Story Bank

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”
—Muriel Rukeyser

I will use this space to blog about work, life, hopes, creativity, and branding.

My head is full

Posted by A. Smith on Mar-17-2010

Wow. What a week. I am flying home from my first ever SXSW Interactive, and I am looking forward to the next few days to process every thing I learned and to truly reflect on my experience. Perhaps the irony I least expected is that I just spent five days at an interactive conference, and technology is, in some ways, far from my mind.

Technology is a medium – a channel for exploring much bigger concepts. The core themes running rampant through my head include storytelling, improv, visual thinking, happiness, innovation, engagement, creativity, passion, gratitude, helping others, and living in the now.

This is right up my alley because I am a big picture person – a dreamer. I can hardly wait to think through and share everything I learned, and to put my ideas to work. There are so many people out there doing amazing things. I am inspired, and I am ready to rock the world with them.

Not your ordinary business lessons

Posted by A. Smith on Dec-30-2009

I could spend hours, heck weeks, thinking through all I’ve learned over the past 15 years in marketing. Instead, I am going to share what comes top of mind because these are the ideas that live in my head. This is not an end-all-be-all list. It is a rapid reflection of lessons that keep me afloat and moving toward excellence:

(Top five lessons that came to mind, unedited, in no particular order)

  1. I am not an expert.
    This is one of the first things I tell clients. And, it’s true. I am not an expert. I bring expertise to the table…and so do they. I respect my clients and have come to truly understand the meaning and power of real collaboration. When I enter a room, I always go in believing the answers are already there.
  2. It’s okay to struggle with confidence so long as confidence wins out.
    On the last day of my first job (which I left because I was moving), my boss Sandy said to me, “You have the skill, now you need the confidence to go with it.” In delivering this phrase, she gave me confidence. I whisper this sentence to myself almost daily.
  3. There’s nothing more powerful than a story well told.
    I just witnessed a wonderful example of this. The agency I share space with is kicking off an ad campaign for a local nonprofit to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Many organizations would celebrate this milestone by simply focusing on the number. In this case, however, they are telling 50 heart-opening, human stories every Sunday in 2010. Ah, I get chills just thinking about this. If given the option of communicating about helping hundreds of people or telling the personal story of one of them, tell the story.
  4. Part of my responsibility is expectation management.
    One of my not-so-glorious responsibilities is to help clients understand that branding is a process. Overnight success is unrealistic. PR, for example, requires meaningful story ideas and time to nurture and grow them. Companies shouldn’t expect one press release to land them a front-page article in the New York Times – but they do. Therefore, it’s important that I am clear and honest upfront: Commit or don’t bother.
  5. People are the heart of business
    I inherently believe that every employee matters – and contributes to business. This belief was reinforced for me a few years back when I was a patient in the ER at Maine Medical Center. My brain was bleeding and I was completely disoriented. I remember very little about that night – except for the friendly janitor who calmed me down by giving me a Tootsie Roll and reassuring me that everything would be okay. He got through to me in a way no one else could. I love Maine Med, and he is among the reasons why. Every person at an organization has the opportunity to live its brand.

These are just a few of the many lessons I have learned. And, I know it’s just the beginning. As we approach the end of this decade, I encourage you to reflect on your personal journey. What lessons have you learned in business?

LIVESTRONG: Renewing hope in people and in business

Posted by A. Smith on Dec-2-2009

I participated in a LIVESTRONG event in Austin, TX, nearly six weeks ago. I don’t think I’ve gone a day since without reflecting on my experience. First, there’s the obvious: The overwhelming gratitude I felt toward an organization that is confronting cancer in a big way. To witness the difference LIVESTRONG makes firsthand and to celebrate life in the company of survivors was simply awesome.

I will hold steadfastly to my memories of seeing two beautiful bald women embrace each other for the first time, of witnessing cyclists raise their arms in victory as they crossed the finish, and of sharing in conversation with Alyssa, Renee, Doug, and others whose spirits alone lend credence to a cancer-free world.

The weekend was everything I hoped for and more.

I walked away truly inspired by people. I also left with a renewed belief in the possibility of business. Cause aside, LIVESTRONG is an amazing organization. As an individual who is passionate about worthwhile and sustainable brands, I put LIVESTRONG in its own class. Here’s a glimpse of why this brand rocks:

  • Forget a mission statement, LIVESTRONG brings to life a manifesto (
  • The headquarters is LEED certified, incorporates more than a ton of re-used materials from the existing building, relies almost entirely on natural light, and boasts a kitchen where recycling and composting are given behaviors
  • This organization thrives on community from its engagement with local nonprofits to its global networking to its infamous twittering (with a live Twitter feed @LIVESTRONGHQ)
  • LIVESTRONG is not just a workplace but also a workout place where employees can hit the onsite gym, break for yoga, or take a company bike for a spin around town
  • The list goes on – internships, education, art, music, culture, outreach, websites, blogs, public tours, wristbands, patient support, empathy, vision…

LIVESTRONG not only bleeds yellow but also paints the world yellow with hope.

There’s a lot we can learn from LIVESTRONG, including how to live, work, and brand strong.

Innovative people descend on Austin

Posted by A. Smith on Sep-26-2009

Well, being that my goal here is to spill my thoughts on paper rather than sit and contemplate for hours on end while spontaneity slips away, today I will write about the first thing that came to mind: SXSW. For people who don’t know what these letters stand for, I am referencing South by Southwest – or as I describe to people, “A huge conference/festival where innovative people with an passion for music, film, or interactive descend on Austin to connect with each other, new ideas, and the future.”

Well, I am going to be one of these fortunate people because I am attending SXSW in March 2010. I registered last week, booked a hotel, and made all of the arrangements necessary to make it happen. I am thrilled. Five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events, and an unbeatable line up of special programs…I can only imagine the energy.

Now, if only Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, makes another appearance!