story and photos by Michael Tilley
Owners and managers of 5 Star Productions in Fort Smith have been successful with a business model using top talent and leading-edge technology. They are pushing that formula with Red 11 Collective, a new business designed to gather a “collective of creative minds” into a “think tank.”
This new operation, located 17½ N. Ninth St. and just a short walk from the 5 Star studios, is expected to be 100% complete by mid September, said Jeremy Dean, creative director with 5 Star and the new Red 11. The investment so far is above $200,000.
According to Dean, Red 11 emerged from an awareness that many of their 5 Star clients wanted to deal with just one company in terms of developing an ad campaign, creating a brand, producing video and other public relations and marketing activities.
“5 Star continues as a video production company, … but instead of working through an (advertising) agency, we can use this (Red 11),” Dean said.
He was also quick to add that 5 Star will continue to work with ad agencies.
“We don’t want to cut our self off from agency work. We still do a lot of work with agencies. But some of our clients wanted a one-stop shop, so this was sort of a no-brainer on our part to do this,” Dean said.
Part of the 5,000 square feet of renovation to the upstairs of the building first constructed in the 1890s includes a small apartment – with a washer and dryer – for out-of-town clients to stay during work on a campaign or video production. The “creative space” also includes coolers for sodas, water and adult beverages, and a ping pong table.
“You can get a beer and play ping pong while you talk about your marketing plan,” Dean joked.
He’s not joking about the effort by he and 5 Star and Red 11 owner Mike Hart to mold “a design group that will redefine how creative works.” The goal with the space – which is centered by a large meeting room called the “think tank” – is to develop a “younger vibe” to recruit and retain the creative people who typically move away from Fort Smith, Dean said.
Dean and Hart are the only employees of Red 11, with the other eight people who now work in the space being freelancers with their own companies. Having direct access to people skilled in web design, image branding, web maintenance, video production, graphic design and other skills helps not only Red 11, but also the freelancers.
Jake Steininger, owner of Star 7 Creative, is one of the freelancers working in the Red 11 space.
“The best way to think of this is, it’s like the Avengers. No one is telling Captain America what to do, but Captain America chooses to work with the other Avengers,” said Steininger, who sips his hot beverages from a Captain America mug.
Dean said the Red 11 concept is similar to WELD, a creative space in a former warehouse near downtown Dallas that is home to about 70 artists. The artists pay a daily or monthly fee, but have access to a wide range of creative services and support. WELD announced plans to expand to Nashville. WELD officials have not said when the Nashville space will open.
“We’re not stifling their own businesses,” Dean said of the Red 11 participants. “They can even bring their clients up here to meet with them. … It’s all about bringing the right people together for the job.”
The freelancers at Red 11 also know that project work by 5 Star may at times be a priority. Having the freelancers in one space allows for more communication and fewer surprises with deadlines and other commitments related to key projects.
“There is an economic model behind it,” Dean said.
The economic model did provide some pressure for 5 Star to expand in Northwest Arkansas. The video production company has seven employees and the company has been busy in the past 12 months with work in 28 states and several countries. A “big percentage” of local work is in Northwest Arkansas, Dean said.
“But Mike (Hart) is a hometown, Fort Smith boy. He believes in Fort Smith and he is all about pouring back into the community,” Dean said. “It may economically have made more sense to be in Northwest Arkansas, but he wants to stay in Fort Smith, and especially in downtown Fort Smith.”