmons says. “He’s just got this rare ability to look at creative in a marketing strategy sense. He’s a very big-picture kind of person. Very thorough.”

And he’s left his mark on the community through several clients, including First Tennessee, the Memphis Redbirds (he designed Nostalgia Man and the Redbirds’ uniforms) and Seabrook.

Hallowell says over the years he’s become interested in the importance of company branding strategy. And he wants to launch his business, Tactical Magic, to help companies create powerful identities and market position through branding.

“I want to work for companies who recognize that a good investment in branding will create a measurable return on investment,” Hallowell says.

Advertising doesn’t begin and end with commercials and billboards. Branding, Hallowell says, is everything from the look of a company’s logo to the tone of voice a receptionist uses when answering the phone. It includes the design of business cards and invoices. “It’s all the ways creativity can help people love your brand,” he says.

Hallowell says he has always loved advertising (“I can quote scripts from old commercials,” he says), and over the years, Hallowell says he has developed “lofty” ideals about the role of advertising in society.

“You have to realize that you owe your audience as much as you owe your client,” Hallowell says. “I want to do the kinds of things that, while it’s a good investment for my client, there’s a social value for the viewers who will feel as if they’ve gotten something worthwhile.

“One of the reasons people hate billboards so much is that they’re big and they scream for our attention, and we look at them expecting to see something great and then blah. If billboards are done right, people will be glad they looked.”

Hallowell says it’s easy to sell a product and it’s not hard to entertain an audience, but accomplishing both at once is exponentially harder.

“If you can create a thing and have somebody look and enjoy it and not mind seeing it again, then you’re providing a huge value for your client,” he says.

Hallowell says he will officially launch his business in September.

“I need to get busy building this thing. So, of course, the first thing I’m going to do this August is take a long family vacation.”

Hallowell says he will start knocking on doors and promoting himself while working from home. From the start he says he hopes to be a resource for other fi rms in town with branding projects. Eventually he would like to bring in other partners and have a space for a firm, but right now he’s not in a hurry to grow Tactical Magic.

“The goal is for the work to be big, and if it’s just three people doing work and making a good living, I could be happy with that,” Hallowell says.

And he is happy to be leaving Thompson on good terms.

“They are a good agency and good people,” Thompson says. “I’ve got a lot of affection for the people I’m going to be leaving behind. It wasn’t an easy decision. I’m really, really grateful for those 13 and a half years.”

CONTACT staff writer Tara Milligan at 259-1728 or tmilligan@bizjournals.com

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