The legend of Darren Bendel—how not to be a consultant

By: Katy Nally

Unicorn on an island

This is the legend of Darren Bendel. He’s all about that ROI. Sometimes he’s so intense, his neck veins bulge out and intimidate his coworkers. Darren needs to take it down a notch, but that’s not in his vocabulary.

Darren doesn’t work at 2A, thankfully. He’s just a figment of our design team’s imagination and a reminder that you don’t have to be a Darren to be good at consulting. In fact, you shouldn’t be. Sure, intense drive is an element, but we like to balance it out with camaraderie, grace, and thoughtfulness.

Here’s what it’s like to work with Darren; just know that, in real life, our team at 2A is the exact opposite.

He’s got it all figured out

Darren isn’t exactly humble. When he’s working on a project, he doesn’t bother to pull in his team members and ask for input. He knows he’s right and skips out on taking a second pass to refine. This wouldn’t really jive with our work-in-progress mentality, where we acknowledge that we don’t have it all figured out. We value outside perspectives because they improve the end result. And we always leave time to refine—the final tweaks are more than icing on the cake, they pull the whole story together!

He shoots down ideas

Creativity thrives on yes, and halts when it hits a no-block. Unfortunately, “no” is Darren’s favorite word. Can we tweak the intro to have a security pillar? No. Can we show an emoji in our animation? No. Can we use a bird migration metaphor? No. You get the idea. We try not to shoot down ideas, and instead use a tip from improv: when your teammate or client has an idea, build on top of it with “yes, and.” That’s how many of our best ideas are born.

He’s strategic for no real reason

Darren is quick to come up with a solution, but when you dig a little deeper, you find it doesn’t really solve the problem. At 2A we know that not all strategy is created equal. Finding the right path forward comes from truly understanding the content, then weaving a story that connects the dots.

Hopefully the legend of Darren Bendel didn’t bum you out and make you hate consultants. But if it did, just swing by 2A for a dose of doing things differently.


Let’s get virtual—hosting captivating events from afar

By: Abby Breckenridge

Let’s get virtual—hosting captivating events from afar

Switching your in-person event to a virtual one is this season’s must-have marketing move. Everyone’s doing it. So how do you make your webinar a showstopper? Here are our top tips to ensure success.

  1. Invest in getting people there. Send multiple, targeted email invitations and drive them to an engaging registration page with clear takeaways, ideal attendee personas, well-crafted session descriptions, and presenter photos.
  2. Practice makes better. A virtual event can still run into the same logistical kinks as an in-person experience. Be sure to gather all your presenters together for a dry run beforehand, and practice hand-offs between speakers.
  3. Agree on a presenter dress code. Just because it’s virtual, doesn’t mean we can’t see you! When you have multiple presenters, it’s nice to standardize the mood so someone doesn’t show up in a robe broadcasting from their closet, then hand it off to a colleague in a tie.
  4. Anticipate more attendees. It’s far cheaper to send 30 people to an online event than on a plane across the country, so make sure you track registration counts, confirm your online meeting platform can handle high traffic, and give your IT department a heads up—nothing says failure like a mid-session app crash.
  5. Keep sessions short. People get distracted more quickly when they have the whole internet at their fingertips, so limit sessions to 30 minutes.
  6. Plan for too short. Talks tend to tick along more quickly when the speakers don’t have the energy of an in-person audience. Presenters won’t know if their joke leads to chuckles, so there won’t be pauses for laughter. In case of wrapping early, keep your attendees engaged with a fun break experience and a note about when the next session will start.
  7. Tell breathtaking stories. Talk tracks and slides will carry a heavier load than usual, so don’t skimp. Here are our tips for what’s hot in slides.
  8. Share the screen. It’s most engaging to share a visual mix of the speaker, demos, and their slides—that’ll require a producer on the backend to do it well.
  9. Be ready for questions. Attendees will still want to ask questions and make themselves known to the presenter. Use a moderator to gather and share questions or schedule a Q&A where attendees can queue up to ask in their own voice.
  10. Give your content legs. Plan to share resources like event recordings, decks, whitepapers and other related content to capitalize on the momentum.
  11. Don’t drop the marketing ball. Capture and segment all engagement, then plan your next touchpoint, whether it’s a follow-up email, a private demo, exclusive access to an eBook, or something else.

We’d love to help make your just-turned-virtual event a worthy marketing investment. From start to finish—promotion, registration pages, speaker training, talk tracks, slides, follow-up, and project management—we’ve got your back. Drop us a line.


Buzzed with storytelling

By: Katy Nally and Kelly Schermer

Buzzed with storytelling

Buzzwords are a double-edged sword. Because they’re so popular, they communicate a nugget of information quickly, but their meaning may become watered down with overuse. Storytelling is headed into buzzword territory, but we’re not ready to give up on it. We know it’s a valuable tool for businesses to communicate their value in a way that’s approachable and easy to understand.

By defining our approach, we give storytelling more power than a passing fad in vocabulary. So here’s what we mean by storytelling, and why we think it should stick around.

  • Stories belong to the listener. We hold stories lightly and seek to understand how they land for the audience or why they don’t.
  • Stories get stronger through prodding. We do our best work by asking questions to crack open ideas and encouraging others to poke, volley, and test our stories.
  • Stories take our breath away. We take risks with language and ideas to tell fresh, compelling stories that push the boundaries and leave us breathless.
  • Stories don’t live by words alone. We never underestimate the role design plays in storytelling, treating it as a key contributor in successful communication.

Stories are central to our brand, which is why we’re calling 2A a storytelling agency, and bringing our own stories front and center in our redesigned website. Take a look around!


Elevating Stories #4: Anna Mia Davidson

By: Anna Mia Davidson

Elevating Stories: Anna Mia Davidson

For more than two decades, photography has been my passion. I’ve used my camera to tell stories that aren’t being told, focusing on diverse cultures, social justice, and environmental issues. For several years, I documented daily life in Cuba, from the urban streets to the countryside. As a recent Elevating Stories presenter, I shared my perspective on visual storytelling and how a willingness to have a point of view can lead to more poignant and connected photographs.

I believe having a point of view about what I’m photographing is imperative. It’s what allows us to see in a deeper more sensitive way. When I embarked upon my Cuba book project, I began the visual journey with a romanticized notion of the Cuban revolution, looking for positive remnants throughout the island nation. But while on location, it became evident there was more to the visual truth that I could unveil. Over time, I better understood the complex dynamics and many layers. In Cuba Black and White I wrote, “it’s easy to romanticize revolution, it’s harder to live in its aftermath.” 

I found beauty and ingenuity amongst struggles. I found a nation waiting for a change and hoping for a rebirth, reflected as a metaphor in my images of the maternity series. In my book I wrote, “It was ultimately within the shadows that I found Cuba’s dichotomies in all their beautiful trying complexities. …  Within revolution there’s music and the rhythm of life happens.” That rhythm of life is the pulse and essence of what Cuba felt like in all its dynamic truths. That is the feeling portrayed in the images in my book.

Achieving this deeper understanding was only possible by adopting a point of view, investing time, listening closely, and approaching the work with a willingness to see things differently.


The one thing universities shouldn’t recycle: content

By: Guy Schoonmaker

Dartmouth campaign graphics

When you think of fundraising for colleges and universities, your first thoughts are probably something like “ugh, junk mail and relentless phone calls from students asking for money!”

You’re not wrong, but as a former higher-ed fundraiser, allow me to offer a counter perspective.

What really bugs you, other than paying off student loans (been there), is that you’re getting the same content and message every year, and it’s not personalized to your experience.

Universities aren’t staffed and resourced like Fortune 500 companies. It’s usually one person who is responsible for planning, segmenting, and executing the marketing campaigns. With so much to do, it’s easy to de-prioritize content and lean on the letters, emails, and call scripts from last year.

The Dartmouth College Fund was in a similar situation last fall, planning for a campaign that celebrated the school’s 250th anniversary. But they lacked the bandwidth to create unique, new content worthy of the milestone. That’s where we came in—delivering a feature animation, four GIFs, two emails and an infographic. Altogether, this fresh approach inspired over 4,700 donors to make a gift, nearly doubling the campaign’s 2,500-donor goal.

Content matters. Some super famous tech CEOs might even say “content is king.” We’re here to help when other things get in the way, so you can keep your audience… content.


Meet 2A, greener than Oz

By: Katy Nally

Meet 2A, greener than Oz

There’s always a chance of disappointment when you reveal the face behind the curtain. For Dorothy, the Great and Powerful Oz turned out to be a green hologram operated by a stout, bald guy. So you might think that glimpsing behind the scenes at 2A would be a letdown—but when filtered through the demiurgic mind of our graphic designer Li, everything is a bit more glittery.

Let’s take a walk through the world of 2A according to Li.

First stop, the consultants. They’re always ready to take your call—happy to wheel and deal over landline, cell phone, Teams, or Owl. The footstool-supported power stance helps promote the body’s natural flow of creative juices so they can build the world’s greatest keynote presentations.

Now, the designers are a little more relaxed. They like their databases like they like their LaCroix, cold and bubbly. They’re the brains behind our shapes, handling all the triangles, squares, and circles we’re known for. Go ahead, see if there’s a shape they’ve never heard of, impossible!

How about our developers? Diligent as always, jamming to their own tunes, and working too hard to take their empty coffee cups to the sink (but not working so hard that they can’t get more coffee—it’s called a dev’s paradox). They handle our pest control (hah! Bug joke) and our beautiful websites.

Next up, our storytellers. They’re up to their elbows in ideas, so one draft is never good enough. It’s just a matter of sifting through every word for that perfect sentence. But don’t feel bad about their cluttered desks, the number of books they have is directly correlated to their intelligence…

And finally, the Coonis mesmerizers, our operations team. They’re ready to go Law and Order on that job posting to help us find our next, favorite 2A-er. Don’t be fooled by their feet-up attitude, they mean business. They keep this place running! And they make sure our snacks still surprise us.

We hope you enjoyed your tour through 2A! We’re certainly more exciting than a green talking head…and the shy showman behind the curtain. Come see for yourself! Swing by if you’re in the neighborhood.


Elevating Stories #3: Heather Hansman

By: Melanie Hodgman

Elevating stories #3: Heather Hansman

When the central character in your story is a 730-mile river, that means swimming at sea level, flying at 10,000 feet, and zooming out across states to capture all perspectives. In our third installment of Elevating Stories, we followed Heather Hansman down a natural storytelling path where she explained the secret to weaving together many points of view.

As part of the research for her book, Down River: Into the Future of Water in the West, Heather paddled 700 miles of the Green River in a solo pack raft from source to confluence, getting a firsthand look at the ongoing fight over water rights on the largest tributary of the Colorado River. Along the way she interviewed stakeholders such as ranchers, farmers, conservationists, and city officials while learning about the river itself at water level. Her book expertly bridges science, adventure, and conservationism, bringing together information from different camps to enlighten the reader.

Heather makes it look easy to build multiple perspectives and storylines into one narrative. Here are three tips we learned for making sure the big picture captures it all and keeps your audience engaged:

  • Take a journalistic approach. Do extensive background research to understand the subject matter and build a comprehensive story. Once you speak the language of a topic you can write accurately and authentically.
  • Don’t act like an expert if you’re not one. You need a solid foundation to ask the right questions, but then let the experts do the talking. This allows you to listen and discern the most salient points.
  • Make your narrative action oriented. Weaving in some adventure keeps the audience hooked. The tricky part is to stay true to your thesis and main points.

Heather reminded us that solid storytelling starts with asking the right questions and a having willingness to go on a journey to learn more.


Meet Li, the model modeler who magnifies marketing

By: Annie Wegrich

Li Spotlight

Ahh, high school. The years when we knew everything and were gracious enough to share our insurmountable knowledge with anyone, without prompt. Guangyi Li, or Li, was a typical high schooler in many ways. He knew everything, doodled the day away, and loved a good video game.

Temporary introvert

However, unlike the teen you probably were, Li kept his knowledge to himself. In fact, he kept almost entirely to himself. As a recent immigrant from China, Li didn’t share a common language with his midwestern classmates. Although wise beyond his years, he barely spoke outside of his family until he went to college, lived in the dorms, and met a roommate worth talking to.

Rewarded risker

That reserved high schooler is not the Li we now know at 2A. The Li we know taught himself how to tackle big challenges, like learning English in college, and how to take on big risks, like moving to Seattle without a job or a place to live.

Marketing asset

The Li we know is brilliantly artistic and laugh-out-loud funny. We’re so glad he sought 2A to advance his skills by working across industries and media, because really, we were seeking Li. With a design aesthetic that balances the playful with the professional and comedic timing that charms every meeting, Li elevates our team.

Role model-modeler

Li’s dynamic commitment to design enables him to quickly shift gears and tackle projects with precision—like overhauling 20 PowerPoint decks in less than a week or diving deep to refine every element and effect on a robust website. But at home, Li prefers the still and small, zooming in to create tiny scale models with impeccable detail. We’re talking a 7-inch greenhouse with teeny-tiny, climate-appropriate plants and a coffee house with a detailed espresso machine that screams $5 12oz. Big or small, Li applies the same methodical approach and commitment to each pixel, PowerPoint, and plant.


A 2020 vision for presentations

By: Thad Allen

PowerPoint crystal ball

At 2A, a lot of our design efforts go into shaping presentations to tell a great story. We’re constantly pushing the limits of what’s doable in PowerPoint, striving to make presentations interesting and engaging rather than a bland slog through bullet points. Making them sing requires staying on the pulse of the latest trends. With a new year upon us, here are some hot design tips to make sure your presentations aren’t trapped in the past.

Sanding off the edges: removing the details from illustrations and icons

Screens are becoming capable of higher definition all the time—from Apple’s Retina to Microsoft’s ClearType to 4K TVs. But rather than cramming details into every pixel available, the savvy designer takes a simpler approach to the crisp clarity provided by high-res screens. Here’s what’s hot:

  • Illustrations are headed toward one of two minimalistic paths: solid block colors or open outlines.
  • Icons are becoming more abstracted rather than finely detailed.
  • Similar graphic styles are used to communicate information; for instance, infographics are replacing charts, visualizations are superseding text.

Our advice? Embrace those designs. Viewers can only take in so much visual information, especially when it’s accompanied by a speaker. Cutting graphics down to the bare minimum will make sure audiences take notice of what you want to emphasize. Gain a little pop by combining text and minimalistic graphics to concisely communicate information.

Outdated vs Modern icon styles

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW‽ Typography is getting bold with all caps

Maxi typography, which uses all caps and often dominates the page, is a growing trend in design. Look for:

  • Bold, all-caps, sans-serif fonts that serve as the hero and emphasize titles and text.
  • Full bleed layouts as the backdrop for maxi typography, making the text jump off the page and immerse the viewer.
  • Larger text means that photographs and texture can be placed inside typography to draw the eye.

Regular text vs Maxi text

As we like to say, “less is more work.” Like streamlined icons, just because something is simplified does not necessarily make it easier! Careful planning will go a long way toward helping your text make its greatest impact. Get ready for some louder typography in 2020—your words are going to make a statement.

It’s morphin’ time: PowerPoint threads the story with motion

First introduced several years ago, PowerPoint’s Morph transition is gaining a foothold as presenters realize its full potential. You’ll see more of Morph in 2020 because it provides an incredibly easy way to add elegant visual transitions. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Instead of spending hours assembling complex animations, Morph allows you to naturally and easily revise motion as you design in PowerPoint.
  • Morph or Fade can work wonders to flow content between slides, smoothly guiding viewers through your story.
  • Animation and transitions in PowerPoint are extra effective when combined with the graphic and text treatments discussed above.


As we move into a new decade, it’s exciting to see how presentation methods continue to grow and evolve. Let’s leave the days of “death by PowerPoint” behind and forge dynamic new presentations!


2A’s favorite albums of 2019

By: Kyle Luikart + the 2A Team

2A's albums of 2019

At 2A we’re used to hearing about how disruptive technological innovation can be good for business and sometimes down-right necessary. It’s interesting to look back 20 years and remember how the early days of MP3s and file sharing began to “destroy the music industry”. Platforms like Napster meant leaked albums spread like wildfire and bands like Metallica (or more so, their record labels) were losing out on millions of dollars. As a result, the RIAA waged all-out war on consumers under the guise of protecting artists, which alienated fans. 

It was a digital transformation that none of the involved businesses wanted to take place and fought hard to prevent. However, two decades after a couple of college kids had a questionable use case for peer-to-peer software, we have a revolutionized, stable industry that flourishes in ways previously unimagined. Services like Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music allow their end users to explore and consume music on a scale like nothing before. The walls have fallen on both sides too; artists enjoy significantly reduced barriers to reaching a global audience. And even more, this revolution has rippled throughout all things media (see Netflix, Hulu, and Disney Plus), and even influenced software platform models, à la software as a service.

It begs the question – when it comes to technology, when do we switch from worrying about what will be lost and start exploring what can be gained? This is one of many concepts in digital transformation we tackle when we develop marketing strategy for our enterprise tech clients. While you ponder the future of disruptive tech in entertainment, why not queue up some of the albums the 2A team found on heavy rotations this year, ‘coz hey—after all that’s changed, people are still making music.

  • Nilüfer Yanya – Miss Universe (Indie rock/soul) “On her debut album, Nilüfer Yanya creates jazz-infused, scrappy pop that bounces back and forth between soulful slow-burners and hooky, guitar-driven jams. I saw her live this year and she rocked.” – Nick Dwyer
  • Sault – 5 (Funk/neo soul) “Propulsive, mysterious and a little rough, Sault’s 2019 album caught me by surprise and I can’t stop listening.” – Abby Breckenridge
  • Ezra Furman – Twelve Nudes (Rock/art pop) “This album is a queer and trans refuge to hide inside when overwhelmed by the world and the constant weight of the news. It’s got a punk edge that is much more visceral and raw than his previous works.” – Annie Unruh
  • The Strumbellas – Rattlesnake (Indie rock/alt country) “Their second album really shows how they’ve grown with their families and as a group. Plus, they’re Canadian.” – Don Selkirk
  • Blanco Brown – Honeysuckle & Lightning Bugs (Country/hip hop) “Blanco Brown’s debut album sits comfortably at the cross roads of hip hop and country music, exploring the soul that underpins both genres with heartwarming charm. Plus, my kid LOVES The Git Up!” – Drue Stewart
  • Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated (Synth-pop/dance) “A bright and danceable album, with a lovelorn tinge of melancholy infused among the polished synthpop tracks.” – Thad Allen
  • Octo Octa – Resonant Body (House/breakbeat)“Octo Octa’s work dances around iconic rave textures, vocals samples, and drum loops to create a hazy 90s warehouse party vibe that hits the spot anytime of the day. It’s 3am somewhere!” – Kyle Luikart
  • Maggie Rogers – Heard it in a Past Life (Pop/folk pop) “There’s something entrancing about Maggie’s voice that makes all the millennial girls close their eyes and sway their arms in the air.” – Rachel Sacks
  • Kate Tempest – The Book of Traps and Lessons (Spoken word/hip hop) “Kate’s lyrical talents and emotionally charged delivery call out the realities of racism, self-destructive habits, social media, climate change and Brexit-era complications while resolving on a theme of love and the necessity of connection.” – Melanie Hodgman
  • Rhye – Spirit (R&B/downtempo) “I saw them open for Leon Bridges at The Hollywood Bowl July 5th this year. They use all sorts of string instruments to generate def beats.” – Julie Lowy
  • Burna Boy – African Giant (Reggae/dancehall) “My buddy Dre Skull did a song with Burna Boy on this beautiful and generous album.” – Daniel Schmeichler