I love visiting with creative people in the advertising business. Their minds work differently, and they are good at getting your attention. It’s what they do. I appreciate cleverness and was excited to sit down with Tim Dozier, CEO of Mobile, Ala.-based Hummingbird Ideas, a few weeks ago.
Tim was quick to point out that Hummingbird Ideas is a team effort. The name itself is pretty interesting. The founder of Hummingbird Ideas was Crawford Binion, and fellow creative Johnny Gwin, opened the business in 2004. The Hummingbird name originated when Crawford was a child. He would go to the train station and see his father off when he rode the train to go out of town for work.
He recalled the train engine that was dubbed “The Hummingbird.” Its name and literal design were tied together as the new engine, with its smaller and more efficient design, would revolutionize the train industry. These engines had a small hummingbird painted on the nose of the trains, and the ad agency adopted and modernized that image as the company’s logo.
This made an impression on young Crawford when he returned to Mobile after an acting career in Los Angeles and a stint in advertising for Big Tobacco. He eventually decided to open his own advertising agency, and being new—it was quite literally small and needed to be efficient. He named it after the Hummingbird train engine with the same intent—a small but efficient agency capable of pulling big clients.
The last of the three eventual partners, Tim, hails from Dothan, Ala., earning his undergraduate degree in Advertising and Management from the University of Alabama in 2001. He then attended Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, GA, for two years and received his master’s in graphic design.
As most advertising or graphic design students do, Tim always thought he would end up in an advertising mecca like Chicago or Atlanta, but his wife, Elisha, had earned her degree in Health Care Administration and was beginning her residency at Springhill Memorial under the tutelage of CEO Jeff St. Clair. So, off to Mobile they went.
In the early days, Johnny Gwin, who now owns and operates Deep Fried Studios in The Container Yard co-workspace in downtown Mobile, was a partner with Crawford Binion when Hummingbird Ideas first opened its doors. Tim joined them about 14 months later after a stint at another Mobile-based agency.
“We were still very much a start-up,” says Tim. “Back then, we were doing much more traditional work, like print and direct mail, and our first clients were Alabama Orthopedics Group, and they are still clients. D.R. Horton had just opened operations in Alabama and became a client. Additionally, we were (and still are to this day) doing a lot of vacation rental work for Brett Robinson in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.”
Between 2007 and 2011, the agency grew as they were early to digital platforms building websites and helping businesses create content for and manage their social media platforms. Additionally, they met Shaul Zislin, owner of The Hangout in Gulf Shores, in 2007 and were doing some work for him.
In 2011, Shaul approached Hummingbird Ideas about handling The Hangout Music Festival's design and advertising work. This work included designing nearly everything for the festival, from posters and apparel, to the website and advertising, to the wristband tickets and stage scrims (the “blow-through” decorated wraps covering the stage structure and speakers so the sound isn’t muffled).
It was a massive project that involved conceiving and delivering a new theme for each unique festival year that the agency managed until the work was taken in-house after Golden Voice (owners of Coachella) bought a majority stake in the festival.
“Everyone on our team knew exactly what to do, and we worked well together to make this happen.” Hummingbird Ideas always saw itself as a creative incubator. They had been slow to take on more people but added many key new people as the business grew. “Interestingly, many of our now ten team members have been with the agency for 8-10 years, and that is something that we are very proud to say in an industry that has high turnover,” says Tim.
In February 2020, co-founder Crawford Binion was diagnosed with throat cancer. He fought valiantly, and though he thought he had beaten it —Crawford eventually lost the battle in May 2021. “He had a huge impact on my life,” says Tim. He and the team remain close to Crawford’s wife, Elizabeth, and in 2021 the agency accepted the American Advertising Federation’s (AAF) Silver Medal Award on behalf of Crawford. The award, established in 1959, is the AAF’s greatest honor.
Johnny Gwin left in 2018 to follow new passions. In 2022, Tim formally took over the business and, at the time, was serving as Creative Director. Through various strategic planning sessions and at the behest of his most senior staff and outside consultants, it was determined that to move forward, the agency’s internal hierarchical structure needed to be adjusted—and, more importantly, formalized.
Tim was named CEO, and Jarrod England, COO. Longtime Associate Creative Director Courtney Harris was promoted to Creative Director, and Whitney Christopher remained as Director of Accounts. Courtney and Whitney would manage and oversee most of the day-to-day, allowing Tim and Jarrod to focus more on agency operations, business development, financials, and strategic planning.
Courtney oversees a team that includes Sr. Designer Kristin Black, Sr., Designer Allie Parker, Designer Chelsea Followwell, and Web Development Manager Jessica Wohner. Whitney oversees a team that includes Account Manager Haden Sirmon and Account Content Manager Jon Coxwell, forming a unique hybrid at the agency serving in both a creative and account management capacity. The Hummingbird team is rounded out by their bookkeeper Donna Arguello, who truly helps to keep them all straight.
In 2020, as was the case for many businesses, Covid changed the equation. After growing up and moving three times, they worked remotely like most of the country. “It took a while to figure it out, but we found that we were structured well operationally to move in that direction more easily. “We have returned to a more formal “hybrid” work situation at the beginning of 2022, and it’s really worked out for us.” Primarily, as a creative agency, they found it hard to keep the proverbial “creative juices flowing” being distanced from one another.
As noted, Downtown Mobile has been an important part of the Hummingbird story, and one of their longtime clients—The Downtown Mobile Alliance—has done so much to help drive revitalization. “They’ve had a huge impact on Mobile, and we really enjoy working with them and being a part of their story. Helping to tell the story of downtown Mobile through various creative executions each year is really important to our entire team,” said Dozier.
“When you think about how the Dauphin Street area has been transformed, it’s amazing. It’s a neat transition from De Tonti Square, Greer’s Market, NOVA Coffee, and several breweries that are attracting people back to live downtown again. Whoever thought St. Louis Street would become a tech center?” The renovation of the old Red Cross building and the Ice Box Bar's location has created a large destination and entertainment area for Mobile.
Hummingbird also created an “awareness campaign” for the Gulf Coast Alliance in Ocean Springs that went viral immediately. Embrace the Coast launched in 2020 during Covid with lots of social media.
“Travel and tourism and healthcare are our sweet spots,” says Tim. “We still do a lot of work with the Gulf Coast Vacation rental market, and more recently, we’ve delved into the economic development side of attracting attention to our community, working with The Mobile Chamber to create a brand and campaign called “More to Mobile,” which is geared towards attracting talented people and their families to consider Mobile as a place to grow personally and professionally [Visit MoretoMobileAl.com to learn more].
Hummingbird Ideas’ work doesn’t stop at Mobile’s city limits; go back to 2014 when Hummingbird helped launch Pensacola’s Foo Foo Fest, a 12-day celebration of the arts. They worked with the board of the non-profit organization Arts, Culture, Entertainment, Inc. (ACE) to come up with the name and have been the events' strategic marketing partner since. “It took a while to capture the essence of what the festival was all about. Every year, we try to create something new for Foo Foo Fest, and this year—it’s hard to believe, but it will be the 10th Anniversary of the festival.”
Tim feels the way ACE goes about selecting its participants makes it a better experience for everyone. All participants must be registered 501c3 non-profit to receive a grant (this year, the grant pool for organizations is $500,000) to fund their Foo Foo Fest participation. The more organized they are, the better their chances are for funding. “We have a long history with Foo Foo Fest, and we have a lot of experience working with other festivals as well. It’s a ton of work, but our whole team works in lock-step.”
Generally speaking, Tim feels Hummingbird Ideas does well when businesses are looking for a team that serves as its de facto marketing team. “If a business is overwhelmed, we can step in and be an extension of their marketing and PR needs.” He goes on to say, “One size does not fit all. Every client is different.” His team will sit down with potential new clients and have them answer a fifteen-question questionnaire. “We try to discover the “one thing” that defines what our clients are trying to accomplish, and something usually emerges.”
I asked what he thinks about the Scenic 98 Coastal area and the future. “Oh man, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. We’ve lived in West Mobile, Midtown, and now Spanish Fort. I used to walk to the Senior Bowl. My two sons, 10 and 7, are now involved in Scouts. I’m a Scout leader, and the area is perfect for outdoor activities.”
It was great to catch up with Tim and hear his thoughts. Hummingbird Ideas is really good at what they do, and the agency has had its hands in a lot of great marketing campaigns all along the Gulf Coast. They continue to have a positive and entertaining impact throughout the Scenic 98 Coastal communities!