My name is Jim Mitchem. I’m a writer and one of the founders of Out of the Ether. We thought it was best that I wrote this post because it’s pretty long, and gets a little weird in places.
I met Jeff Sutthoff, the other founder and our chief designer, as the result of an ad I ran in 2001.
At the time, I had just left an ad agency after an 18-month stint where I was a copywriting machine with an instinct for discovering what matters to people. I had just launched my own “virtual” ad agency and was looking to connect with designers and art directors who had talent, and an edge. In fact, my ad mentioned wanting to work with a “designer with attitude.” Jeff was the only person to respond to the ad.
I’m glad he did. He’d been a designer forever, and had his own boutique shop since the late 90s. His work was outstanding and I could tell he had a certain something that separated serviceable designers from great ones. Oh, and he was a true professional.
We began working together sometime in 2002 on small local projects with some intermediate-sized gigs mixed in. Then, in 2005, we landed a major client and were tasked with the impossible—rebranding a specific department *within* a mothership brand that wanted to be *different* than the mothership. The department was human resources and our project included, well, the works. Here’s a case study that covers how we did it.
In 2008, I received a call from a Charlotte entrepreneur who had a good idea and needed some branding and marketing help. Jeff and I created the brand for what became Boxman Studios. After that, Jeff continued to run his design firm while I helmed the marketing for the company for the next five years during a time of ridiculous growth (#120 on Inc. 500 fastest growing companies), during a recession, all without spending a dime on traditional advertising. Here’s that case study.
When I left Boxman in 2015, my first call was to Jeff. We were looking forward to working together again, as we each agreed that we made a formidable team. Since then we’ve worked on projects for small and mid-sized companies branding them, helping tell their stories online, and giving them the tools and training necessary to grow without traditional advertising. It was great–except that we were still working as independent companies.
In 2016, during a drive back to Charlotte from a client meeting in Raleigh, we had a long conversation about the direction of our careers. And it was during this conversation that Out of the Ether was born.
During the drive we started deconstructing the value of what we did. The conversation got a little lofty.
“It’s like this,” I said to Jeff who was driving, “we all live in a machine. We have routines, accountabilities, we do our jobs, go home, and get up and do them again day after day. When you’re this busy with life’s daily grind, it’s hard to see beyond it. But we must. We must because of our jobs. We don’t go to an office where we focus on the same things every day. We are tasked with creating solutions that span a range of market sectors. When we’re doing our jobs, we back up into a place from where we can assess scenarios without the influence of routines. A place where we pull from our different experiences, and return back with the kinds of solutions that have real meaning.
Jeff looked over at me with wonder. I continued, “It’s like we hang out in the ether then return to the real world where we interact with people like normal. Except, we bring ideas with us that you can’t find here.”
Jeff laughed a little and said, “Man, that’s exactly what we do,”
And so now we get to tell people how we pluck our ideas from places that others can’t get to.
Because it’s true.
What we do is unique. Not everyone has the ability to see problems from our perspective. We respect that we are blessed with a strange ability to move people with words and pictures, but are keenly aware that this talent means nothing without putting it to work.
But it’s not an easy sell. Early on in 2017, we were doing ok with some word-of-mouth referrals, but we lacked the sustainability to continue without help. We recognized our shortfall as not being very good “salespeople.” We killed the work, but the part about getting new work … well, that was not our strength.
We started talking about adding someone to our team who could help us overcome our shortfall, and who also understood the world we worked in in such a way that they could begin to articulate our value proposition to people in ways we couldn’t.
Sometime in late spring I got a call from Nicole Odom, a friend in Charlotte who wanted to have lunch. During lunch I got to meet her 3-month-old daughter, and learned that Nicole had been admiring the work we’d been doing at Ether. She hinted about considering a career shift and thought maybe there might be something we could work out together.
Nicole and I had always been kindred spirits. We met in 2010 during the age of serendipity in social media. I found out she was also a military veteran, and she too loved dogs. In fact, she’s the owner of one of Charlotte’s best doggie day care facilities. Over the years I’d come to know her as a smart, capable business person who understood the value of authenticity in digital marketing. Then a few years back she had twin daughters, and suddenly we had daughters in common.
I talked to Jeff about the prospect of bringing Nicole on board to fill an important void in our company. One meeting was all it took to convince him that she was the perfect compliment to our team.
In September, Nicole came on board as a full partner in Ether. She’s embraced our idea that tactical authenticity is a winning digital marketing formula, she’s helped us shift our business model for a more productive focus, and she absolutely understands that we solve problems from a place that others can’t access. She gets the magic.
To say we’re excited about our company is an understatement.
If you have the guts to think differently about your company’s communications problems, we’d love to talk.Let’s work together.