Pioneer Credit Union wanted to position head-to-head against impersonal banks. We leaned into their pioneering positioning by trailblazing the way to a better way to bank.
Flying Pie is a Boise pizzeria with an edgy vibe and tongue-in-cheek attitude. Diluted over time, the brand was in need of a fresh take. By throwing back to the OG tone and look with an updated attitude, we served it up, hot.
BRAND BOX EXCERPTS
HABANERO SEASON RADIO
When hanging around the tire and service center, what’s hanging on the walls and around the…tires? Short, sweet, and compelling copy to upsell not only services, but the brand itself.
I make an art out of twisting commonly-used idioms by taking ’em totally literally. Take, for instance, the campaign name for the Ada County Landfill’s educational series: LET’S TALK TRASH, with your host, Trashy the Raccoon. Who says copy can’t be fun? Especially when you’re a literal garbage person.
“Take Care” has been a legacy message for Commercial Tire since their start in 1968. We folded that tagline into a standout stop motion campaign using paper animation and seasonal car tips. For over three years, it drove the tire and auto services company to a whole new level of brand recognition and sales.
Presented to the Idaho Speech Arts Teachers Association in 2019.
Launch: THIS IS NOT AT ALL INTIMIDATING (sarcasm)
Nothing is quite as intimidating as giving a speech to a bunch of speech teachers. Or presenting a well-reasoned thesis to debate teachers. Luckily, my forte is drama, drama, drama. So…this is still in my wheelhouse.
It’s ironic that I’m giving this speech at all, given that, for decades, I was the girl who never talked. I was like an adolescent mime. [*in a box gesture*]
As a young child, my elderly neighbor taught me a non-speaking technique I still use to this day. I’d go to her house and she’d say, “Make your eyes big.” [*mime eye thang*] She’d give me a commemorative spoon from Nebraska. It was the most positive reinforcement I’ve ever received in my life. It’s also an excellent way to hit on people. [*eye mime thing then sarcastically shakes head*]
So that’s the beginning. Somehow, I end up here. The founder of a live storytelling program. The winner of the inaugural Boise’s Funniest Person stand-up competition. A veritable stage presence. Who is, like, actually speaking. Out loud.
In between, is the story. And the story is one of surprising change and revelation, as all great stories are.
ROCKS & ISLANDS
I know I’m not the only teenager to mournfully sing the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel (*coughs* insert more contemporary reference here) while lying on her bed staring at the ceiling.
“I am a rock. I am an issssland. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.”
I know I’m not the only one because, according to recent scientific studies, loneliness is an epidemic.
Even (and especially) in the age of social media and instant messaging and 24-hour news cycles, loneliness is on the rise. Over the last 50 years, loneliness rates have doubled in the United States. Over half of surveyed American adults reported feeling alone, left out, isolated. One in four Americans shared they rarely feel understood. And one in five people believe they rarely or never feel close to people.
This breaks my heart.
And its breaking their hearts. Studies have shown that poor social relationships were associated with a 29 percent increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent rise in the risk of stroke. Loneliness can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This is a dire public health threat. Loneliness is literally killing us. Both as individuals and as a society.
I understand the impacts firsthand. Growing up incredibly isolated pushed me into a state of pervasive, persistent depression. And to drug use and addiction to numb the pain.
So even as I recited Simon and Garfunkel lyrics to will my gooey, despair-stricken heart into a hard-pressed inanimate object with no real need for human connection—deep down, I must have known the song was a lie. Because like a totally normal teenager, I also walked around my bedroom memorizing John Donne.
“No man is an island. Entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent. A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as a manner of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”
Also a great thing to say to students still in the hallway when the bell rings. “It tolls for thee! Slackers!”
THE ESSAY CLUB
In every great story, there is a turning point. One that might seem mundane at first. But that takes you off the track you’ve been routinely following, and shifts your perspective entirely.
My initial turning point came my senior year in high school, in the form of a big-hearted, big-brained, deep-voiced librarian. He’s the kind of guy who just spouts off literary quotes in everyday conversation that forever get turned around and around in your brain like a Rubik’s cube.
For example, he would throw out: “In the words of Nietzsche, ‘When you look into the abyss, you become the abyss’.” *mind blown gesture*
He invited me to be part of “The Essay Club.” Based on recommendations from other teachers, he hand-picked five kids to read essays on a theme, and then discuss them over tea on any given Sunday in a room above the library. As subsequent boyfriends have pointed out, it’s probably the dorkiest high school club on earth, but for me, it was the first time I felt really listened to. Like my ideas mattered. Like my intellect meant something. Even being picked for this group meant that someone SAW me. Truly saw something special in me, silent and scribbling in the back of the class. And that alone meant the world to me.
Together, we talked about everything from food to abortion to George Orwell. In the process, we expanded our points of view. We really connected. We slowly healed ourselves.
To this day, the essay club members are my best friends. And the librarian is the most important lifelong mentor I’ll ever know.
After that, I forced myself to speak to people. Literally forced myself through waves of terror and uncertainty and self-doubt. And after years of imagining what people were saying without actually participating, I guess I had turned everyone into characters from the Jane Austen or Dostoevsky books I devoured. Because while I thought people must be discussing deep philosophical and societal matters in complex and beautiful language, they were actually just spouting off some random bullsheep. Honestly, I was quite disappointed. I. Could. Not. “Do.” Small talk.
So instead I asked questions. Trying to get to the heart of the matter, and in a deft shy girl move, also focusing the spotlight back on the person I was talking to. *taps head* Clever. I’d ask: “What are you passionate about?” “What’s a turning point in your life?” Or simply, “What happened?” the greatest story-sparking question ever devised.
I did not discriminate who I talked to. Young. Old. Whoever happened to be there at the coffee shop when I willed myself to open my mouth. And I learned that everyone has a story that means something.
Your weirdo quirks sometimes become your biggest strengths. It’s not just a “The More You Know” afterschool special sort of pablum to make weirdo teenagers feel better. It’s true.
My conversations often ended with people telling me, somewhat in surprise of themselves, “Wow, I’ve never told that to anyone.”
And that became my secret superpower. Extracting stories from the core of someone’s heart. Like some oil baron of the soul.
STORY STORY NIGHT
Ten years later, I started Story Story Night. Inspired by The Essay Club, my odd collection of strangers’ stories, and a liberal dash of This American Life, The Moth, and David Sedaris, this monthly show explores true stories on a theme. Told live on stage and without notes. With featured storytellers intermixed with an open story slam.
The first show we had is forever seared into my brain, and every show is seared into my heart.
We had set out about 50 chairs. High expectations for an arts event in Boise at the time (before all the Californians came and started like *indignant* attending things). But right before doors opened, I looked out the window, and the line snaked down the stairs and down the street. We set out all the 125 chairs the venue had, and still had standing room only.
And the stories were electric. Especially the most vulnerable ones. The theme was BUSTED, and one storyteller told an in turns hilarious and harrowing story about him as an adolescent boy who got caught peeping on his teenage girl neighbors. There was something about the still palpable embarrassment and stripped honesty (pun intended) he conveyed that had this amazing effect throughout the entire room.
The only time I’ve felt something similar to this was when I climbed the highest peak in the Sawtooths. As we were nearing the summit, storm clouds crept in, and our hair started to stand on end. Obviously, I should’ve booked it downhill screaming that I don’t want to be a lightning bolt statistic, but instead, I ran my hands through the air, because it felt so heavy and weighted. Palpable. And as I did, sparks went off in between each finger. Pew, pew, pew. I felt like a god.
And that’s how it felt to me in the room that night. Like the air was weighted, thick and alive with electricity. It’s magic. Magic made of empathy and vulnerability and stories.
STORIES IN THE BRAIN
In the brain, storytelling is rather electric. Storytelling is hardwired in us. It’s as natural as breathing. It’s how we process our experiences and lives and world.
In the brain, stories light the whole thing up. It’s like a disco party up there. When hearing plain facts and data on a boring PowerPoint, we only use the language processing parts in our brain. When listening to a story, the language processing part is lit up but so are other areas that spark off when actually experiencing the events of the story. Like, “her fur was so soft” would engage our sensory cortex. Or “I ran like hell” would engage our motor cortex.
Princeton neuroscientist Uri Hasson says that a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.
He’s demonstrated that by telling stories to each other, our brainwaves actually sync up. This sounds like I’m quoting from AmazingTheoriesofTheUniverse.com but he’s like, a Princeton neuroscientist. With a famous TED talk. This phenomenon is called neural entrainment. Look it up. It’s fascinating.
Scientists are also discovering that chemicals like cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin are released in the brain when we’re told a story. Cortisol, a multi-functional hormone that works to protect our health and overall well-being, helps make a point stick. Dopamine, regulating our emotional responses, keeps us engaged. And oxytocin is associated with empathy, and a crucial element in building, deepening, and maintaining good relationships.
Stories are the ultimate high, man.
Because even more than a designer drug, people crave connection. They long for empathy. They need stories. It’s built into our DNA. It’s in our very nature.
THE POWER OF EMPATHY
The Dali Lama says, “Empathy is the most precious human quality.” And you have to agree with everything the Dali Lama says or you’re a terrible person. So…*looking at you gesture*
The reigning queen of empathy and vulnerability is Brene Browne. She says that “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”
She often quotes Teresa Wiseman, who pinpointed four qualities of empathy: [*counts with fingers*] The ability to take the perspective of another person. Staying out of judgement. Recognizing emotion in other people. Then communicating that.
Brene says, “Empathy is a choice. A vulnerable choice. Because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”
I think that empathy is also a muscle. We build it with weighted thoughts and memories and shared storytelling.
I think the idea of a story with weight is an important concept to note, too. The thing about stories is, you can’t just put one in your google cal for 3 pm next Tuesday. “Experience Great Story.” Check. Stories happen to us, rather than us intending for them to happen. Our best stories are usually moments of surprise and vulnerability. From, I had my fly down in front of my gradeschool crush, to the doctor diagnosed me with chapstick addiction. That’s an actual Story Story story. (She ended up having to go cold turkey.) Our most life-defining stories are when surprise and vulnerability combine in the extreme.
THE STORY WAVE
I compare it to a wave. You launch off. You think everything’s heading steadily up in this one direction, and suddenly [glug, blurb, water in face noises]. The action turns. And it takes you by surprise. Sometimes knocks you down. Shoves you underwater.
But note that a wave, after that awe-inspiring dramatic moment, finds peace again. Once transformed it turns back to where it came from, folds in, reaches calm. Lands softly on the sand. Ploosh.
And that’s a story. A really good story. Because it builds in tension. You don’t really know where it’s headed until suddenly—a super powerful turn of events happens. It’s sometimes jaw dropping to see it unfold. And then it loops back and finds resolution. The power and meaning of it washes over you. Whoosh.
And there you are, in the end, on the beach sipping a mojito, just watching the waves, man, and soaking up the true nature of perspective—and like, the universe and stuff.
At Story Story, we help people find this clear shape of their stories in the sea of their existence. And by shaping our stories, and recognizing them for what they are now, and what they’ve meant to the course of our life, we take sometimes embarrassing, weird, shameful, painful experiences and turn them into our superpower. At last, in our minds and in our hearts, we are not the villain, but the hero of our own story. It’s how we make sense of our lives.
MAKING IT UNIVERSAL
What I love about Story Story Night is that we give people the chance to shape their story in a way that’s universal. It’s not a story being told to your old friend Dan, it’s being told to 500 strangers. No sweat.
And it’s delivered in a way that’s naked, in a truly vulnerable sense. No notes. No props. No lightshows. Just you, a mic, the crowd. And the electric power of empathy.
Story Story Night offers themes as a story hook. I always tried to pick themes that merged surprise and vulnerability. Like HAUNTED: Stories of Ghosts from Your Closet, or HOOKED: Stories of Cravings and Compulsions.
Themes help give people an easy way to think about and shape their stories. Most of our best stories will fit under any number of themes. And any given theme you choose will subtly shift the details you decide to include in your story, and even the overall point that comes across in the end.
Even to this day, I pick a theme before a creative project to help guide my material. When I did Boise’s Funniest Person, my theme was AWKWARD. Nailed it. The theme for this speech is STRONGER TOGETHER. Obvi.
MAKING IT PERSONAL
I’ll finish with a story. One that demonstrates all of my aforementioned globemaking brilliant points in a vulnerable, heartfelt way that will make you empathize and remember. See? *taps head* Clever.
In the first year of Story Story Night, I asked my mom to tell her story for STAR-CROSSED LOVE: Stories of Fated Attraction. We worked together for four hours, sifting through moments and details of her life. Deciding how to sum up a decade in a sentence. And how to draw out the scenes that truly counted in this telling.
My parents were an odd couple. They met at a hippie revivalist Christian church. But she was still more Catholic schoolgirl than rebel and he was more stoner than prayer. Love is funny like that. How it doesn’t quite make rational sense. But inexorably, drugs took over my dad’s life. He became addicted to meth. And as he fell apart, their marriage did too. They were divorced for 10 years. In the meantime, my dad got clean. And one unpredictable, forced family togetherness Christmas, they fell hopelessly in love again. And got married 3 years later. And it’s redemption and magic and all that jazz.
I know firsthand the healing power that had for my mom. Standing in front of a room of people, as the truest of her true self, revealing her painful, embarrassing, yet humorous and powerful truth. Having a room full of people ride the wave with her. Then clap uproariously. It’s a moment of pride and self-worth. It’s a defining memory in her life. It utterly transformed this incredibly painful epoch. This great tragedy turned into a great triumph.
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
And the impact just ripples out from there. It helped heal some old wounds in her marriage. And it empowers my sisters and me to this day. We listen to it sometimes when just hanging out together, talking about our past. Her story is a cherished family memento.
And that’s what I love about Story Story Night the most. It makes me so insanely happy, to know that each story told impacts hundreds and hundreds of people. In large and small ways. The storyteller especially.
It makes me so insanely happy that I helped forge something that is forging our community, one story and one show at a time, now 10 years in. And it’s forging a community that’s deeply rooted in real connection, vulnerability, empathy, and understanding. In the face of all that, loneliness, it just poofs. Disappears into thin air. Because that’s all it’s made of.
At our last birthday for the program, a long-time audience member from our early days told me he doesn’t think he would be here today if it wasn’t for Story Story Night. I couldn’t even say anything back. Tears just streamed down my face.
The less you talk about something the more power you give it. What we really need is three healing, magic words: “I hear you.”
I’ll end with a Rubik’s cube quote like my deep-voice librarian mentor. Cheryl Strayed, in her advice column Dear Sugar, once wrote: “Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding.”
So basically, we’re all reverse origami. And I imagine, that, when the page is flat, then you can read your full story. The weird, beautiful, awkward and amazing story of your life. And hopefully, you’ll have the chance to tell that story to other people—even as it’s gradually unfolding. And really hear their stories, too.
It was a joy and a privilege to share the same brainwaves with you today. Thank you.
The curtain was almost ready to go up on the elaborate multi-year production to replace the sets and costumes for Ballet Idaho’s beloved holiday show, The Nutcracker. But how do we preview all the beauty, magic, and wonder without staging the entire ballet? The solution came from me binge-watching The Office. Surprise, meet delight. (Yes, it sold out.)
Narrowly escaping near-death in the Idaho legislature like that rolling boulder scene in Raiders From the Lost Ark, the Idaho Powerball needed a pick-me-up this year. We gave backstory and depth to the iconic local mascot by bouncing into a day in the life at BALL’s home. Surprise! Win.
Commercial Tire wanted to launch a testimonial campaign to show (and tell) the impact they have on the lives of both their rural/ city retail and commercial customers. Luckily, I’m a born storyteller…and story seeker. This series sprung forth from a company legacy phrase: “Keeping you and your family on the road.” Meeting these beautiful souls, and telling their stories, was a career highlight. We made both longform video stories and :30 spots.
CLM zeroed in on a positioning stance of targeting up-and-coming challenger companies as a main client base. In a lightbulb moment, I realized our physical positioning in Boise’s OG firehouse aligned perfectly with the philosophical positioning of a firebrand company that incites change and takes radical action. We revisioned a smoking hot brand that worked to say the message in every medium and moment. Plus developed an underdog educational speaker series called DOG EAT HOG that carried through the concept with giveaways to fire up the synapses.
Dreaming up oddball animal characters to showcase different aspects of the Fair? Just another day at the office. This campaign ran for two years under a few banner headlines, and eventually led to the creation of four full-fledged mascots.
Pioneer Credit Union needed a brand refresh that pushed their trailblazing service and perspective to the forefront. Driven by the simple line “We Go There,” we showed all the visionary ways Pioneers leads the way in convenience and personal attention for its members. (I stretched the budget during production by concepting simple social extras.)
Hold your horses. Or your llamas. Or whatnot. In this concept, we show everyday people going to great lengths to recreate the thrill rides, close animal encounters, and fun and games of the wildest time of the summer. Here’s a piece of advice to maintain sanity (and a clean record): Get tix. Then save it for the Fair.
The real stars at the Fair are blue-ribbon-blooded. We highlight the main famed attractions of the last blast of the summer, TMZ barnyard style. An open-to-the-public Share My Fair contest led us to feature a winning local beatboxer in the TV spot.
AGENCY: CLM | RADIO PRODUCTION: CUMULOUS
client: TSheets | platform: Fundera | copy mission: To position the cloud-based time tracking tech company TSheets and CEO Matt Rissell as a thought leader with dynamic articles for entrepreneurs featured in the online magazine for Fundera—the small business lending marketplace.
Client: White Cloud Rafting | Design: Jenny & Co. | Copy mission: In the competitive environment of Stanley and Sun Valley, White Cloud needed a total website and brand refresh as accessible, approachable, fun-loving and trust-worthy as the owner and guide team behind this legendary rafting company.
Results: A dramatic increase in bookings.
Nothing beats the experience of a day on the river (or the web) with WhiteCloudRafting.com.
Client: Story Story Night | Design: Jenny & Co. | Copy mission: Because everyone has a story, the new Story Story Night website needed to match the magic of its popular live shows—and detail the different programs and storyteller outreach the nonprofit provides. With new information architecture and full-tilt copywriting…Boom! There it is.
Results: Due to my visionary marketing and creative direction over the course of 6 years, this program is now one of the most consistently popular in Boise, with sold-out monthly crowds of 200 to 300. The website now sees heavy web traffic, with an astonishing 7,000 unique visitors and 60,000 page views a month.
client: AARP Idaho | design: W Design | copy mission: To launch this peer-driven continuing education program in the Treasure Valley with a captivating 20-page catalog for the breakthrough fall semester, complete with cover copy that has “open this now” direct mail appeal.
results: Registrations and the response from the community far exceeded expectations. As a result, nearly twice as many classes will be offered in spring 2016 (and I wrote that catalog too).
Imagine this folded, and in your mailbox.
client: Idaho Rivers United | design: Bethany Walter | copy mission: To tell the true action-adventure story of Lonesome Larry for his 20th anniversary by sending out an intern in a human-sized sockeye salmon suit to the far reaches of Idaho. Bringing surprise and delight to the most unexpected places, Lonesome Larry handed out branded coasters that tell his story with a link to a compelling website. All documented on social media. The entire campaign is my concept—and was a wild success. This is a spoof on the brilliant Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign.
client: Idaho Rivers United | copy mission: To tell the true action-adventure story of Lonesome Larry—the most interesting fish in the world—and invite Idahoans to his 20th anniversary party in 3 one-minute radio spots.
“His fish story reads like an action-packed thriller, except it’s true…”
“His commute makes the Iron Man look like a walk in the park…”
“In a race for the very survival of his species, one lone fish prevailed…”
client: Idaho Rivers United | design: Bethany Walter | copy mission: To tell the true action-adventure story of Lonesome Larry for his 20th anniversary. I came up with this campaign when volunteering for this nonprofit organization wearing a human-sized salmon suit. What if, I wondered, we could take saving Idaho’s endangered sockeye out of the contentious political realm, and instead just spotlight the nail-biting true story of the most interesting fish in the world? So (an intern in the guise of) Lonesome Larry wandered through Idaho in the most unexpected places, handing out branded coasters and magnets that tell his story with a link to a compelling website. All documented on social media. This is a spoof on the brilliant Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign.
Impact: In the words of IRU’s Director of Communications, Greg Stahl: “The diverse four-month multimedia campaign included a thorough public relations effort that resulted in stories in the Seattle Times, National Geographic NewsWatch, National Public Radio, Idaho Statesman and Idaho Public Television, among others. It also included creation of a website and implementation of an intensive social media campaign that, at its peak, reached thousands of viewers per day. It also included scripting, editing and production of radio ads that ran throughout the state of Idaho.”
Nothing, except the most interesting fish in the world, beats the full site—or the full story of this incredible journey. Check it out at LonesomeLarry.org.
client: Advocates for the West | design: Bethany Walter | copy mission: To completely rework this environmental law advocacy nonprofit’s website with new information architecture and copy that shows the power and beauty of the West—and why it’s so worthy of being protected. (And why Advocates for the West is so worthy of your donations and support.)
No screenshots beat the actual experience of this breathtaking website, so check out AdvocatesWest.org.
client: Idaho Youth Ranch | design: Rizen Creative | copy mission: To show the extraordinary breadth, scope, and reach of the Idaho Youth Ranch through the lens of one extraordinary kid’s story—and promising future. In one 20-page annual report.
I also wrote the bulk of the Idaho Youth Ranch website too. «check it
client: Idaho Youth Ranch | design: Rizen Creative | copy mission: Get teenagers and young adults to sign up for the new Youthworks! program to skyrocket their employable skills, career confidence, and future job potential, plus get paid. In one postcard.
I also wrote the bulk of the Idaho Youth Ranch website too. «check it
Client: Bethany Walter | Design: Bethany Walter | Copy mission: To come up with a name and tagline for a striking line of antique and vintage sourced ethnic jewelry.
Pop out computers? Meet the HP game-changers. With Oliver Russell.
Targeted to members of the ABA, this HP direct mail piece featured slide out panels with sales impact. With Oliver Russell.
Concordia Law hired me to write both viewbooks. Design by W Design.
Story Story Night promotes every season with a unique postcard. I also come up with the themes for this program. Design by Neighborhood All Stars.
Concordia Law wanted to highlight programs for law supporters and professionals in Boise. I named the Legacy Mentor Program and wrote the copy. With W Design.
Concordia Law sent out a series of postcards to prospective students to weigh out the law school education equation. With W Design.
Hidden Springs neighborhood grand opening ad. With Stoltz Marketing Group.
HP commissioned a direct mail piece to send to creative types to promote the design-ready Mobile Workstation. Just my speed. With Oliver Russell.
Published seasonally, I concerted, researched, wrote, and edited this beautiful, 2-color newsletter for Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla, WA. With Stoltz Marketing Group.
Simplot liked to replace letters with objects they helped produce in their corporate ads. I brought a cow head to the equation. With Stoltz Marketing Group.
For the Idaho Eastern Oregon Onion Commission, I concepted, researched, wrote and edited this magazine-style info-letter called, The Bulb. Not to be confused with The Onion. With Stoltz Marketing Group.
HP wanted a direct mail piece to show off the security of the innovative Mobile Thin Client in the healthcare world. So we designed a map to show how the new technology would fit perfectly in a hospital. With Oliver Russell.
Targeting female business owners, HP sent out this direct mail offer promoting the perfect do-anything notebook PC. The tone of the copy focused on following your vision, and the sweet giveaway, not too stereotypically we hope, was chocolate by the amazing woman-owned company, Vosges Haut-Chocolate. With Oliver Russell.
Made for the educational market, this HP direct mail piece grabbed attention with a free cap give-away. With Oliver Russell.
Introducing the HP Mini-Note PC to the educational market in an actual-size way. With Oliver Russell.