That's me and dad in the photo on the right. Now don't tell me you and your dad didn't have matching outfits to wear to church?
My Dad was always a little different — drawing his own comic books since he could hold a pencil, creating his own storybooks, and drawing and painting on any surface that wasn't moving. It was that artistic talent that brought him to UGA in the late 1950's to study drawing and painting under the legendary Lamar Dodd.
After graduating, Dad was hired as a package designer for Dairy Pak in Athens (now Champion International) and over the years also built his freelance business up to a point that he began looking at the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of having his own advertising agency. In the spring of 1983, the country was coming out of one of its regular waves of recession. People were spending money and business was booming. His freelance business had long ago become a freelance ad agency and Dad was about to work himself into a heart attack.
So Dad rented an office in downtown Athens, just a block from City Hall, and started the business with two others, Alice Gay and Bonnie Uter. He had already created the name, The Adsmith, a year or so earlier and opened shop with the idea that this agency would be different. A place where people would come to do great work. A place where the work actually mattered. A place where people would enjoy the opportunity to work with great clients — helping them succeed in their goals. With this approach in mind, it wasn't long at all before this tiny agency was working on jobs for clients in St Louis, Atlanta and Augusta.
During the late 70's, Dad's freelance business was titled "Don Smith Ad Creations." As he wrote in his quarterly newsletter at the time. "'Don Smith Ad Creations' somehow never came instantly to mind or fell trippingly from the lips. It was a name settled for, rather than selected." Smith is not exactly a grabber of a name anyway. Sometimes being named smith is almost like not having a name. But it seemed there should be some way to capitalize on it . . . to make it work. After all, a smith is a craftsman. The smith, through the ages, has been the artisan, molding things – tin, copper, silver, horseshoes — to create. So The Adsmith made sense and was seen as a natural for the agency. And with it, a new trademark, the symbol of smithing since time began — the anvil.
In the summer of 1985, after graduating from college, I began working full-time at the firm (after working part-time hours while in school). Having grown up in a home where art, design, music, advertising and creating was not only encouraged but celebrated by both my parents, heading into this field as a career seemed only natural . . . and it still feels that way.
Looking back at the late 80's, it is amazing how the daily process of doing business has changed. I am not sure when Fed Ex began, but for several years we were sending "spec'd type" (any one remember doing that?) by bus to type shops in Atlanta. Then Fed Ex came along. Then faxes. And at some point we bought an Apple Computer. Just one. For all six of us. And for a year or so we used it as a fancy typewriter. And several years later that crazy internet thing came along that, if i understand it correctly, is a series of tubes? . . . and our way of doing business continues to change.
I'll stop now with the nostalgia about paste-up and such, because, as the rest of the crew here will attest, I can bore you to tears with stories of the "early days" of using rubber cement, drawing boards, acetate overlays, rapidograph pens and other torture devices of the graphic design field.
As an Athens native, historic Milledge Avenue has always possessed this special aura to me. I have great memories from my childhood of Mom and Dad driving us down Milledge during UGA's Homecoming Weekend in a Buick the size of a boat. We were taking this little trip down Milledge so that we could check out all the homecoming floats that the sororities and fraternities had parked in front of their houses. I had no idea what the Greek letters meant or even what "Greeks" were, but I knew that for some reason this part of Athens was very special. It had the fascinating history of all the antebellum homes that line the street, as well as the energy that comes from being located adjacent to a university the size of Georgia. College towns just have a great vibe and even as a young boy, I could sense that.
So, though we loved our location in downtown Athens, having an office on Milledge Avenue was this dream that I had ever since I started thinking about a career, but it was not an opportunity that I ever thought would present itself. Fortunately, I was wrong. In the early 90's, we moved from downtown to a location only a few blocks away on Milledge Ave. We have now resided at our current location for more than a decade (our third location on the avenue) — a renovated, two-story brick home with big windows on all sides that pull in the sunlight and energy from this cool college town. This atmosphere — or vibe — combined with the energetic and eclectic personalities of the crew here have created a certain culture, a way of working and thinking and doing that, we believe, makes us different from any other firm.
In other areas of this site, we have selected samples of work we have created for various clients and you can view a partial client list here as well. We also have some samples of work from the early days located here that you might find amusing (we certainly do). But i want to add that we have been fortunate to work with so many great clients from all types of companies from Athens to DC to New Orleans to San Francisco over the many years we have been in existence. We have always felt that this was the greatest business to work in because we are able to work with such a varied collection of interesting people, learn about their business and products and challenges, and help them reach their goals. We have clients like Pennington Seed, Pine Mountain Tourism, and the UGA Athletic Association who have been with us for almost two decades, while others like Jackson EMC, Off Campus Bookstore and Emory University (just to name a few) have worked with us for almost 10 years. There is a saying in this business that "clients get the work they deserve" — we hope that you can see by the quality of the work throughout this website that we have always had some great clients.
During the late 80s and early 90's, we had some stellar people working for us at various times - Cathy Nash, Anna Collins, Betsy Kools, Cyndy Buckhaults, Nicola Dixon, Suzy Comfort, Letha Johnson, Karen White, Kim Mayer, Marilyn Wolf-Ragatz, Cady Carnes and Lisa Lewis. All of them were/are very talented, extremely bright designers and account planners whose spouses and lives took them to different cities or led their careers in different directions. We have also had a history of great interns, many of whom still keep in touch on a regular basis — and even a few who have become some of our favorite clients.
Sometime in 1998, I believe, Harold Dean came into our office, the last person to interview for an art director/creative director position. And we were blown away by his work, quickly grabbing him before someone else did. It wasn't long after that, and under very similar circumstances, that we met Scott Hodges. Scott was interning in Boston but was back in town to get married that weekend and had to squeeze in a quick interview. Again, like Harold, his work stood out far above anyone else's work.
I single out these two guys not only because of their longevity with The Adsmith, but also because of their dedication and leadership in making our business better each and every day. This was never more evident than in early October of 2004 when Dad passed away after a short battle with cancer. He was almost 70 and until he passed away, he was still the president of the firm, working every day and painting every weekend. He loved what he was doing — the interaction with clients and staff, the challenges of each day, the fun we had in the office. The process of creating was still what fueled his fire and directed this company — so his loss was a huge one for obvious personal and business reasons. How would we handle this sudden and dramatic challenge? My father was very well-known in our community, so we knew people would be looking to see if we could survive. To the credit of all of our clients, every last one of them stuck with us and for that, we will always be grateful. And the crew here stepped it up, determined that we were going to make this business better than it had ever been. And that is exactly what has occurred. I'm sure my dad would be proud.
In the last few years, our business has grown dramatically and we have assembled an amazing group of brilliant and talented people that I feel are as good as, or better, than anyone else, anywhere. The main reason being that we all work really well together as a team with a great amount of respect for each other. Ultimately, we still operate this business with the same goals that my father had when he first opened the doors of The Adsmith — to produce great work for our clients — work that will get them noticed and inspire people to buy their product or use their service or attend their event or support their cause. We hope you like the work you see here on our site — and, if so, we invite you to give us a call and be a part of our next 25 years.