Core is Dead, Long Live Core

By Egotist / /

Rumors of our death have been greatly exaggerated. Or not.

For the past 10 years we heard we were going under. And we finally did. 15 years to the day we started, and 14 years past when the four of us who started Core thought it would happen. Unfortunately, the end came quietly. No pirates storming the ship, no mayhem, no great speeches — just a few guys left to pack up books and the bar. Jesus, I thought it would be more cataclysmic.

We started Core with a simple mission: to create as much great work as is humanly possible. Unlike most companies, we believed in our mission and we endeavored every day to live up to it. Sometimes at great personal pain to every one of us who worked there. And to anyone who doubts that, ask someone who worked there. Or one of our clients who had to argue with us ad nauseam. And if you don’t personally know one of them or me, then shut the fuck up, because you are wrong.

We mostly lived up to our mission. We created great work for real clients every day. We never had a fake client. Never did an ad just for an award show. Never. And our reprints were never finessed after the fact – they were exactly as they ran for a client. As an account guy I would consider it a personal failure to pretend our work was better than it was, and thankfully I never had to. Our work was damn good. And no one can ever take that away from us. I’ll take any ad we ever did and explain to you why it was perfect based on the strategy. There was a reason clients bought every one of those ads.

It is interesting that even in our death we still seem to be stirring things up. Unfortunately, most of the outlandish, crazy stories you have heard about Core aren’t true. The stories you haven’t heard are so much better. There was pain, but there was a lot of fun. A lot of passion, a lot of craziness — stories that the best copywriters in the world can’t make up. But they are our stories, not yours. And I won’t tell them to you.

I’m fairly confident that every single person who worked at Core left better off for the experience. And that is a pretty damn good legacy. I’m proud of that. But let me be clear, it wasn’t because any one of the owners of Core made that happen. The people who worked at Core made it happen. They believed. And they delivered.

Technically, the death of Core might have been caused by bad management, a poor economy, the banking crisis, or making too many big bets, but the truth is we lost our spirit. We went 14 years without ever laying a person off, but when we finally had to do it we lost the best of what we had. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. Everyone knew it was coming, and after it happened everyone went back to work.

They went back to work.

And then they gathered around the bar at the end of the day to hang out together. I went home and cried. And then the same people I fired let me come back to the bar and have a beer with them.

That was Core. It wasn’t just a company. It was a place where people came to do the best work they could do. And more often than not, they did. We did.

Core is Dead.
Long Live Core.


  1. mark arnold January 13, 2011

    what i’d like to say can’t be
    what i’d like to say can’t be said here_
    the space is too shallow.

    so, for now, i’ll leave it at this: i would jump at the chance to go back and do it all over again. not to change anything__ but just to relive a great time in my life. thanks core. for everything. for all of it.

  2. coolville

    coolville January 13, 2011

    amen, brother.
    jon arnold

    amen, brother.

    jon arnold

  3. The Denver Egotist January 13, 2011

    Wish there were more like
    Wish there were more like you. Hope you all ended up in places that equal Core in some regard. Thanks for writing this.

  4. harro January 14, 2011

    I dont know who you are, and
    I dont know who you are, and i have not heard of core (ive just come from abroad). But, you sound amazing and above all i would be proud – 15 years of treating your people well is worth more than 1 year of (expletive) agencyspy success. well done, be happy for the past and the opportunities you created for others.

  5. George January 14, 2011

    I’d rather fail with my
    I’d rather fail with my culture and priciples intact after 15 yrs then sell out to the man. Nice run! I applaud your efforts and it’s a shame you’ll no longer be around. We could use more examples like this.

  6. Brad Maglinger January 14, 2011

    People have said a lot of
    People have said a lot of things, but mostly they said, “When I get great, I want to work at Core.” I’ve never heard that about any other shop in St. Louis.

    It’s a shame, but Core set the bar for the rest of us to at least work toward. Most of us, if not all, will never achieve a compliment that speaks like, “When I get great…”.

    Core had fucking balls, while producing amazing work. Fin.

  7. Jen Halski January 14, 2011

    The lessons I learned in the
    The lessons I learned in the 4 years I was there are too many to list and impossible to forget. Proud to have been part of Core. I had the chance to work with amazing people with incredible talent. Thanks for the good times and teaching me to never stop pushing.
    p.s. I miss the bar but not the Wild Turkey.

  8. Anti-Agency January 14, 2011

    I still remember my first and
    I still remember my first and only visit to Core as an intern for technisonic over a decade ago. There was an energy in the people there that felt more substantial than any other firm I had been too and you could tell they had a meaning behind what they were doing somehow.

    I sat down at that big concrete conference table with the sewer lid in the middle and learned more in one meeting for Epiphone than I had in any of my classes so far.

    They created a desire in me to make great things and be real with what I do. And that I could do that in St. Louis.

  9. Mark Halski January 14, 2011

    You guys had an amazing,
    You guys had an amazing, inspired run and you’ve left an indelible mark on the community at large that will endure. For 15 years we held you to an entirely different standard than almost anyone else in the game anywhere and you consistently delivered.

    And the parties…
    if only I could remember em.

  10. dan consiglio January 14, 2011

    what an incredible collection
    what an incredible collection of talent. i wasn’t there long but the place and people have left a lasting impression on me. and the fact that it took place in my hometown — a place where no one really believed it could be done — makes it that much more special.

  11. The St. Louis Egotist January 14, 2011

    We love hearing these
    We love hearing these personal stories; it’s almost like one of those books you sign at a funeral. Keep the memories coming…

    Apparently, readers of AgencySpy just like to bitch and be negative; we are glad the St. Louis Egotist community is above that.

  12. mchech January 14, 2011

    The work was simply a
    The work was simply a byproduct of the passion. I truly loved that they pissed off the rest of the city at a time when mediocrity seemed to reign.

    The envy was palpable. The principles were unwavering. The principals, however, wavered a helluva lot during the parties.

  13. J January 14, 2011

    You’re right, we are all
    You’re right, we are all better off for the experiences we had at CORE,
    and that is a “pretty damn good legacy”.

    You should be extremely proud of everything we accomplished.
    If I had to do all over again, I would change nothing………

    We are who we are because of you guys.

  14. Todd Hippensteel January 14, 2011

    Having been a part of Core
    Having been a part of Core for many years has been, without doubt, a highlight of my life. Not only my career. I learned, under great mentors, the process of executing great work. And I met some amazing human beings, too. Hard to top that.

  15. AJ January 15, 2011

    proud to have been a CORE
    proud to have been a CORE wife… and to have had a few at the bar with marc kempter…

  16. DeDe Splaingard January 18, 2011

    I am proud & honored to have
    I am proud & honored to have had the experience of working at Core. The people were fantastically amazing and the day to day culture was an inspirational reality of creative tension that stretched us all as necessary.
    The work mattered. The talent was unprecedented. Unfortunately,Core had an expiration date – but people don’t. Hope you all are well and thriving. My best.

  17. KAOjr January 19, 2011

    Say what you will about CORE
    Say what you will about CORE – you either loved ’em or hated ’em – they were, at one time, a force to be reckoned with in St. Louis advertising. And, as such, they drove many of us in other agencies crazy. From an account services standpoint they were nails behind Marc and Jeff Graham. Here were two guys who passionately believe that strong account service is a strategic part of the creative equation. Still have a copy of Jeff’s one-pager published in Adweek about account service in the file somewhere. Glad to see you again, Marc – hope you’re well. Now, on to the Addy after-parties…

  18. Todd Hippensteel January 20, 2011

    To KAOjr – A very kind
    To KAOjr – A very kind response. Thank you.

    But I must say, CORE was a force to be reckoned with until its last breath. As a member of the latter half of CORE, I’d say that the later work was just as great as the earlier period of work. It may have dressed a bit differently, but it was just as beautiful, and strategically dead-on, as always.

    Great work then, great work now. Wherever we are.

  19. Lauren Tucker January 20, 2011

    When a door closes, a window
    When a door closes, a window opens. The Martin Agency is lucky to have Marc Kempter, and I love working with this guy. He’s the real thing. Welcome to Richmond and Welcome to Martin Marc!

  20. Michele January 20, 2011

    i’d never encountered
    i’d never encountered anything like core before i worked there. it was far more than a place that cranked out intelligent and abundantly creative work. core was damn good people. i looked forward to going to work everyday and i loved working with you guys.

  21. AndreRamos February 11, 2011

    amen, brother.

    amen, brother.
    jon arnold

    escort athens

  22. TFD February 22, 2011

    This is a way late response
    This is a way late response but I feel compeled to write something.

    I grew up with CORE. Being the son of one of the founders, it was always my dream to work there, but never thought I actually would / could. I was lucky enough to become an intern and then eventually after my Dad made me “eat shit” at a couple of other jobs / agencies post-college, I was lucky enough to actually work at CORE.

    Dream came true. I couldn’t believe it.

    Although I was only there for a short time, I’m forever changed by the experience. It truly messed me up for life (in the best way possible). The culture, the creativity and the passion were contagious. And the people, oh the people. You will not find a more talented group (or better people more importantly). I’m proud and grateful to have learned from the best. It was truly a magical place to be.

    As long as there is no CORE, I will be forever searching hopelessly in this sea of advertising for something just like it. Too bad it doesn’t exist and never will. If you were not apart of it, you’ll never understand. If you were, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

    Long live CORE