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Dave Hile

Nine months ago Dave Hile changed the name of his boutique creative agency from Hile Design to Hile Creative. It was symbolic of a bigger change his company was executing in its business plan.

The Ann Arbor-based firm got its start as a Hile Illustration & Design and made the switched to Hile Design in 2001. It has been pivoting away from the advertising agency model and toward a focus on branding for the last few years, and the name change capped the transition.

"It finally became apparent that the design was thought too much as execution and not enough about strategy," Hile says.

Hile Creative
is 30-years-old and Dave Hile has served as its founder and president that entire time. Usually the longer a company exists the harder it is for it to change. Hile avoided that problem.

Hile Creative built itself up to a full-on advertising agency through its first 20 years, handling work for a lot of retail clients, including serving as the agency of record for the Slinky toy brand. It also did work for publishing and professional service firms in the financial and consulting sectors.

Hile noticed the sands of his industry shifting shortly before the arrival of the Great Recession. Companies moved toward focusing on brand building and defining what they were all about. By the time the Great Recession was in full force in 2009, Hile knew that’s the direction he needed to move his firm and was actively pushing it in that direction.

"We started getting requests from companies that never had to define their brand let alone do much advertising," Hile says. He adds those requests began to pile up as the economic strife intensified, prompting him to accelerate the pivot to brand building and management.

"It was really because of client need," Hile says. "As the recession went into full swing we knew we had made the right decisions. More and more companies came to us in survival mode, wanting to know how to define themselves and identify their customers."

Hile relied on his employees to help lead the pivot to brand management. They made it happen. Those actions led to business growth and the addition of more employees. Hile Creative had a staff of 10 when it started to make those changes. Now it has a dozen people in its employ.

Hile Creative's client base also diversified since the change. It still has a strong presence in retail, publishing and professional services. It is also growing aggressively into the biomedical and health-care industries. It even recruited the University of Michigan as a customer.

"Oddly enough we had been doing business for 28 years in this town and never done much with the University of Michigan," Hile says. "Then the doors opened for us."

- Written by Jon Zemke

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