Frank Gilliam, 39 

click to enlarge elevation.jpg

Principal, Creative Director

Their nominations are so glowing, a skeptic might assume Aaron Dotson (left) and Frank Gilliam (right) wrote the things themselves: "One of the most respected advertising and design firms in the region; these guys push Richmond to new heights; trusted image-makers; best creative team under 40 in the city." But their business, Elevation, is known for creating highly visible work that is anything but self-congratulatory.

"Neither of us have very big egos," Dotson says. "The traditional idea of what a creative director is -- and let's be honest, a lot of them are prima donnas — it doesn't do anybody any good. Good work only gets done when you're rolling up your sleeves and getting to the table with your clients."

Elevation refocuses and re-faces organizations that are iconic to Richmond, such as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, The Children's Museum of Richmond, Performance Food Group, East West Partners, the State Fair of Virginia and AMF Bowling.

And while pro bono work is sometimes an ad-agency afterthought, "they treat us as if we were one of their biggest clients, always providing meaningful, results-driven input," says Katie Gilstrap, a banking executive who's connected Elevation with low-budget, big-need groups. "They consistently provide impeccable service and fantastic work," Gilstrap says, "and they're some of the most generous and talented people I know."

"We just want to do good work that works," Dotson says. He and Gilliam are known as big-picture thinkers who track every detail, with a shared passion for community empowerment. They're bullish on Richmond, the town where both partners grew up and now raise young families. "There is lots of opportunity to make Richmond even better," Dotson says, "and a lot of progressive companies that aren't resistant to change." Raising the level of their game becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with no hyperbole required.

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