Tuesday, March 17, 2015

One Image That Tells The World Who You Are

I've written before about my path to teaching. When I graduated from the University of Oregon, I held a fairly prestigious degree in journalism with an emphasis in advertising. My plan was to be a great copywriter then work my way up to the creative director of some huge Madison Avenue agency, before retiring early to write novels. It was the 1980's, we'd elected Ronald Reagan, and these are the sorts of things we thought about.

By the time I'd graduated, I held a degree that qualified me to be employed in a profession about which I no longer felt good. I didn't want to spend my life selling things to people. I wound up working at a small public relations firm here in Seattle where I had a very good time, met my wife, and generally launched myself into adulthood. I was a good employee. I literally loved my employer: the kick-ass, brilliant woman to whom I've now been married for 28 years.

I loved being at the center of an honest, nail-biting entrepreneurial venture. I realized quickly that success in this game, something I've learned to be true about any game, is all about getting smart people together and then figuring it out as you go along. It was a good thing to learn about being an adult: it leads to the conclusion that everybody is always just figuring it out as they go along, which, I think, makes one both less fearful and more compassionate.

I moved on from there to the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce where I served as communications manager for three years. The job was basically to promote the city's business community, the chamber, and its point of view, to the public, including handling media relations, creating marketing materials, and putting on events. It was a cool job at a cool time in a cool city. I managed a department of four people. At the time Seattle was enjoying a hey day, being ranked by multiple ranking systems as the "best place" for this and that. I was quoted saying something like, "This is great news!" in newspapers across America. Someone had to say it and a chamber of commerce spokesperson fills the bill. 

A highlight of the job was being "staff" for meetings of corporate CEOs, presidents, and other high level executives. One of our initiatives was to drive the repeal of a certain maritime commerce law. Our main argument was that Seattle was losing out on millions, if not billions, in economic benefits because of the anachronistic law. To support our point of view we commissioned a study which returned disappointing results. As we sat around glumly in our meeting, the VP of PR for logging giant Weyerhaeuser said, "Well, if you extrapolate that number out to the year 2000 (which seemed like the distant future to us) then it's $2.1 billion." I then wrote a press release under a headline that read something like: "Seattle Missing Out on $2.1 Billion Due to Outdated Law." Within 24 hours, in the days before internet saturation, publications as far away as the UK were citing our $2.1 billion number as gospel, following our lead in only mentioning the timeframe in the fine print. I continued to see that BS number cited without attribution or qualification for years afterwords. 

If my big take-away from my first job out of school was the one about getting smart people together to figure things out, the big thing I learned on this job was that CEO's, presidents, and other high level executives are, as a group, no smarter than anyone else. In fact, it seemed that most of them seemed to have gotten where they were by being at the right place at the right time and, frankly, kissing the right butts.

I had loved the life of an entrepreneur, but was disenchanted with this, which is why I jumped at the chance to get out of the advertising/public relations/marketing game and pursue a career as a freelance writer.

But, you know, during all that time in and around PR, advertising, and marketing, I did get to take part in a number of fairly "sophisticated" discussions about logos. I was involved in several projects during which logos (usually called "corporate identity") were created or re-designed and it was fun. The challenge is to come up with one image, perhaps with words, that tells the world who you are. Pow! What a magnificent artistic challenge.

This old, faded t-shirt is pretty much all that's left of that first logo.

I think it was my second or third year at Woodland Park that we developed our first logo. A parent with an artistic bent created it, got some t-shirts printed, and we were all happy. A few years later another parent, as part of revamping our online presence, updated it, got some t-shirts printed, and we were all happy. Did we need a logo? Probably not, at least not for the typical marketing reasons one creates a logo, but they made us happy nevertheless. We liked wearing our shirts, together, like a team, parents and children alike. Some of us got fancy and began putting the logo on meeting agendas. One parent printed me 10 business cards that I could use to get teacher discounts at some of our local stores. While our logos were unnecessary for "selling" our school to the world, they were certainly a fun part of selling our school to ourselves.

This is a version of our second logo as utilized by our summer program which operates under the "community preschool" name.

Two years ago, a talented parent with professional experience decided to tackle our logo once more, approaching it like an the challenge of coming up with a single image that tells the world who we are. I think she achieved that. As far as I'm concerned it tells our story, simply and boldly, with it's criss-crossed hammer and paint brush, utilitarian typeface, and slightly strident labor union sensibility that we sometimes soften by putting it all inside of a "paint splat" instead of a circle. It's not at all cutesy, which, I think, suits us.

This year, we've re-designed it slightly to account for changes to our school, cleaning it up by replacing the names of all three of our individual preschool classes under the inclusive moniker of "preschool" and adding our new "kindergarten" alongside "summer." Of course, this has also caused us to refer to ourselves as the Woodland Park Cooperative School to reflect that we're no longer exclusively a preschool, a change that will take me awhile to get used to.

We sell our t-shirts, mostly to ourselves, as a fundraiser, along with a few other items of "swag," like coffee cups and water bottles. This year's shirts will be heather gray with a turquoise logo. As you can see from some of the wrinkly shirts I've photographed for this post, we've had a lot of fun over the past couple years. 

I can't wait to wear my new shirt, together, like a teammate, shoulder-to-shoulder with the parents and children who are our school.

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Carolyn said...

I totally agree, we're just figuring it out as we go along. Sometimes we take the wrong path, but eventually we find our way. And having the ability to kiss butts along the way helps sometimes.

By the way, I don't follow many blogs or comment much, but I found yours one night when I couldn't sleep. I knew it was different. You definitely have a talent for writing.

Unknown said...

I avidly follow your blog and was surprised (and pleased) to find out that you have a journalistic background like me.

I gave it all away last year to study a postgraduate degree in early childhood teaching. I am now in my first year as a kindergarten teacher and loving it. Although it would have to be the most exhausting (and lowest paying!!) job i have ever had.

I live in Melbourne, Australia and would love to get one of your Woodland Park tshirts to proudly wear .... because I think they're really cool.

How can I buy one?!?