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From Personal Brands to Brands with Personality

From Personal Brands to Brands with Personality

CI to Eye with Jessica Watson

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler and Priya Iyer.

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In This Episode

We navigate themes of authenticity and personal connection. From building teams that reflect the individual team members’ strengths to breaking down institutional facades, it’s time to get personal.

Media Moment

Erik and Priya nerd out about one of their favorite tools, the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment. They explore using this framework to bring teams together who can achieve more than the sum of their individual strengths.

CI's Stance

Senior Consultant Alison Goldberg explains why Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection may have skewed your email metrics for the last year and how to use these shifts to level up your user-centric email strategy.

CI to Eye Interview

Erik sits down with the CEO and Creative Director of Points North Studio, Jessica Watson, to uncover why great branding evokes a feeling, what institutional authenticity actually looks like, and how you can manage change more sustainably by starting small.

Priya Iyer: Hello and welcome to CI to Eye! I’m Priya Iyer…

Erik Gensler: And I’m Erik Gensler.

Priya Iyer: As always, we’ve got a thought-provoking episode for you today. In CI’s Stance, you’ll hear from Alison Goldberg about how Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection is changing email measurement, and what you can do about it.

Erik Gensler: Later, we’ll get to my interview with Jessica Watson, the CEO and Creative Director of Points North Studio. She’ll be sharing her ideas around on how branding evokes a feeling and how community outreach impacts brand perception.

Priya Iyer: But first, we’re going to kick things off with our Media Moment!

Erik Gensler: This episode’s media moment is an interview with, uh, this guy named Tom Rath and he is the founder of CliftonStrengths. He was one of the, um, folks who originally developed that assessment. And he’s interviewed on the elevate with Robert Glazer podcast about discovering strengths and, and finding purpose. And he also wrote the book. How full is your bucket about really thinking about your bucket and then thinking about, uh, leadership around strengths in the, in the cliff and strength finder and why I thought that would be a good, uh, medium moment for us to talk about Priya is that first of all, it’s super interesting. And I actually learned about the Clifton strength finder through looking at your LinkedIn where you listed the top six, uh, of your strengths from, from the strength finder.

Priya Iyer: Yeah. So I actually heard about strength finder when I was really young. My, my dad actually is a big fan of strengths finder and he tried to convince me to read the book and take the assessment for a really long time. And frankly, I was super resistant. Um, but eventually I did and I just found the framework to be really helpful. And frankly, releasing, um, I think just being able to identify your strengths, uh, just gives some sort of, I don’t know, clarity focus. It allows you to really think about where you can Excel and where you can hone your skills naturally. And to me, it made me, it made things feel a little bit less overwhelming. Maybe I I’m one of those people who tries to be really good at everything that I do. I’m sure this is not a foreign concept to many people, but, um, that can feel really overwhelming. And so, uh, being able to see synthesized strengths from an assessment like this, and really think about them that way I found to be very releasing. So, my, my personal strengths, I have five that came from my assessment. There’s a total of 34. And, uh, the ones that showed up in my assessment were strategic, restorative related, discipline and communication. And so in those four quadrants of strategic thinking, relationship, building, influencing, and executing, they say sometimes you’ll see more than one, or you’ll see a pattern of what quadrants your show up in. And perhaps that’s something that will be meaningful to the individual. So in my case, uh, I had a couple show up in the executing quadrant, which was not surprising to me. I am very execution focused naturally. I like to get things done. I like to cross things off my list. That’s very naturally, um, how I operate. And I think there are clear strengths in that for me. Um, what’s interesting to think about is that as I’ve grown in my career and especially as I’ve moved into more leadership focused roles, my day doesn’t necessarily always look like an execution focused role, especially now. I mean, Eric, I’m saying this to you, of course, you know, being the president of this company, I do not get to cross a lot of things off of my list every single day. And so that, so that’s been kind of interesting is just to think about where my natural strengths lie. And I see how that sets me up for success in my role. And I also see where there is room for me to grow and where I see growth opportunities. And there’s sort of the composition of both that I see in that, um, in terms of the relator for me, uh, that one was also not surprising. I am very people focused. I am very relationship focused in my personal life, in my professional life. Um, I just, I love bringing people together. And so that strength felt very natural for me too. So tell us about some of your strengths, Erik, which one showed up for you and the assessment?

Erik Gensler: Um, well, that’s, um, really amazing. And I, um, I just remember reading yours and thinking of how, um, accurate it was. And it’s so funny that, um, most of your show up in the executing, um, framework, because none of mine show up there , it’s like

Priya Iyer: Unsurprising!

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Um, but I, what I love about this assessment is that it basically says like everyone has strengths and like the most successful organizations and teams are the ones where people are in roles where they can flex their strengths. And it’s not, I mean, you should know what your quote unquote weaknesses are because, you know, it’s important to know, but the most successful organizations have people focus on, you know, on their strengths. And so my strengths, um, you know, and I think that a lot of your strengths are really well used in your role. Um, I think the, the strength that we both share is communication. Um, my, my top are ideation, which is about just coming up with ideas or being fascinated by ideas, um, communication, the, the one we share, um, activator, which is basically, um, turning thoughts into action.So like when a decision is made, I’m ready to go and I’m, I’m onto the next thing, um, which , uh, maximizer is about. Um, just basically, uh, I’m not, you’re not interested in like okay to good, but like getting something from good to really great is, is really exciting. Mm. And then my last one is around positivity, which is, um, having contagious, enthusiasm, being upbeat and, um, getting people excited. So, you know, I think both of our roles serve us or both of our, um, strength profiles serve us well, um, in different ways that our are part of, of our own strengths. And when we’re trying to, I think, you know, if we, we can wear our, our strengths well and, and, you know, flex our strengths, we are, we are at our best, I think.

Priya Iyer: , yeah. I, I totally agree with that. And, you know, there are 34 of them, if we all tried to be 100% strong in 34 strengths that I just, I don’t know how any of us would be able to, um, metabolize how overwhelming that would feel on a daily basis. And I think that, that’s one thing that I really love about this framework is instead of, instead of trying to be, instead of me hearing your strengths, for example, Eric, and feeling like, okay, how can I get, how can I get better at all of those? We get to focus on our own individual strengths and focus on honing those strengths within our roles, which isn’t to say that we don’t all have a growth mindset. We do. We certainly do. But I think that there’s something to say about each individual inside of a team, bringing their own strengths to the table and what the bigger picture makeup of those strengths then becomes as opposed to each individual focusing on becoming strong in every, every one of those 34 strengths is just impossible and also just completely counter to the framework of this. You know, so that’s, that’s what I really love about this is each individual is able to bring their own strengths. And then we get to, as leaders bring together teams of individuals with different strengths for a really strong, big picture. And I think, you know, they talk about this in the podcast, but good leaders understand where their strengths are and then understand how they can find teams to compliment their strengths and to make sure that they can create a balanced picture of, again, the makeup of multiple individuals with their own strengths profiles. So I that’s, that’s one of my favorite things about this framework is that again, it releases you of having to be good at everything. And instead allows you to focus on the things that you bring to the table naturally and understand how the rest of the team also brings their strengths to the table and together, you know, we all bring forward a, a strong picture, you know?

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. And it’s, that’s the, you know, I, I look at your, your strengths and I think about, um, you know, being people focused and being a, a leader and, and having discipline to, to get goals, um, accomplished and a communication. And I just see how you, you are so good at those things. And I liked on the podcast that he was saying that every team needs more relators, it needs more people who are in the people focused piece of it. And, you know, I’m, you know, I’m someone who is very much in the, the, the communication, um, peace, and, you know, oftentimes I can, like he was saying in, in the podcast, he would just like, say, okay, here’s our, here’s our agenda. We’re moving forward. And, you know, we need people who are gonna say, Hey, how is, you know, how was your day? How was your weekend? Like what’s going on? Like bringing everyone together and having that, that people connection is, is just, you know, I’ve, I’ve learned to do that. But I think my, my gut instinct is just, is to jump in. And I think the, having a very people focused, uh, leader is, is so important. And, um, yeah, I, I admire that in you.

Priya Iyer: Yeah, thank you. And I will also say, you know, we have our weekly check-ins right. And when I come to those, and when I walk away from those, the two of your strengths that you called out, that, that stand out to me, that I love to get in. Those check-ins are one, was it ideation or ideator or—

Erik Gensler: Ideation.

Priya Iyer: Ideation. Yeah. Yeah. So ideation, I just, you are, their ideas come so naturally to you. And I feel like you need little to no information for those ideas to come. And that’s, it’s a very inspiring thing to experience. So that’s one that I, I love getting from our, our weekly check-ins and the other one is maximizer. I feel like I often come to you with raw do, and an idea that, that I know is good, but I know that you and I can work together and I’ll walk out of that checkin feeling like it’s great. And, and you bring that into our check-ins and that, that’s a thing that I’m so grateful for as well.

Erik Gensler: Nice. I’m, I’m glad see where, like, when we’re focusing on these strengths and also just knowing like, I, a lot of these assessments, like, right. I, you could get obsessed with them and , I think what’s amazing about them. Well, there’s like Meyers Briggs, and then there’s StrengthFinder. Yeah. And then there’s all these other ones. I, I just love that it, it shows that everyone just brings a unique perspective and like the best teams are where, like you were saying earlier, like lots of people come together with their perspectives. And, um, there’s a, a good space for sharing that. And you’re tied around shared values, but you’re bringing your own strengths. And, um, that was really great advice. Someone gave me a long time ago, which is when you’re, you’re hiring, know what your strengths are and know where you’re not strong. And so, I, I mean, I even thought, like the fact that you are good at executing things is actually a real strength in, in your role. Cuz it may look differently now that you can’t get things done yourself, but you basically use your skills of like communication and relate and discipline to get the, still get those things done. But it just it’s, you may not be the one doing it.

Priya Iyer: Yeah. I appreciate that.

Priya Iyer: Before we get into our next segment, I want to take a second to talk about Boot Camp 2022! As always, we have a wide range of content this year – topics that are crucial for arts marketers navigating the current digital landscape, from first-party data strategy to creating vertical video content…and much more.

Erik Gensler: In-person tickets are limited and going fast, so get your tickets soon if you want to join us here in New York City. You can also get a virtual ticket to access the same programming from the comfort of your couch!

Priya Iyer: All the info is at Now, let’s go to Senior Consultant Alison Goldberg for CI’s stance on iOS 15 and Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection.

Alison Goldberg:: If you’ve seen your email open rates skyrocket in the last year, you’re not alone. But what’s behind that rapid growth? Let’s dig into Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection to understand what’s happening—and what it means for your email strategy. In September 2020, Apple introduced iOS 14, which made many actions on your website—like page visits and purchases—invisible to third-party apps like Facebook. This caused a sharp decline in the data we can track in our digital ad campaigns. A year later, Apple threw us another curveball with iOS 15. This time, they came for email measurement with Mail Privacy Protection. As an internet user, I’m thrilled about data privacy online. And as a digital marketer, it’s a new challenge in an ever-evolving digital landscape. So, let’s demystify Mail Privacy Protection and tackle this challenge together! To start, what exactly is MPP? Apple Mail users now have the option to opt-in or out of having their IP address hidden from email senders. This makes it harder for senders to track email activity. If someone opts in, Apple will remotely load all of their email images into a proxy server, whether the user opens the email. This means that whether or not the user actually opened the email, it will look like an email open in your email platform. That’s right – those sky-high open rates are likely inflated due to MPP. How much will this impact your email marketing? Well, nearly 40% of all emails flow through Apple Mail apps, and about 97% of iOS 15 users use MPP. That’s a huge chunk of your subscribers! In short, MPP is changing the email marketing game. So, what can we do about it? First, we can lean on new metrics. Clicks are one of the most reliable metrics you can trust. You’re going to need these to measure email success and engagement. You can also give your measurement a boost by using UTMs. UTMs track email traffic in Google Analytics. Accurately measuring email’s impact has always been more of an art than a science, so looking for creative, multi-channel ways to measure your email performance is essential. For example: What’s the conversion rate of your emails on Google Analytics? Does website traffic or search traffic increase when you send an email? My next piece of advice? Play the long game. Some email experts think we placed too much weight on email opens, so this is a chance to level up our user-centric approach. For example, consider implementing a double opt-in that lets users confirm they want to get your emails. This will keep your lists cleaner and kick off new relationships with explicit consent to ensure your new leads are high-quality. Finally, reset your expectations. This is a major change, but it’s happening to everyone. And based on the high adoption rates, users want this privacy. The onus is still on us as marketers to earn permission to engage with them. For more on Mail Privacy Protection, check out the link in the show notes! Back to you, Erik and Priya.

Erik Gensler: Thanks,

Alison Goldberg:! And now, let’s go to my interview with Jessica Watson. She’s the CEO and Creative Director of Points North Studio.

Erik Gensler: Welcome to CI to Eye, Jess. I’m so happy you can spend some time with me today.

Jessica Watson: I’m so excited to be here, too.

Erik Gensler: So you run a branding company. So figure that’s a, a good place to start to talk about brand. And I think as marketers we overuse the word brand and it’s almost become a meaningless buzzword in, in many ways thrown around. And so I wanted to dig into this a bit. How do you think about brand or define what a brand is?

Jessica Watson: That is a really good question. I a hundred percent agree that the term has been watered down over the years and has kind of taken on a life of its own. When I think of brand, I, I think of more than just like, “Oh, this is our mark, and this is, these are our colors, et cetera.” I think that you really have to start to like, your brand is your story. And we’re at a place right now where it used to be that everyone needed to have a personal brand. I don’t know if you remember those times, like five, 10 years ago, and now I feel like brands need to have a personal touch or personality. So in, in general we’re looking for that human connection, that level of authenticity, that realness that we can see brand showing up in the world as opposed to kind of being hidden and being a black box of who knows what’s going on with that particular company.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. It’s like, you’re hiding behind highly produced pieces of media and that, that, that just doesn’t work anymore. I always, I never like that idea personal brand. It’s like, there just be a person .

Jessica Watson: Just, yeah. Cause, well, the thing is that we try to get brands to be perfect, but humans are by nature, not . So it’s very difficult, I think, to have a personal brand because you can’t always live up to that. You’re a human. You’re gonna grow. You’re going to change. You’re going to evolve. But being able to have a brand that has like maybe some personality qualifiers to it so that we can understand it better or like get some better context around it. I think that’s where we’re headed. When we’re talking to our clients very early on in our branding exercises, we usually say, you know, like, “If your brand or your company or your organization or your foundation were in a bar, like at the bar, how would I recognize them and what would they be talking about? What would excite them? What would interest them? What are some key identifiers of that brand’s personality? And usually we get to a place where we can kind of build a personality around the things that are already kind of central to who that company, organization, or foundation is. But it’s telling that story in a human way that has gotten several of our clients and their extended teams to be like, “Oh, I, I get it now.” And then we can build phrases and words and colors and imagery that really help to tell that story and bring it home.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. It’s like, we have to think we have to perform, perform brand. Right. And you even see it like on, on the most effective storytellers on, on social media are just like talking like humans, but still so many institutions feel like they have to put on this like fake robot, cold, inhuman language.

Jessica Watson: I agree with that. And it’s really, if I could give any advice, it would be to drop the facade and to do away with those levels, excuse me, those labels and this, like, buttoned-up approach to who you are. I actually think that young Millennials and Generation Z are extremely progressive in this space and they are really conscious about like their and how they express themselves and wanting to align with companies, organizations, foundations, people, basically groups of people that, that resonate on these deeper and more human levels. So, it’s, it’s time to get real. It’s, it’s time to be more authentic. It’s time to reevaluate what statements and stories we are putting out into, into the world and seeing if those still fit who we are and what we’re growing into. Oftentimes, they won’t . But, also oftentimes, like we don’t do that that legwork behind the scenes. It’s similar to being a kid and need needing a new pair of shoes at some point, you know, at some point, this you’re gonna outgrow the shoes. That’s okay. That’s normal. I think the hard thing is when you’re still trying to stuff yourself into a box or a pair of shoes that is no longer serving you.

Erik Gensler: Something I heard recently was, you know, “I’m not the same person I was a week ago or yeah.” So, you know, cause I have different information now and I think, you know, the sense of, you know, “Oh, someone’s inconsistent cuz they have a different point of view now,” it’s like, yeah, different point of view’s great because you, you may have learned something that, that changed you. And that also ties back to, to being flawed, a flawed human, which you said, and I love that. How brands are, you know, brands are run by humans who are flawed. So, you know, and I guess like what is that? Brands can be flawed too,

Jessica Watson: We, you, you know what we, we can be. And I think that maybe social media and the internet and the, the instant responses to things makes us feel like we can’t like we have to wear that armor. But I think that the more that we can be authentically ourselves and, and come to the table as we are the more over time people are going to, to gravitate and, and stand behind that. And just as another point, I was reading somewhere recently about how a lot of us are living the version of our lives. Like whatever we thought was gonna be successful to us, like maybe 10 years ago . And so, it’s like you’re sitting in that space and then you’re just like, “Oh, you know what, but this doesn’t exactly feel like where I am today.” And I’m making that analogy because I think businesses and, and companies and organizations kind of operate in the same way where it’s like, you know, this was our north 10 or so years ago, but now we’re here and that the landscape is different. So, we need to adjust our sails and, and perhaps pick a, a north that resonates better with, with who we are today and where we’re headed.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And have you seen organizations that are able to do that? I think, you know, we’re also living in a, a time where so many different generations are working together in the workplace and so many gen generations that, you know, have, I just have very different ways of, of looking at the world. And you know, they may not be as far apart as, as you know, it may seem, but there’s definitely different ways of expressing it. And a lot, I think gets lost in the translation, especially in a remote world. So how, when you work with an organization or how, how do you navigate that or how do you create you know, an a, a working process or a brand that allows for that and allows for flexibility and allows for sort of cuz it’s gonna be very hard to, I think you have to be thoughtful in speaking to all of those different experiences.

Jessica Watson: Yes you do. And I think that when we are first starting our branding or new website design conversation, whatever that project is we really start with a blank slate and we have stakeholders in the room that are not all C-level people. Like it’s, it’s, it’s really a diverse meeting room and that’s on purpose. That’s very intentional. We understand that different people see the world in different ways and have multitude of value to contribute to a conversation. Even if they’re just telling their story. There’s usually nuggets in there that we can pull into. That’s gonna impact the work that we do. I have seen basically, especially with some of the foundation and organization work that we do a huge shift from being so word-heavy. I have personal concerns that we are not reading anymore, but , that’s a, that’s a, a story for a different day. I think that we’re shifting to being more visual and in being more visual, making sure that we are showing all the multifaceted components of, of who that organization is because it forces you to think about like, you know, are we inclusive and is that reflected in the visuals that we’re putting out there who is our target? And are we speaking to them in the right way? What are maybe instead of the more buttoned up ways that we say things, what are some more casual ways that we can engage and, and kind of level that playing field so that people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives can at a base level, understand who we are and what we’re doing. I think that these conversations require us to be uncomfortable, but they require us to be comfortable with, with that that level of being uncomfortable. The more that you can kind of let down your guard and your armor that maybe you don’t know everything or that there is perhaps another perspective that isn’t weighing more than yours, but should at least be equal in terms of the experience, you should be able to hear them out. The more that we can be open to that, I think the richer, the end result for any brand, any website, any marketing piece, et cetera, is going to be. So all those things that we’re afraid of like, oh God, it’s different. I don’t know about that. I say like, let’s invite that person to the table. Let’s invite those conversations to the table because what comes out of that is just rich perspective. And, and different elements that you would not have otherwise had when you can have that multifaceted approach. The end result is just phenomenal.

Erik Gensler: I hear that. And I, I think one of the beautiful things about getting older is I just know how much I don’t know. like when I was younger, I just like thought I knew stuff. And I was so like sure of that. I knew stuff. And like, now, I’m like, I don’t know anything.

Jessica Watson: , isn’t there there’s like a line in a, in a song that’s like, “The more I see the less I know,” and that line lives rent-free in my, in my head. cause it’s so true. It is so true.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. I love this idea of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and, I mean, just in life and in work and in, in anything there’s such a fear of discomfort or fear of being wrong or a fear of conflict. So, like, how do you, like in working with your colleagues or your clients, how do you, how do you cultivate that?

Jessica Watson: I think that a really good example I can share is how I work with my team here at Points North. So, we had a new project manager come in and she got something wrong or she was afraid to do something and I just sat her down and I said, “Look this is a place where you can fail, actually. Like, I would much rather you take the initiative knowing that you might be wrong than to stop, you know, the project for moving forward, because you’re waiting for permission to essentially do the job that you have been hired to do.” So we do a lot of work at Points North to create a space where people feel comfortable asking questions and also feel comfortable being wrong or get used to that feeling of, of being wrong and how to course correct from there instead of kind of like being shamed for, for not getting something right.
And I’ve found that those environments where people aren’t afraid of, of failure is, is where I see my team members being more inclined to take risk or to move something forward if they haven’t heard back from me, et cetera. And the funny thing is, is that the idea for this actually came out of an improv class that I was in at the time because a, a lot of the games in improv have no way to really win them. and in one in particular if you were doing it, like whatever the repetition was and you got it wrong, you had to go to the center of the circle and you had to yell out really loud. Like, “I failed!” And the funny thing is, is that everyone would celebrate you and just be like, “You failed. Oh my goodness. Like so great,” and clap it up and so forth and so on. And it just changed my perspective of this whole notion of like failure and being in places where you feel uncomfortable or, or shamed or vulnerable or exposed. And can we shift our perspective to being like, “Yes, you know, maybe I didn’t get that step right. But I still took that step,” and totally, that’s the integrity that I’m looking for when it comes to people. That’s what I wanna see with brands with businesses, organizations and foundations as well.

Erik Gensler: Totally. and, and you, you work in a you know, creative industry and, you know, you’re creating creative projects, you’re creating brands, you’re creating websites. How do you make the time to cuz creativity? Doesn’t just, you can’t just produce creativity. How do you, how do you reconcile that? How do you make the time to let yourself be creative? Cause so many people here listening are in marketing or they run institutions and creativity has to be a real driving part of that. And I think it’s hard.

Jessica Watson: It is hard. I think that at any given time of the day, there’s at least 15 things demanding our attention, whether it be what’s happening in your office to what’s happening in, in your city or, or in the country. And you know what, it’s exhausting. So I have been incredibly intentional about carving out space for myself that is untouchable to news, podcasts, etc. Like just untouchable. And those are things just like going for a walk in my neighborhood. We are fortunate to have some really great city parks that I’ve been able to, to stroll through without an agenda. Those are also times that are just blocked off for me to have music going and be completely immersed in, in the creativity of the, of the work that we’re doing without interruption. So if I were to give advice for that, I would say like demand, demand that time, schedule it within your day, which I know sounds crazy, but I live in a world where if I don’t have it on the calendar, someone’s gonna throw a meeting on my, on my calendar and I’m gonna be like, what is this? So, make you have to make space for creativity to happen and you also have to step outside of your routine. I always use this term of “putting yourself in the way of beauty.” And so, it’s like, take a different path, you know, drive a different way to get to wherever you’re going to, or take five minutes to stop at a beautiful street or just admire something that you maybe would not have seen before. And that’s the thing that kind of wakes you up. And it may not seem in the moment like, oh, I’m being creative here, but those are the kind of sparks, I think, that over time allow for you to operate from a more creative space.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. is there a project or something you’ve done where you’ve really a lot of these, these themes we’re talking about where it’s worked really well, where, you know, an organization went from being the sort of brand from on high speaking in a, a formal way to evolving to more of a modern, flexible human way of, of talking? I’d love to hear, you know, as much as you’d wanna share about that project, how, how that evolution went and, and, and why, what were the factors that, that, that made that happen or allowed that to happen?

Jessica Watson: So, last year we worked with an organization called Abell Foundation which is based here in, in Maryland. And they fund projects a lot of work here in, in Baltimore in terms of just like revitalizing our communities and, and giving back and things of that sort, their original website that they had for years was it was a little outdated, but also it was incredibly word-heavy and, and also very dense as well. And so if you, if you know the foundation and the work that they do, they’re, you love them. They are such kind of like a cornerstone here in Baltimore city for what they do and how they give back. But when you looked at their website, I think that there was a little bit of a disconnect about what is it they were doing and what kind of impact they were having. So, before we even got into, I suppose, the framework of what a new website would be we did a lot of strategy work first around, you know, how do you wanna present yourself to, to people? We love you. We know the work that you do, but it’s not incredibly evident on, on the website. One of the biggest shifts that we made was using more photography for some of the projects that they were funding here in Baltimore city. So, now, you see like for a case study about a particular project, a beautiful photo of some row homes in the background and then like an urban garden with like a kid working in the, you know, like hanging out in the urban garden. And then that’s something that’s instantly relatable, like, “Oh, okay. I, I see what they’re doing here.” I think that, that, like adding those different visual elements also attracts or appeals to different kinds of audiences, because the reality is we’re not all reading everything. But we might see a photo and that might cause us to linger further. The other additional thing that we did was making sure that the members of that foundation, that they all had like really nice photos of themselves and talked about themselves a little bit more so that you can have that human element and, and see that this is yes, is, is a important and prestigious foundation that’s been around for years, but these are also people. And these are people who care about what’s happening here in Baltimore city and what’s happening in the greater state of Maryland. So I think that ties back a little bit to brands having more of a personality and that human element, because it’s the human element that disarms us and allows us to connect in a meaningful way.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. It’s, it’s investing your time and assets in like right to do that. You had to, someone had to say, “Well, we’re gonna spend the time to rewrite our biographies. We’re gonna invest in a photographer.” And that, I mean, that, that takes, that takes time. It does. And I, last thing I wanna talk about is like the idea of starting and, and, and starting small. And so much of this sounds like, you know, to make that, that change is it’s big. It takes a long time, any change takes a long time. So you know, how, how, how do you think about that? You know, incremental change and, and starting small.

Jessica Watson: I think that when we think about any type of change work we naturally think really big. We want some massive thing to happen, usually relatively quickly or, or on our schedule in some way. And then, in many cases for us to get that credit for the change that has occurred. And I have found, especially in the early community work, that Points North used to do, that that is exhausting. And in many ways, incredibly unsustainable. So you end up running out of runway, running out of resources or running out of time to manage whatever that thing is that you are, are trying to change. One of the things that I have done within the past five years is shift my perspective completely to starting small and being intentionally small and, in many cases challenging if something needs to be so big all the time, or like what something needs to grow into and why and I have found that by starting small you kind of, you can kind of create a repeatable system that is successful over the long term. And one of the projects that comes to mind is something we do called Have a Nice Day and it takes place in Baltimore once a quarter, it bounces around the city, it’s a happy hour, but during that happy hour, people are writing positive messages on blank, coffee, cup sleeves, and then we donate those sleeves to locally owned cafes. Now, I personally have seen more coffee cup sleeves in my lifetime. for someone who doesn’t own a cafe than I ever thought, but the, the community-building aspects of what occurs at these events is, is why we keep it running. So, with that particular event, like, I don’t necessarily have a hard goal of, we must impact so many cafes, or we must, you know, do so many coffee cup sleeves per year. I think it’s more about like, “Hey, we have this really cool thing that’s bringing a diverse group of people together from all different walks of life in our city. And that’s actually sometimes unheard of. And I just wanna keep that feeling going so we can replicate that and we can, we can keep this moving.” And over time, I’ve seen kids kind of grow up with this, this particular activity. So they started so young and now they’re my little helpers before an event. And I’m like, that’s actually what brings me joy. And that’s where I see the impact. So it’s not necessarily quantifiable, but it feels so damn good. So that’s the reason why, why we keep doing it. And it really does tie back to this whole notion of being human and, and, and forming those connections, cuz who knows what happens to the person who this maybe having a bad day, but goes to their local cafe, looks down and sees a message from someone who they will never meet. Never like, you know, it’s very rare, but just another neighbor in Baltimore. And it just says like, yo, you’re awesome. Have a nice day. Like that’s beautiful to me.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, totally. Oh, we’ve come to the final question, which we call our “CI to Eye moment.” And the, the question is, if you could broadcast one piece of advice or an idea to the leadership teams, the staff, the board of thousands of arts organizations what would you want to say to them right now?

Jessica Watson: I would pull a quote from President Barack Obama who says the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us. I think that sometimes when you are the head of an organization or foundation, you kind of have a very, not necessarily limited view, but perhaps a rigid view of what you have to prioritize and focus on. And I think that it’s, it’s easy to be defensive when something isn’t going exactly the way that it should or something doesn’t work out the way, you know, it’s, it’s not being seen in the light that it should be, but there’s so much good out there that your organization is doing and there’s so much potential and opportunity for what you already have going on. A lot of times when we think of change and, and doing new things, we’re like, oh gosh, I have to start from scratch. No, you don’t. You’re standing on a strong foundation and it’s oftentimes just a couple of minor adjustments and tweaks that can get you closer to where, where, where you need to be or where you want to be.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Just thank you so much for, for that. And, and for spending this time with me today.

Jessica Watson: Thank you so much for having me. This has been a real treat.

Erik Gensler: Thank you for listening to CI to Eye! We’re your hosts, Erik Gensler…

Priya Iyer: …and Priya Iyer! CI to Eye is edited and produced by MP and co-written by MP and Krisi Packer. Stephanie Medina and Jess Berube are CI to Eye’s designers and video editors, and all four work together to create CI’s digital content. Our music is by whoisuzo. Special thanks to Sam Kindler, Christopher Williams, and the whole CI team.

Erik Gensler: Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter for regular content to help you market smarter and if you haven’t already, please click the subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts.

Priya Iyer: And sign up for our newsletter at so you never miss an update or new content.!

Erik Gensler: Until next time, thank you for listening!

About Our Guests
Alison Goldberg
Alison Goldberg
Senior Consultant, Capacity Interactive

Alison Goldberg joined the Capacity Interactive team after working in development for non-profit organizations across theater and film, including the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Read more
Jessica Watson
Jessica Watson
CEP & Creative Director, Points North

Jessica Watson is the CEO and Creative Director of Points North, a creative services studio based in Baltimore that challenges the status quo by bringing people, passions, and causes together.

Read more

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