Monday, June 14, 2010

Client update: O. Hm.

Last fall, after all the work we made for Oregon Humanities, I met with Kathleen, their editor and communications director, to formally hand over the work and talk about what happens next. We met over coffee, and it was a little sad. It was something of an ending to one of the best client relationships I'd ever had.

I encouraged Kathleen to make the stuff their own, use it, break it, experiment, try new things themselves. I told her about how I liked the storytelling from PS1 and MoMA. Feels like they are creating it themselves, and not speaking through a 'branding agency.'

So, we didn't create a traditional "style guide." Remember style guides? Life moves too fast for style guides anymore. Instead, I made a little hand-drawn map with thumbnails of the work and possible ways it could be shared with different audiences.

We talked about voice, the personality of Oregon Humanities. We talked about how believing in the power of new, bold, surprising, lively ideas as an organization means your storytelling should be bold and surprising and lively.

We talked about not overplaying "Oh, Hmm," unless you wanted to be super annoying.

We talked about finding good partners to help create things, how to encourage them to not feel locked in a system, but have freedom to make it their own, which will keep the voice human and alive.

"It's gonna be awesome," I probably said.

We hugged and said goodbye, Kathleen went off to have her baby, I moved on to other projects/relationships. That was probably 9 months ago.

Any lingering sadness went away the other night when I went to a simply outstanding event they hosted. I have a smile on my face as I'm writing this. It's another chapter in my case study of an Ideal Client. They not only had absorbed the storytelling and made it their own, their new communication materials created without me were possibly better than what I made for them. Everything about the event reflected an aligned organization with clarity and confidence around its own purpose, story and voice. Super powerful, and inspiring.

First of all, the event was simply art directed very well. It was held in a cool space, the AIA building in the Pearl, the food and wine were great, and the women of O. Hm. looked spiffy.

The visiting guest was a heavy hitter. Remember Denver in 2008, when a Republican congressman appeared at the Democratic Convention and endorsed Barack Obama? That was Jim Leach, a 30-year congressman from Iowa. Now he's Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. His focus at the NEH has been a "civility tour" where he talks about the importance of dialogue and humanity in civic engagement. It's been called the opposite of a Tea Party. Pretty awesome.

As tempting as it would be to simply put him behind a lectern, Cara, O. Hm.'s executive director, took a risk and set up the evening as a moderated conversation between Jim and Alison Carey, director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival American Revolutions play cycle, and co-founder of the Cornerstone Theater Company, an experimental, community-based, collaborative theater.

"This arrangement reflects what we believe," Cara told us, "that through dialogue and different ideas colliding, we move forward.

"We believe in the transformational power of new ideas, for communities, and for people." Terrific.

I can't remember the question that Cara used to kick off the conversation, but it was something along the lines of, What is the relevance of the Humanities in this whatever-the-hell-it-is-that's-going-on-out-there, the chaos, the struggle, the divisiveness?

Deep breath and silence as everyone seemed to absorb the weight of the question.

Jim talked about personally being most struck by the acceleration of change, how that raises the critical question of whether we see that other person we are forced to confront as our neighbor or as our enemy. Our answer determines whether we frame the other person's POV as an opposing idea or something we are curious about and seek to develop an understanding of.

(Made me think of Pifkin's take on Empathic Civilizations.)

Alison also talked about curiosity. She talked about the insights that happen when we take a deep breath and ask ourselves, "How do I feel about this? What's my understanding of what's happening here?" We don't give ourselves time for deep breaths anymore, she said, but art gives them to us. Art makes us curious, and it's nearly impossible to condemn something or someone we are curious about. Curiosity is the gateway of understanding.

So, yeah, awesome, the whole evening, so thoughtful and provocative and stimulating, and then they brought out the cookies. Conversation cookies.

Instead of fortunes, each contains a question designed to spark thinking/conversation. The Oregon Humanities staff made them. Great!

They also handed out their tasty new re-branded magazine, designed by Pinch.

An energizing evening. I'm so proud of those guys, inspired. I've learned so much that's relevant as I seek to begin new client relationships.

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