By Published on .

ADVERTISING'S TILFORD FAMILY brings to mind the musical Marsalis clan, not simply because the Tilfords like to blow their own horns. Todd Tilford, an award-winning Richards Group creative director, would be the Wynton equivalent, and his brother Eric, CD/art director at Core in St. Louis, would be the Branford, and that would leave brother Keith, also in the Core corps, as the least-known, Delfeayo. Eric gets to be Branford, despite the fact that he's three years younger than Keith, because Keith is an account exec. He even has an MBA from the University of Kansas. Like, what happened, Keith? "Creativity kind of skipped right over me," he laughs.

Well, someone's got to wear a suit at Core, a year-old shop that aspires to be involved with clients right from the package design get-go. But what's it doing in St. Louis, which, as the 27-year-old Eric notes, is not by any stretch of the imagination a creative mecca. "It's a good place to start up and get noticed," he explains. And noticed they were, at the local Addys a few months ago. What caught the eye of the judges was that nearly half the work Core entered featured writing contributions by "outsiders" like brother Todd and his Richards cohort Chad Rey, and it was tossed out after the initial judging, an incident the Tilfords prefer not to talk about. Anyway, the Tilfords are from nearby Lawrence, Kan., presently home to William S. Burroughs, apropos of probably nothing, though the boys' biggest catch so far is the Winchester ammo business, and old Bill is mighty fond of rimfire.

The Tilford boys are mighty fond of the core concept, hence the agency name. "We like to start with a client's package design and build everything around that, and put the flesh on it," Keith explains. "That way you're a lot safer with your end product."

"We consider package design a little differently than a lot of agencies," adds Eric, "simply because it's such a critical communication piece. If it's strong, our advertising will be that much more powerful."

They'd also be mighty fond of their reel, if they had one. Is this a print shop, just like The Richards Group used to be? "We're heavily based in print by nature of our size, and while everyone here loves print, we don't intend to be doing print only," says Keith. "No, we're not opposed to TV," says a deadpan Eric, but no plans are afoot at this time to Buschwhack the Bud business-"the St. Louis Brewery [a Core micro client] is more our speed," laughs Eric. They're also not opposed to radio, but right now it's all print and packaging, the print often somewhat reserved and elegant, though it can occasionally be scalding, especially the Calido Chile Traders hot sauce campaign, themed "Pain is good" (it's a Todd line). TV is in the works for Winchester and a new client, Trax deer stands, and the Tilfords are also quite excited about the upcoming print and package design work for Zebco's Quantum line of saltwater rods and reels (goddamn, these boys are outdoorsy!).

On a slightly more urban note, the Core logo is inscribed in a manhole cover; "We're sort of street level, we're just not a pretty bunch," says Eric. "We don't have fancy offices, we don't put on airs, there's not a lot of show. In fact, until recently Keith and I were actually living at the agency, about 7,000 square feet in an old shoe factory."

There is, however, a downside to the Core name. "We're constantly getting wrong numbers, people looking for the Congress of Racial Equality," says Keith. "We also get calls for the Coalition of Retired Persons, or whatever it's called-old people asking us for food." So far, no one except Calido has asked them for food work, though Core writer Wade Paschall and Eric are credited with a Fallon McElligott print campaign for Purina Hi-Pro dog chow. Indeed, collaborations and freelance contributions are endemic to the Core philosophy, and while there must be some sibling rivalry at work with their 33-year-old big bro, his input is always welcome. Anyway, beating Todd at his own ad game "would be no easy matter," says Eric. "Hey, Todd's doing his thing in Dallas. We all have similar goals and philosophies, the two groups work a lot together, and we hope that relationship will continue. We'll work with anyone that'll make the work better, and if that means teaming with other agencies, we're not opposed."

Todd wrote the "Happiness is highly overrated" St. Louis Blues Heritage Festival poster, for instance, but for the first six months of Coredom, Eric was the only creative on board. On the other hand, a natty campaign for Lombardo apparel is a Richards R&D project (as Todd's group is called), and Eric was "outsourced" for art direction.

Well, there may be less outsourcing and more hot saucing now that Core is up to a staff of 10 with the recent addition of art director Mark Arnold, formerly at the local office of TBWA/Chiat Day. Billings are pegged around $9 million, led by Winchester's $5 million fusillade.

So things are looking up in heretofore bland beer country. "There's no one here kickin' 100 percent of the time," says Keith. "I think that's mainly due to the upper management structure in this town, not the creative talent. It's an old advertising town with a big-agency mentality. Nobody's going to really push anything."

The boys are no strangers to the St. Louis ad scene. Eric started locally at then TBWA Switzer Wolfe, then went to Simmons Durham. He wasn't getting the work he needed to make a move to a hot shop, he says, and while he probably could have gotten a job at the Richards Group, he "didn't want to live under his brother's wing." Keith and Eric freelanced together all through college (which is when they picked up the Calido business), and Keith did time at TBWA Switzer Wolfe as well.

"The original goal, at least until a few years ago," says Keith, "was that we'd one day all be in an agency together. Right now we've got something even a little better than that. We've got our own things going and we can still work

Most Popular
In this article: