When Terry Terry started his creative communications firm, MessageMakers, 40 years ago, he was still in college and not far removed from the years he spent as a hitchhiking thrill seeker. Several of his core business offerings — social media integration, digital video production, Internet-based training programs — were more in the realm of science fiction than actual capabilities. And Old Town was still going by its former name, North Lansing.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, and we’ve done a lot of changing, too,” Terry said from his high-tech office on the eve of his Ruby Anniversary, flanked by industry awards and flat screens scrolling images of client work. “I guess that’s the only thing that’s stayed the same after all these years: change.”
Terry will incorporate the 40th anniversary celebration into his annual holiday party tonight at his Old Town headquarters, 1217 Turner St. It’s a commemoration of a gradual growth process that’s taken him from a former bowling alley in the basement of the nowdestroyed Michigan Theatre in downtown Lansing to his current team of 10 full-time employees housed in a Habitrail of narrow brick stairways that give way to cuttingedge creative suites.
“I’m constantly learning, and that’s what makes this fun,” Terry said. “Staying on deadline, on budget and maintaining high quality is a constant challenge that I don’t think will ever get old.”
MessageMakers is Old Town’s longestrunning continuous business, having moved to its current location from downtown Lansing five years after its debut in 1977. Little did Terry know that the move would set the stage for the neighborhood’s revitalization from a rough-and-tumble block of mostly empty storefronts to a bustling boutique district.
“At times like this, a big anniversary, it’s easy to spend a lot of time reflecting on the past,” Terry said. “But it’s important to always be thinking ahead. You don’t want to get distracted by things you can’t change.”
In the past few years, Terry has continued to expand MessageMakers’ offerings, including adding filmmaking to the mix. He recently debuted two documentaries: the 2014 hour-long doc “Second Shift: From Crisis to Collaboration,” about the work of Lansing’s leaders to keep General Motors in the capital city in the late ‘90s, and the recently completed “The Business of Good: Young Africa Rising,” a 30-minute doc made for Notre Dame about its work with the Young African Leadership Initiative.
Terry has also added event hosting to his event planning services. Last year, he teamed up with partners John and Joni Sztykiel to create the UrbanBeat Event Center, transforming what was perhaps Turner Street’s most notorious historic business – the rowdy Mustang Bar, which had sat vacant since its closure in 1986 – into an event space and performance venue that can accommodate everything from business breakfasts to weddings. Meanwhile, inside MessageMakers, Terry continues to push the boundaries of turning bleeding-edge technology into client deliverables.
“Right now, we’re making our first foray into 360 video and continuing to see what we can do with things like 3-D,” Terry said. “That’s another fun part of this, seeing what’s possible and what’s coming.”
Looking ahead, Terry said he plans to do more work in Detroit (“It’s happening down there, and what’s good for Detroit is good for the state”) and seek out featurelength film projects, although nothing is “in the hopper” currently. In addition to his current 10 employees, Terry also manages a team of more than 20 freelancers, and he seems confident he has the right pieces in place.
“Right now, I would say I have the best team I’ve ever had in my 40 years of doing this,” he said. “I get to work with a lot of amazing people to create things that have the power to shape people’s understanding of the world. We can also show them the possibilities of what can be done. I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s next.”