VSA Detroit: “Hustle and Muscle” of the Motor City

 About a year ago, while researching ad agencies on LinkedIn, I stumbled on Jeff Cruz’s profile and discovered that he opened VSA Partners in Detroit, MI. After reaching out to him via email, he agreed to meet at a Starbucks in Royal Oak to discuss interactive advertising and the like.

We discussed everything from 90’s alternative grunge to the “resilient” nature of the ad market in Detroit to his early days as a writer at Slam Magazine.

He even offered advice for aspiring writers: “You have to have range and put yourself in situations that aren’t as comfortable. Every creative person needs to understand that the CD might want to change your work. You have to be able to handle feedback…”

Image Courtesy of Ninth Wave Designs via Flickr

Cruz graduated from Arizona State University in 1992 and for the next five years made his way up the ranks as a writer at ad agencies in Phoenix. He never let dust gather under his feat, freelancing for Slam Magazine, and thoroughly enjoyed it due to his keen interest in sports marketing.  

Then it was time for Cruz to move on, so he began looking at ad agencies across the country and eventually landed at Leo Burnett in Troy, MI.

During his time there, he was known for “doing more with less” and led branding efforts for Pontiac and earned a Grand Effie after leading the agency’s pro bono efforts for Detroit public schools and raised approximately five hundred thousand dollars.

After ten years, Cruz was ready for a change and that’s when he moved over to VSA. After a number of conversations with Dana Arnett, the CEO, he was on board and commuted from metro-Detroit to VSA’s Chicago office for nine months.

Eventually, he grew weary of the jet-setting and pitched the idea of opening an office in Detroit which became a reality in January, 2012.

When asked what the transition was like from Leo Burnett to VSA Cruz said “creative concepts in design are different than traditional advertising. At VSA it proved to be different where all of the work is pinned on the wall. You really have to make your case for the work.”

Image Courtesy of misocrazy via Flickr

His first task was pitch and win business for Harley Davidson and that proved to be a success and as time went on, his team in Detroit pitched Cleveland Clinic, one of the largest hospitals in the country and won the business even though they were up against ex-agency and ad giant, Leo Burnett in Troy.

Within less than a year, the firm worked with Kid Rock on a Harley Davidson campaign and is the fastest growing group within the agency network.

Even if you are a naysayer and believe that nothing good can come out of Detroit. You can’t ignore the facts, with agencies like this popping up; it demonstrates how resilient the ad industry is in the motor-city.

“People in Detroit are very resilient…in 08 we got totally knocked down – we were on our backs, but we got back up. There are a lot of artists coming here. We’re all about the hustle and muscle. We’re a small but mighty crew, and in Detroit we have each other’s backs.”

Image Courtesy of designturnpike via Flickr


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