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Billy Jurewicz, left, the founder/CEO, and Marcus Fischer, the president of Space150 advertising.

Glen Stubbe, Dml - Star Tribune

The Minneapolis office of Space150 has a lot of interesting and unconventional spaces for employees to collaborate and work on projects.

Glen Stubbe, Dml - Star Tribune

Digital marketing at warp speed

  • Article by: TODD NELSON
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • September 19, 2010 - 11:38 PM

Minneapolis digital marketing firm Space150 understands that keeping up with the latest technology -- these days, that would include the explosion of social media, smartphone apps and the mobile web -- can be confusing or downright daunting for clients looking for the newest ways to reach their customers.

So, to ensure that its offerings are fresh, relevant and at the "leading and the bleeding edge'' of technology, as CEO Billy Jurewicz says, the company undergoes an agency-wide reinvention every 150 days. 

The reinvention includes a total visual identity change, from business cards and logo to its website and office design. A tribute to the constant change taking place in the digital world, Space150's "Version Upgrade" also ensures the company stays on top of the latest technology, from outside or from its in-house research and development center called "spacelab.''

"We take the risks so our clients don't have to," Jurewicz said. "With technology, a lot of times clients want to be the second or third to market, not the first. So if we take a risk and prove it in the market space, they can go ahead and feel more confident that we can roll that out."

Marcus Fischer, Space150's president, elaborated: "It's almost spring cleaning for us. We don't have a junk drawer. Every 150 days we get rid of what's not needed and we put in what's new. One of our core philosophies is that change is constant and permanent, especially in the digital space.''

Work hard, play hard

The firm celebrated 10 years in business -- and the 25th incarnation of its brand -- earlier this year with the release of a space-themed identity redesign resulting from a contest won by a designer at the Thornburn Group in Minneapolis. It was the first time the design process was done outside the firm, a choice Jurewicz made to underline the benefits of crowd-sourcing, or open collaboration in the digital realm. The latest upgrade, Version 26, made its debut last week.

The update also is a good excuse, every five months, for Space150 to throw a release party for its 140 employees as well as clients, prospects and cohorts from local firms. The upgrade/party cycle also typifies the creative agency-meets-software company vibe of Space150. Jurewicz sums up the culture as: "Work hard, play hard."

"The culture is definitely R-rated," said Jurewicz, who based the firm's name on his interest in astronomy and Asian numerology, in which he said good luck comes in multiples of 50, 100 and 150.

"It's very nontraditional: You can tell by the liquor and the music and the ping-pong tables. Say whatever you want, be smart about it, show up and work harder than anybody,'' he said. "It's very liberating for the people who enjoy this type of workplace."

The firm must be doing something right. Based on employee feedback, the company was one of the Star Tribune's Top Workplaces project, ranking 23rd among the 45 small companies included in the Top 100. In addition to typical benefits, the firm closes between Christmas and New Year's, a company-wide paid vacation that comes on top of each employee's individual vacation.

The firm has come roaring out of the downturn. Revenue this year is projected to hit $20 million, up from $14 million last year and far outpacing goals set for 2010. The surge began after a meeting last fall in which Jurewicz, Fischer and Marc Jensen, vice president of technology, "opted out of the recession."

That strategy included cutting discretionary expenses by 40 percent in 2009 and by waging an all-out new business effort that brought in three large projects equal to 30 percent of its 2008 revenue.

A boost this year has come from a move into product development, including new mobile and other technological products developed in the company's "Spacelab" R&D center, Fischer said.

"People tended to cut back on marketing but not so much cut back on new product development because those are revenue-based things," Fischer said.

Breather from rapid growth

The company intends to take a breather from this year's rapid growth, Jurewicz said, aiming for steady growth of 10 percent a year in each of the next three years while hiring 10 to 15 more people by year's end.

Recent noteworthy projects include developing an interactive billboard in New York City's Times Square for youth-oriented fashion retailer Forever21. A feat of tech wizardry, the billboard shows onscreen models interacting in near-real-time with people on the street crowded below: taking snapshots of tourists that the models show on the billboard, for example, or appearing to pick them up. Work is underway on technology that will report on the number of onlookers and the time they spend gazing at the billboard.

"We need a digital agency that understands our fast-paced world, who can stay ahead of the changes in our global business and who has the creativity to help us do groundbreaking work like the Forever21 interactive billboard,'' said Sayuri (Si) Takeda of Forever21. "Space150 fits that bill exceptionally well."

The firm also built a Facebook community marking the 25th anniversary of Dairy Queen's Blizzard. According to Space150, the program, with no traditional advertising, drew more than 1 million fans, millions of online video views and sellout stops for the Blizzard Mobile as it traveled the country.

"We're always looking for new ways to keep our message fresh and our media spend smart," Michael Keller, chief brand officer for International Dairy Queen, said in a statement. "Space150 has both the creative capabilities and an intelligent, fresh perspective on media buying in the digital and social media space. ...''

The expert says

Michael Porter, director of the master of business communication program at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, said Space150's reinvention of itself every 150 days isn't something he'd recommend for every firm.

"It's pretty gutsy to do that for that long, to succeed in doing it for that long," Porter said. Yet it appears to serve as a "proof of concept" for what Space150 can do for its clients.

"The clients that Space150 engages, those people can't afford to play around and do that test driving," Porter said. "The cool factor is not enough ... it has to deliver on strategy.''

The firm's message, Porter said, "is we can do these really cool things and here is how it's going to get money. Their deliverable is hard currency."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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