Where it's ad

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February 26, 2007 // UPDATED 11:03 am - April 26, 2007
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas

Marketing firmsconverging on1st Avenue

To get to the new Warehouse District offices of ASI Communications, one must first ride the old and ponderously slow elevator to the sixth floor of the Butler North Building on 1st Avenue.

The advertising firm’s reception area is dim but strategically lit with track lighting. In the low light, a large fish tank opposite the front desk glows electric blue.

But walk beyond that narrow entry hall and the exposed-timber ceiling rises to two stories filled with natural light. The second floor, up a broad staircase, is dense with cubicles. Still, there are no barriers preventing someone at one end of the building from yelling to someone else 100 feet away.

That was the point.

On the top of the historic Butler North Building, ASI found the kind of open space its leaders think will encourage collaboration among its employees. In moving out of Northeast, they also hope to capture some Downtown energy and bring it back into the office.

“I couldn’t wait to get Downtown,” said Marc Conklin, creative director for ASI. “Your brain just works faster.”

Is it more than coincidence that ASI was not the only advertising firm recently smitten with one of Minneapolis’ early-20th-century brick warehouses?

“Once we’re in (the new office), we see Colle+McVoy is moving in a block away,” Conklin said. “We just thought, OK, something is clearly going on here.”

Within the last seven months, Colle+McVoy and Carmichael Lynch, two of the state’s biggest advertising firms, relocated to new Warehouse District offices within a block of each other. ASI Communications is one of several smaller firms to make a similar move.

Conklin estimated the number of people working in advertising, marketing and related businesses on 1st Avenue North alone at “well over 500” people.

“I’m thinking it might have something to do with the fact that there’s 15 bars within a 12-block radius,” he joked.

The advertising executives contacted for this story agreed that easy access to ground zero for Minneapolis nightlife (and maybe, some day, Twins games) is a powerful draw for younger employees. And in an industry increasingly reliant on young, tech-savvy talent, finding a cool office space in a hip part of town may be more important than ever.

As they look around at their new neighborhood, employees at ASI have taken to calling it the “Madison Avenue of the Midwest.”

Gravitational theory

University of Minnesota advertising professor John Eighmey said he’d never encountered the phrase “Madison Avenue of the Midwest” before, but thought it was an apt description.

“There’s a long tradition of excellent advertising coming out of the Twin Cities,” Eighmey said. “I think people around the United States, indeed around the world, know that.”

A veteran of the industry, Eighmey said there is “gravitational theory” at work in the clustering of Minneapolis firms. Businesses that share interests and sensibilities would naturally be drawn to a neighborhood for similar reasons.

“Madison Avenue became Madison Avenue for the same reason,” he said.

Carmichael Lynch President John Colasanti was hesitant to make too much of the recent moves.

“I’m not feeling this advertising energy coming out of one part of town,” Colasanti said.

He pointed out that it would be difficult for any two Downtown firms to put much distance between themselves, anyway.

“It’s a relatively small city to begin with,” he said.

Just after the first of the year, Carmichael Lynch moved into the Wyman-Partridge building from an office at Hennepin Avenue and 8th Street, just a few blocks away. Colasanti described the building as light, airy and open, but with “a working-class soul.”

“We were really looking for the right building,” he said. “We were looking around the whole city.”

They found it in the Warehouse District.

Creative past and future

The recent changes in the Warehouse District seem to follow the arc of the neighborhood’s history.

“For so long, there were so many artists and galleries in the Warehouse District,” said Joanne Kaufman, executive director of the Warehouse District Business Association. “We were the neighborhood 20, 30 years ago for the arts.”

Kaufman said artists snapped up the cheap real estate left behind when “the actual warehouses” moved out, carving the large buildings into studios and gallery space. Soon, some smaller advertising agencies — as well as the photography studios, graphic design firms and casting agencies that feed the industry — joined the neighborhood, too.

“There’s definitely a lot of creativity already in the neighborhood,” she said. “Perhaps the larger agencies are moving in because they want to be a part of that.”

Colle+McVoy President Christine Fruechte said proximity to its “creative partners” definitely played a role in the firm’s decision to move into the Wyman Building.

Like those tenants who preceded them, the advertising firms are also drawn to the character in the Warehouse District’s well-worn commercial spaces.

Fruechte said she saw “the marriage between the industrial and the traditional” in the Wyman Building, a former textile factory.

In their former space, an office tower overlooking Highway 494, employees were cloistered in private offices. Now, they meet around large paste-up tables under arched, 15-foot ceilings.

Their own medicine

Mike Sherman, who leases a number of Warehouse District spaces through Sherman Group, said the neighborhood’s “energy” seems to draw similar businesses.

“I’ve had a lot of other interest from creative firms,” Sherman said.

Brian Woolsey, a commercial real estate agent with Colliers International, said the same factors are cited over and over again by businesses that choose “brick and timber” buildings like those in the Warehouse District:

“I think it’s about building culture. It’s about employee retention. And I think it’s about client first impression.”

Conklin said moving into a new space that better reflected ASI’s corporate culture and attitude — it’s brand — was a case of “taking our own medicine.”

When they invited clients over for a recent open house, the re-branding seemed to work.

“People like Haagen-Dazs, no joke, are saying: ‘We want to do more work with you,’” he said.

Key advertising players on1st Avenue

Carmichael Lynch

110 North 5th St.

Major clients: Harley-Davidson, Porsche, Borders, Northwest Airlines, A.G. Edwards, Jack’s Links

Year founded: 1962

Number of employees: 300

What they do: “Full surround brand building,” including advertising, interactive, design and public relations


400 1st Ave. N.

Major clients: CHS Inc., Erbert and Gerbert’s Subs, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Minnesota Lottery, Nestl/ Purina, Red Wing Shoe Company, Schell’s Brewery

Year Founded: 1935

Number of employees: 170

What they do: Advertising, brand consulting, design, direct marketing, contact planning and buying, interactive design and development, media planning and buying, public relations and public affairs

ASI Communications

510 1st Ave. N.

Major clients: Honeywell, Qwest, Haagen-Dazs, Medtronic, Accellent, Digi-Key

Year Founded: 1980

Number of employees: 50

What they do: Marketing, public relations, advertising, public affairs, events, design, branding and alternative media