Blog

Kelly Schermer

Just because it’s tech talk, doesn’t mean it should be boring. Kelly taps her eclectic background—from biochemistry to children’s books—to infuse the unexpected into otherwise dry stories. Her ideas are proven to lengthen attention spans. 

Sr Storyteller | LinkedIn

06/18/2020

Decks without talk tracks are like dancers without pants

By: Kelly Schermer

Decks without talk tracks are like dancers without pants

We’ll be the first to admit that building a PowerPoint deck is a strange dance. First, you whittle the key points into slides using design to make them visually compelling, then you write the talk track to tell the overarching story. It seems out of order, but over the years we always come back to it. We’ve learned that by carefully deconstructing and then retelling the story it gets stronger and clearer.

In the race to the perfect presentation, talk tracks are often overlooked. The energy goes into developing the slides, and when they’re done, the presentation seems ready. But it’s important to remember that presentations are about speakers presenting. Slides provide smart visuals that give the main points wings, but it’s the talk track that determines how well your speaker lands the story.

A talk track is a well-constructed script that can be practiced by the speaker to ensure they’re interpreting and sharing the story the way you intended. It provides an easy-to-follow narrative that gives speakers confidence and enriches the slides. From a pitch deck to a keynote, every presentation needs a talk track. It can make the difference between a sale and a goose egg, or a high-earnings projection and a slip in market confidence.

By following the 2A approach of whittling, prodding, and testing, you can build a better story for your slides and your speakers. And be confident that speakers from anywhere—with any level of expertise—can bring the story to life.

Want some help practicing your presentation dance moves? Let’s give it a twirl together!

05/12/2020

Fill critical gaps in your project teams with an embedded consultant from 2A

By: Kelly Schermer

Fill critical gaps in your project teams with an embedded consultant from 2A

We’ve all been there before: spread too thin at work, in desperate need of a specific skillset, without the time or open seats to hire. Considering it takes more than 40 days to fill an open position and costs 75 percent of the employee’s salary just to get them started, lobbying for additional headcount at the moment you’re most vulnerable can feel like a tragic plot twist. Suddenly, the solution to your biggest challenge has just become your new biggest challenge.

That’s where 2A embedded consultants (EC) come onto the scene! We handle the legwork of sourcing someone who can hit the ground running in the role you need, saving you the time and money that goes into it. 2A ECs act as temporary teammates who provide support and subject matter expertise. From junior to senior, left brained to right, and everything in between—our ECs complement your team’s existing skills to help you tackle your gnarliest challenges.

Whether you start off thinking of our ECs as project or program managers, in no time at all you’ll see they’re really the number cruncher, go-to-market guru, or channel whisperer your team needed all along:

Number cruncher—This all-around business manager makes sense of IOs, POs, SOWs, and more to prevent your team’s expenses from going MIA. See how 2A finds teammates, like Amy, to talk some dollars and sense into your budget.

GTM guru—Need someone to help you identify new market opportunities, develop partner and sales programs, and drive revenue growth? 2A marketing masterminds, like Kyle, are ready to help.

Channel whisperer—If you’re looking to increase partner engagement through program planning, training, and recruitment, we’ve got seasoned channel captains, like Laura, who can rally the troops.

Tell us what you’re looking for, and we’ll help you make a match. A few weeks with a 2A EC and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.

10/03/2019

Birthday advice for the middle-aged: Don’t attempt the math

By: Kelly Schermer

Birthday advice for the middle-aged: Don’t attempt the math

Some years, birthdays are all about the numbers. Like this year. I drove 8 hours across 3 states with one 6-year-old and watched 2 feet wiggle during the 9 hours I was trying to sleep, in order to hear 3 stories told by 1 stranger on behalf of 47 newly naturalized citizens…. It added up to the kind of experience that left me energized and exhausted.

In case it wasn’t clear, I spent the day at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh watching my sister-in-law, Masha, become a U.S. citizen. Families and friends sat shoulder to shoulder on one side of the courtroom, the newly naturalized citizens on the other, Girl Scout troupe 414* filled the jury box, and a self-proclaimed short judge sat in a very tall chair behind the towering bench. We all surrounded a podium on the floor.

Immigration has never been an easy topic, especially when it strays to the gray areas of the law. But, as with all issues that have the potential to irrevocably change lives, it demands compassion first. Compassion is a gaping black hole in our current government, which over the past term has created a black hole in many of our hearts. The speech I heard on behalf of the citizens sparked the first genuine feeling of hope I’ve felt for our country in a long time. It wasn’t just the stories that got through to me, either—it was also how they were told, which was another gift all its own.

I didn’t catch the speaker’s name. She was a middle-aged, professional woman who seemed competent although not charismatic. She started off by saying, “I’m going to share three stories with you,” and I cringed. The structure made me think of Goldilocks and the 3 Little Pigs—stories that teach there’s one right way to do things. I couldn’t fathom what lesson she would surmise from three stories that would be true and respectful of the different paths that led all 47 newly naturalized citizens here.

The first story was about her dad, eager to explore the world outside India; the second was about her mom, a homebody subjected to an arranged marriage; and the third was about herself as an 11-year-old, Canadian girl forced to move to America.

Instead of tying them together with a one-size-fits-all moral the way I expected, she reflected them back on the audience to say that whatever experience had brought us from where we started to where we were today, that experience was valid. For some like her dad, it might be the pursuit of a dream. For others like her mom, it could be the fulfillment of a larger obligation. And for those like herself, it might be something entirely out of their control. But all of them can be true.

That twist really hooked me. It got me thinking about how between the lines of her speech, she was actually saying one-size doesn’t fit all in the US.  Between the personalities in her family she was creating space where others could find themselves.  Between her intro and her conclusion, she was demonstrating that stories don’t have to tell the audience what they should see, they can also tell the audience how much they’ll never see.

While the past four years have been a cold, dark stretch in our country’s history as a safe harbor for immigrants, the message I heard on my birthday helped me realize that I don’t know how this story will end no matter how much I think I might. And between all the possibilities that exist, there’s always a way to make room in the story for hope. Short of a new back and a full night of sleep, I can’t think of a better way to feel young again.

 

*The troupe number has been changed to protect the identities of minors. 😉 And because I can’t remember (please reference the note about getting old).

08/21/2019

A round (the world) applause for our full-stack developer, Aradhana Elisa

By: Kelly Schermer

A round (the world) applause for our full-stack developer, Aradhana Elisa

Packing up and moving to the other side of the world, sights unseen, might seem impetuous for some, but for Aradhana Elisa it was the exact opposite. Listening to her talk about the experiences that led her from Chandigarh, India to Southern California to Seattle, make it clear she’s a persistent, passionate person open to new perspectives. In her role as a full stack developer at 2A, Aradhana’s winning traits have made her an invaluable piece of the web development team. 

Perspective

Aradhana approaches decision making with equal parts curiosity and determination. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, she knew she wanted to earn either a master’s in Computer Science or pursue an MBA. Instead of leaping directly into a program, she sought out a position at a software company as a user-interface (UI)/user-experience (UX) developer. In this role, Aradhana learned how to build new websites and software from the ground up versus coding into existing assets. It gave her a new perspective on what an advanced degree would provide, which she used as a springboard into her next phase.

Persistence

Sprint. Automate. Iterate. Lots of development processes focus on speed, but one of Aradhana’s greatest traits is her persistence—her ability to identify her goal and create a clear succession of steps to get there no matter how long it takes. After Aradhana decided to pursue a master’s in computer science in the United States, she set a year-long goal for herself and broke the monumental task into dozens of small activities logged in Excel sheets with timelines. From sitting for entrance exams to curating a list of target programs to applying to schools and completing Visa paperwork, Aradhana steadily chipped away at her long to-do list after work and on the weekends until her plane finally touched down in Southern California. 

Passion

Aradhana leans into her passions to get more out of every project. During her master’s program, she worked as a student assistant in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness for Fresno State, where she taught herself how to build predictive models with Python to answer questions about the student population. While she had always known she liked working with data, she was surprised by how much. Instead of punching out to study the way most students do with university jobs, Aradhana brought her work to school, using it as the basis for her master’s thesis.

Judging by her personal and professional path, you might wonder if there’s anything too big, too complicated, or too tedious for Aradhana to tackle. From our perspective, probably not.

06/12/2019

3 ways improv will change your work style

By: Kelly Schermer

3 ways improv will change your work style

A lot of people think improv is about doing something you haven’t prepared for, but that description doesn’t really do it justice. Improv does require you to prepare, just not in ways you expect. 

Last year, 2A embraced an improv work culture that started out with a half-day training led by Bridget Quigg and Anya Jepsen. Since then our team has incorporated aspects of improv into weekly team meetings, manager check-ins, and team-building events (Seen Jet City’s Matchelorette, yet? We have!). 

Through practice and preparation, we’ve identified a few ways that the improv work style makes us more joyful, curious, engaged—overall, better at our jobs!

1.  Committing to improv ignites action

Improv is about being in the moment and committing to a shared reality you create with someone. It’s childlike and completely brilliant—think fresh air tickling your brain synapses.

The key is to turn off your editor, listen with your whole body, and let yourself respond. Some improv professionals refer to this as allowing yourself to “be average” or “trending toward action.” Whatever you call it, the point is to consistently contribute. Don’t hold back waiting for the “perfect” contribution.

The improv work style encourages you to trust that by engaging, you will be able to create/access/understand what you need in the moment. 

2. Turning your fall into a jump gets you farther, faster

Embracing an improv work style requires taking risks that may lead to something less than polished awesomeness, but that’s the point. Failing is essential to moving forward because every fail offers valuable lessons. The trick is to create a culture that doesn’t treat failing like a setback or an embarrassment.

When the neighborhood kids climb trees together, they constantly remind each other to turn their fall into a jump. By making falling part of their process, they have made it easier to let go of the embarrassment of the fall and embrace what they learned from it instead. No surprise the ones who shrug it off and keep trying climb higher, faster.

Much the same way, an improv work culture teaches you to grow comfortable with the fact that you’re going to fail. Expect it. Embrace it. Normalize it. Then turn it into a big leap forward.

3.  Building on others’ ideas builds trust

Many academic and company cultures tend to endorse the type of critical thinking that points out flaws in ideas—the “no, because” philosophy. While it can make you seem smart in the moment, “no, because” blocks collaboration, creativity, and inhibits participation.

Judy: “Let’s make the GIF a space cat!”
Me: “No, because cats are overused.”

On the flip slide, improv’s “yes, and” philosophy lays the groundwork for trust and teamwork. It encourages listening, collaborating, and engaging with one another through the act of acknowledging what someone else offers and building on it.

Judy: “Let’s make the GIF a space cat!”
Me: “Yes, let’s make the GIF about a space cat that needs AI to navigate the space shuttle.”

A fear of failure has trained many of us to prepare a response to a specific problem before we engage. However, the improv work culture teaches that when we prepare ourselves to fully engage, take risks, and build on one another’s ideas we can uncover new levels of richness that we could never reach alone.

If you’re looking to infuse your work style with a big shot of energy, laughter, and growth, what about giving improv a try?

(Psssst, the answer is “yes, and….”)

06/06/2019

Strike the right chord with animations by Gary

By: Kelly Schermer

Gary Bacon and a synthesizer

You know how some people need other people to make music? Well, Gary Bacon isn’t one of those people. This one-man-band by night is our Gary-of-all-trades by day. In his role as a motion graphic designer for 2A, Gary echoes the team’s collaborative approach by pitching in where he’s needed. From sketching out storyboards to getting his hands in audio mixing, Gary enjoys tuning his wide range of skills. As for the rest of us, Gary turns up the volume on our workday with his no-nonsense perspective, inside leads on local bands, and witty zingers.

Self-made animator, care of Alaska

Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, Gary dreamed about making watercolor and color pencil illustrations for album covers and for editorial pieces in Rolling Stone. He earned his BFA in design with a focus on illustration at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Post-graduation Gary made the leap from watercolor illustrations to multi-media animations by tinkering with Photoshop and After Effects outside of work. Clearly, we’re not talking about your average tinkering, though….

ADDY-fied proof we’ve got good taste

Over the past two decades, Gary has built a strong retail marketing portfolio that includes national commercials and award-winning animations. In 2014, he won an ADDYs award from the American Advertising Federation for a campaign of 14 spots he did for Mutual of Enumclaw Insurance (our bigfoot favorite). Today, he uses his talent for motion design to enhance 2A storytelling. Through collaboration with teammates and clients, Gary turns complex ideas into shape, color, and sound that we all can experience. 

The goings-on outside the workday

Think a guy like this relaxes in front of his TV? No way. In his off time, Gary plays music, barbeques pizza, and designs band posters (dream gig? checkmate!). It’s no surprise he taught himself guitar, drums, bass, and currently dabbles in modular synthesis, hence, the one-man band. And while he would love to write enough for an album someday, he’s committed to letting the music happen—alone or with fellow musicians.

Around the office, we all love a good jam session with Gary and the chance to hear about his latest interests. Not to mention, his uncanny knack for using motion and music to strike the right chord. So, the next time you’re looking to add some zing to a project with a little animated inspiration, we know just the guy! 

05/17/2019

Bump up your startup with digital marketing

By: Kelly Schermer

Bump up your startup with digital marketing

There’s something irresistible about digital marketing (i.e. marketing through channels like email, social media, apps, games, texts, etc.). Not only does it price well under non-digital methods and give companies instant access to global customers, but it also offers the promise of going viral. Yummm, viral…

In order to cash in on digital, though, you need a plan for how to integrate it into your overall marketing strategy and stay rooted to your brand. This can be especially tricky for startups that don’t have deep pockets (or any pockets). Our team at 2A has an inside track on helping entrepreneurs get the most out of their digital marketing.  Recently, we released our channel-first strategy into the wild as guest lecturers to the Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Washington.

The first step requires you to define a channel-first digital strategy. Here are some tips for how to do that well:

Understand the landscape

Digital channels are the ways you reach customers such as email, website, paid ads, social, etc. Not to be confused with platforms, which are the tools or services that allow you to share content in a channel. For example, if social media is the channel, popular platforms include Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Channels hardly get the same press that platforms do, so it’s easy to overlook the implied channel choice you’re making when you jump straight to a platform. But not all channels are right for every startup and investing in a platform on the wrong channel can be a lose-lose.

Choose channels worth your time

While digital marketing has a lower sticker price than many other types of marketing, it still isn’t free—especially in terms of time.

When evaluating channel options, consider the cost of setup and upkeep to ensure you can sustain the activity. Activities that seem easy at the beginning, such as building an Instagram page, might end up costing you a lot in time (for daily posting) and money (for just-right images). Similarly, activities that seem time-intensive and expensive to start, like an automated email series, could be nearly hands-off once you get it up and running.

It’s important to pick channels that:

  1. Your customers prefer to use
  2. Make sense with your business model, and
  3. You can maintain with the resources you have.

Once you’ve decided on your channel, the platforms you can choose from become more obvious.  Now it’s time to dig in and vet those platforms to find the one where your target audience is most active. 

Not only does a channel-first strategy help you narrow down your platform choices, but it also helps you tune in (and out!) the “hot marketing tips” that could be useful for your brand…which bring use to the last point.

Stay true to your strategy

As a startup, you’re going to get lots of good advice on marketing tricks you HAVE TO TRY. By following the channel-first approach, you’ll be able to confidently evaluate the inside scoop you get from your buddy (or the New York Times). 

Hot marketing tip:MegaMouth quadrupled sales through Instagram! You have to be there!”

Your channel-first strategy: Our customers are more active on email than social, and we have the bandwidth to reach out via weekly emails (versus twice daily posts), so we’ll start with email and re-evaluate in six months.

Your response: “I’ve heard good things about Insta too, but the social channel isn’t right for us right now. Our channel strategy is focused on email, and we chose Constant Contact for our platform because we like the automation features they offer.”      

As a startup, the trick to digital marketing is to balance your reach against your resources to keep from overextending yourself—and a solid digital channel strategy goes a long way to help with that.

Find this useful? Want to hear the next step on creating digital marketing content to align with the phases of your customers’ journey? Let us know, and we’ll keep blogging!

04/16/2019

A motivational meme in the making, coined by 2A’s Shawn Murphy

By: Kelly Schermer

A motivational meme in the making, coined by 2A’s Shawn Murphy

Be of maximum service to the people around you, approach everything openly, and try to learn all that you can from each experience and challenge.” Shawn Murphy’s personal tagline has helped him get to where he is today—location- and vocation-wise. While the phrase may seem more like a curriculum than a jaunty description, Shawn every bit measures up to it.

Be of maximum service to the people around you

In his current position as an embedded consultant, Shawn wears a lot of hats to support his team at Microsoft. He administers the budget and performs ongoing updates and maintenance to the on-ramp content for OneDrive, SharePoint, Yammer, Stream, and Teams. He’s also responsible for driving attendance to the SharePoint conference by overseeing demand generation through multiple channels. Shawn’s commitment to service and his willingness to pitch in and help out makes him a valued team member. 

Approach everything openly

Shawn’s willingness to try new things has helped shape a lot of his big decisions and it’s paid off in spades. During college, his diverse interests motivated him to earn degrees in both English and business. After graduating from the University of Detroit-Mercy near his hometown in Michigan, he came to Seattle to explore and hasn’t left. Shawn found a niche for himself in marketing technology, where his dual degrees make him a hot commodity. From startup to corporate, Detroit to Seattle, English to business, Shawn’s willingness to approach opportunities openly has yielded rich and varied experiences. 

Try to learn all that you can from each experience and challenge

Back in the 90s, Shawn worked as the marketing manager for a forward-thinking app store (well before the proliferation of mobile devices) where he built and managed a team of 15 employees. In that role, he oversaw every aspect of product development and marketing. While the app store was too early for its time, none of the experience was lost on Shawn—it was a major stepping stone that helped round out his career in tech marketing. From there he went to Microsoft, working as a vendor and full-time employee. From the dotcom fizzle to the Microsoft flourish, Shawn believes every role provides an opportunity for him to learn. Today, he draws from those experiences to help clients at 2A.

Everyone at 2A shares a personal tagline when they first start working. From “Bazinga!” to “Treat others as you would treat yourself,” we’ve heard some beauts, but Shawn’s was the first one we’ve ever Googled. Turns out, it’s a Shawn original. Impressed? So are we. Next time you need an all-around all star for your project, give us a call. We’ve got the best by way of Detroit!

03/13/2019

The case of the grumpy digital marketer

By: Kelly Schermer

The case of the grumpy digital marketer

Some digital marketing campaigns today make me feel like a downright curmudgeon. Before I attended the Digital Marketing Summit in Seattle, I assumed that was because a) I am, or b) I’m not the target audience. The summit provided perspective on where big shifts in digital marketing have taken us all—marketers and consumers alike—and helped to dispel a few myths that have made the digital marketing waters murky. The biggest revelation for me was that good digital marketing should come from good marketing, but not all of it does, and that can make the marketer in all of us feel like a grump.

Major platforms are not channels

Digital marketing arose from the creation of new channels that we rely on today to reach consumers.  Platforms that originally established themselves as free, democratic aggregators and distributors of information across web and mobile channels (such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the App Store) are becoming markedly less democratic and (surprise!) more fee-biased.

Rand Fishkin talked about how Google strips content from sites to create a no-click search experience that keeps customers on its page instead of linking out to yours. He shared research on how Facebook and YouTube similarly discourage people from sharing URLs in order to keep eyeballs on their sites.  

Brands can still create value through these platforms, however it’s important to understand what they offer versus what we want them to offer, how to play within the rules of their ever-changing algorithms, and—above all else—how to use these platforms to complement the marketing strategy for the channel and not vice versa. 

Entertainment is not marketing

Everyone agrees that content is still key to engagement. However, the iPhone and social media make it increasingly harder to know the difference between gratuitous entertainment and entertaining marketing. For example, you could argue that capturing Lady Gaga’s performance of “Bad Romance” in front of a business and spreading it on social media promotes awareness of the business. You could also argue that investing that same time and money into creating a “bad romance” campaign to support your value prop will lead to higher quality customers. 

Both arguments have merit. The call ultimately comes down to your brand, your business, and your customers. As marketers, it’s important we challenge ourselves to not get caught in the media sparkle and evaluate each campaign for how the content can contribute to the brand and business overall.

Digital marketing is not magic pixie dust

In my favorite session of the summit, April Dunford spoke about how to position complex products in a crowded market. As promised, her message was Obviously Awesome: frame your product by focusing on its most valuable attributes. Her shorthand, like her presentation style, was colorful and direct:  

  • Your solution + The right market context = Effective but boring
    • Ex) We make popsicles for kids who like popsicles.
  • Your solution + The right market context + Trend = Effective and SPICY!
    • Ex) We make popsicles for kids who like popsicles and deliver them poolside when kids call from the popsicle hotline.
  • Your solution + Trend = Confusing
    • Ex) We make popsicles and there’s a poolside hotline.
  • Market context + Trend = 💩
    • Ex) For kids who like popsicles, there’s a poolside hotline.

April made the point that good digital marketing must be grounded in smart marketing as part of a larger strategy. 

In the throes of digital evolution, we need to invest in activities that are built on facts not myths. When in doubt, continue to put quality brand work at the heart of everything and build a digital strategy around the elements you can fully own—it’s a surefire way to win over the staunch marketing curmudgeons.

Ready to move your business forward in our digital world without compromising your voice, your brand, or your ownership? So are we.

02/27/2019

Infuse your work place with a little Renaissance can-do, courtesy of Kyle Luikart

By: Kelly Schermer

Infuse your work place with a little Renaissance can-do, courtesy of Kyle Luikart

Everyone knows it’s wrong to hire based on a person’s origins, but what if the person happens to be from the Renaissance? Are we supposed to overlook the fact that he can do a little bit of everything really well? Seems so… biased. Hardwiring for technology, his ability to observe, and his stark perseverance make him a poster child for the golden age and our go-to for consulting and project planning.

Functions as a linchpin

Recently Kyle transitioned his role at 2A from a go-to-market project manager embedded within Microsoft to a member of our in-house consultant group. In addition to managing client accounts and working with team members to create content, he also leads our team’s technology adoption, spearheading and troubleshooting our internal adoption of Microsoft Teams. His ability to listen closely, understand and anticipate needs, and propose solutions make him instrumental in his clients’ and teammates’ success.

Displays mechanical and emotional intelligence

From a young age, the machine force has been strong in Kyle. He and his dad used to spend hours together fixing cars, computers, and other appliances. He claims that he can diagnose and solve problems just by listening carefully. In his everyday job, he uses the same practice of reflection and emotional intelligence to listen and observe what’s going on around him before choosing a course of action.

Conquers the unknown with the known

Kyle’s pragmatic pursuit of art and his ability to nurture his passion from a spark of inspiration to a profitable product demonstrate his perseverance and willingness to learn. Between 1999 and 2008, Kyle parlayed vanilla-flavored piano lessons into a one-man industrial band. He single-handedly wrote, performed, and produced a half dozen albums under the name Inelex. During that time, he developed an interest in photography, which he grew into a freelance job after graduating college with his bachelor’s in business. Kyle looks for opportunities to use what he already knows to figure out what he doesn’t know…yet.

 

It’s not often you meet a bona fide machine whisperer who feels just as comfortable taking a campaign to market as he does cutting an album or writing a case study, but that’s what we’ve found in Kyle. Next time you need a Renaissance expert-in-anything, you know who to call!