Extra Credit Projects always gives a little extra


A mural during ArtPrize garnered some extra attention for United Way. Courtesy United Way

Creative firm Extra Credit Projects promises its clients a little extra, a promise Rob Jackson, principal and creative director at the firm, said sets it apart and was the impetus for starting the firm.

“The name means something to us, it’s what we strive to,” Jackson said. “We always give extra, and that makes it a great value for our clients. Not only do they get world-class work but a little more of it than they would normally get.”

Jackson said the “extra” typically comes in the form of ideas. He notes that the firm thrives on integrated campaigns, which means being involved in all the major touch points like advertising, influencing a company’s web presence, and sometimes even being involved in operations and product design.

“I say that’s where we thrive because then we know everything and we live and sleep our client’s business,” he said. “Ideas don’t always come — and mostly don’t come — between 8 and 5. When you are embedded in a client’s business and their model and their strategy, it’s nice because good things come along when you least expect it and you have that relationship going so you don’t have to go out and look for a project — you just bring it to the table and that is the extra.”

The firm also believes in simplicity above all else; its motto is, “Simplicity will never be a fad.”

According to Jackson, simplicity is a tried and true winner when it comes to breaking through and getting your message noticed.

“We know — we don’t think — simplicity sells. It’s a busy world,” he said.

Extra Credit Projects focuses on the big idea first and then on the medium.

“Good ideas can translate to any medium,” said Chris McMorrow, art director at Extra Credit Projects.

After meeting with a client, the team comes together and starts brainstorming.

“I always describe it like this: We fill the wall,” said Jackson. “We fill the wall with ideas, we break it down and then we fill it again. Out of that passion and volume come some good ones.”

Extra Credit Projects has on average about a dozen projects at any given time.

“Our clients range from beer to bibles,” Jackson said.

Clients have included Anheuser-Busch, United Way, Zondervan, Spartan Stores and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. The firm focuses a lot of work on public service organizations, education and health care.

It has benefitted from its involvement in Gravity Six, an alliance of several creative firms in town that are focused on bringing more blue chip work to the community. The firm gained client Chemical Bank out of the alliance and is now in its fifth year of a campaign called Made in Michigan, which has included some unique billboards and social media opportunities.

“No one thought it was going to work — a bunch of competitors, but there is such creative admiration,” Jackson said. “There’s such a cool creative class growing here, we are just loving everybody.”

Jackson firmly believes in Grand Rapids’ creative community. He said the city’s transformation is helping to woo creatives here and keep some from leaving for good.

“I think it’s starting to change because of the change in Grand Rapids,” he said about the community’s ability to attract and retain creatives. “It’s a little bit of an age thing, too. When you are young, that is what you want to do — you want to run off to New York. When you have a kid and get married, you think just a little different and you want a nice house and lifestyle for them, and Grand Rapids provides that and is creative at the same time.

“I was one of them. I was gone; I wanted out. I grabbed my paper from Kendall and they never saw me again — until later. I came to realize it’s what you are doing, not where you are. You can be good in Grand Rapids. That is our goal: to try and be a small, really creative, nimble firm doing world-class work out of Grand Rapids. That is our mission.”

The firm is getting attention beyond Grand Rapids. Some recent highlights include its inclusion in the Communication Arts Advertising Annual, Lurzer’s International Archive, Print Regional Design Annual and Graphic Design USA American Graphic Design Awards. Additionally, Jackson was included in Graphic Design USA’s People to Watch 2013.

The firm averages a staff of 10 and regularly works with freelancers, as well.

Collaboration is a key component and embedded in the company’s day-to-day work.

“It’s an open environment. … Ideas kind of flow throughout the room, and somebody else can contribute to your project without even really knowing what’s going on,” McMorrow said. “All of a sudden you’ve got a good idea from them.

“It’s a lot of collaboration across people and sharing ideas and helping each other out. Nobody stays huddled to themselves for very long, and if they do, then they find out that they need to not do that.”

Employees stay at the firm because of the atmosphere and the variety it allows from day to day.

“On a day-to-day basis, I could be doing anything from a large-scale campaign or little things like a print or banner ad,” said Alissa Klee, art director at Extra Credit Projects.

Jackson said that he is focused on growing the firm though he isn’t looking to make it a huge place.

“We are going to grow with our clients so we can always serve them and others,” he said. “We have a strategic two- to three-year plan.”

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