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The Shortlist Episode 57: Making of "The Wildcards"




"How did we do?" It's a question that often remains unasked but holds vital importance. Without periodic touchpoints to gather candid performance feedback, strong relationships and potential repeat work can slip through our fingers. But how do we solicit honest feedback without things getting awkward? How do we select the right questions and deliver them appropriately? And once we have the feedback, how do we distill it into solid findings and actionable recommendations?


Launching a client perception survey might seem intimidating and daunting, but the payoff can profoundly impact our firm's financial and cultural health. Join Middle of Six Principals, Wendy, Melissa, and Allison, as they explore why perception surveys matter and how to extract the most value from this indispensable activity.


CPSM CEU Credits: 1.0 | Domain: 1


Podcast Transcript


Welcome to The Shortlist.


We're exploring all things AEC marketing to help your firm win The Shortlist.


I'm your host, and on this episode, I'm joined by several Middle of Six team members to take a deep dive into our Wildcard campaign.


And honestly, we really wanted to have the entire Middle of Six team on this podcast because every single person played a role in the campaign.


Even Kyle, our producer, who said he didn't play a role until we reminded him that he actually built the website, so I guess he did play a role.


But we couldn't get mics to every single person, so here we are today with four of us on mics in the studio.


We have Alison Tivnon, Becky Ellison, Grace Takahara and me.


Hi, everybody.


Hey there, Wendy.


This is so fun.


I love having more people on the podcast.


This is gonna be a really good conversation.


Let me just tee up a little bit about The Wildcards before we get into hearing from you all about your role and kind of guiding our listeners to that campaign.


So before we dig into this topic, a quick disclaimer.


If you're not familiar with this campaign, if you've never heard this term, The Wildcards that we say all the time, like it's nothing, you know, like it's part of our family or whatever, you might want to go to middleofsix.com/wildcards so that you can get a visual of what we're talking about.


I think you could do that even while you're listening to this podcast.


You don't even have to go anywhere.


But take a look at that.


You will see these very fun, colorful, hilarious characters that we will be talking about today.


This campaign was conceptualized, developed and launched by our team in the fall of 2023.


It was a really fun and creative process that we all got to work on together.


And we thought it would be a good case study to share with listeners so they could hear what we went through to figure out all of the steps and to implement it.


So we're gonna go into detail on our process.


But if you'd rather start with a baseline understanding of the campaign, go to the Wildcards webpage.


I'll wait now you do that, and then we'll get started.


So we like to start off every podcast episode with a little bit about why we think this topic is important or of interest to our listeners.


So I'll go ahead and walk us through why we thought this might be interesting to you all.


First of all, we had a lot of fun putting the campaign together.


It was a real collaboration across our team, and we were able to pull best practices from what we know as marketers, but also be very inventive and think of new ideas and push the boundaries of it.


So that was really exciting for us.


I mean, as marketers, we love to practice our own practice, and The Wildcard campaign was an example of that.


We got to think big.


There are barriers or there are boundaries to what you can do, but it felt like a campaign that we were willing to push further.


So that was really fun, and we'll talk through some of those things.


And then last of all, and why we thought this would be of interest to the listeners out there, is that, for me, I appreciate a detailed case study.


I like to look around and see what others are doing.


I might look at award submittals or other places to understand what was the thought process or the planning that went into a project, so I can better understand what I could bring to my own work or to our client's work.


So this is just an opportunity for us to share more with our listeners.


Maybe there's some things that you can take away and you can implement, and maybe a few lessons learned along the way, too.


So hopefully it will be very interesting to you all.


Thanks for being here.


And with that, we'll start with our team here, getting Allison and Becky and Grace in to share their thoughts on the campaign.


Allison, let's start with you, if you don't mind.


Can you start, if you can think way, way back, because it's almost like two years ago, to when the seed of this idea came about?


Just introduce how the Wildcards, they weren't even the Wildcards then, but how they came about.


Yeah, well, it started years before that, in every interview prep session, I'd been a part of, and proposal that I'd worked on, that I noticed over being in the industry, even over just a handful of proposals, you start to see some commonalities that appear across all of them.


And I think part of it is because it's a collaboration, so you have lots of different people in the room, but it's also that there's stress involved and that tends to bring out some quirky parts of our nature.


I think all of us have noticed that people maybe don't behave as well as they possibly could when working in a stressful situation.


And I just kind of took note from firm to firm, I served in-house at three different firms, and then here at Middle of Six, that it's like, wow, there really are some reoccurring personality traits that tend to come out during putting proposals together and when you're working on interviews.


So when I had an opportunity to put together a training for a client, that training then was repurposed into a general training that I've given at several different SNPS chapters and at regional conferences on proposal writing, and then its companion later on, you've been shortlisted, now what?


They were on topics that are covered by others in the industry, they're perennial topics around how to make better proposals and how to better prepare for interviews and win the project.


I've attended these since I started in 2008, and I wanted to do something a little different with this and just examine these two topics from new angles, less explored, less understood aspects of them to try and bring something new, but also to hopefully poke a little at the problems that we're trying to solve here in ways that would be maybe relevant to folks that are listening and helpful.


And so in the middle of both of these presentations, it seemed like there was time for a little comic relief because they're weighty topics.


And so I tossed in into the, you've been shortlisted, now what?


These are the types of distracting personality traits that can sink an interview.


And it was just one slide, and it had six different quote unquote characters on it.


But at the time, I just called them the distracting personality traits.


And they were the outlaw and the zinger and the joker, the dominator, all of the ones that appear now on The Wildcards.


And I had fun putting them together because I had worked with each one of these personalities over and over again, especially the outlaw.


That one, I can vividly picture a particular person in my head when I think of that person moseying on into the final prep session after not attending any of the rehearsals before and just tanking the whole thing with so much confidence.


They tank the interview with such confidence.


But anyway, so I put it all together.


I went out, I gave the presentation, and the very first time I did, it was virtual, but I could see people smiling on their screens when I was going through them.


And so I thought, okay, these are worthy of staying in the deck.


And I kept them in.


And then I got to give it in person for the first time, and I got to that slide, and people were cracking up and pointing at themselves, pointing at each other, and rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.


And it was just visual proof that I'd struck a nerve with it.


And so I just, I really liked it, and I was happy whenever I got to that slide to sit and talk about it for a second, because it seemed like a little pressure release, like touching on something that was an elephant in a room that people didn't really talk about, that people can turn into wild cards, as we call them, but not the most enjoyable to be around, and we just don't typically talk about that a lot.


And we dance around it a lot, so this hit it right on the head.


So, you know, that's where it started.


It was just a thing that lurked inside of a PowerPoint.


And then Becky joined the team.


And I think that you were going through and doing the rebranding for Middle of Six, and we're looking at our PowerPoint decks and stumbled across that slide.


And I don't know, what was your initial reaction when you saw them?


You know, actually, I have a screenshot of the beginning of this when I first chimed in and thought, we should make something out of this.


And we were talking about the podcast episode that you did about the interview characters or whatever.


And I just, I took a screenshot here.


I'll just read what I wrote.


It starts with all caps.


Dude, could this maybe be one of our next fun collateral swag projects?


When I read it, my first thought was a poster or something that had each character with a picture and a short list of characteristics.


I could totally see in-house people show and telling that around because every company has these archetypes.


There's another word for it we use.


We could go even more towards like fun and snarky just for the swag, but also include helpful tips and a call to action.


And it might be a great series on social media.


Can you tell that I haven't had any sleep when I wrote this?


I can just see people forwarding the images to other people in their firms.


We could do a set of characters for other marketing stuff, like the proposal process.


And then I came up with a couple of ideas, like snarky, but not mean-spirited novelist, the person who writes way too much content, the list maker, all these other things.


And then, you know, I just said, I feel like as an in-house marketing person, I would have cry-laughed at these.


And we definitely would have forwarded them around.


Is this insane?


Am I sleep-deprived?


And then we sort of went down a thread going back and forth, like, yeah, maybe, you know.


Becky, I'm so glad that you found that thread from way back when, because we can always think back, like, where did this come from?


What was the conversation?


But honestly, what you saw there, the potential, you just mapped it all out right there as in a team chat, all the ways that could be used and the energy that you saw that it could have and how people might share it, which ended up being very true.


That's awesome.


Thanks for digging that up.


By the way, for anyone who wants to go and listen to season one, episode 19, characters in every interview, you can listen to Alison talk about the normal characters, the people, you know, there's there, everyone has a role in this play, that type of thing, but she does hit on those distracting personality traits.


So you can hear the OG Wildcards and then enjoy this episode too.


Awesome.


Okay.


So you both saw that there was potential.


Now, let's talk a little bit, and I think this could be familiar for people who are working in house and they have creative ideas and they want to go, but how do you get it from a fun idea to something that makes business sense?


You know, like, how do you cross that line?


Tell me what your experience was, or if you have any recommendations when you're, if you were like in house, how that might work.


That's what was interesting about the, you know, when I was reading the little, you know, teams thread message that I put there was my, when I originally thought that, I thought, oh, you know, we could, you know, make some illustrations and like post them on social media and that's it.


Like I had no concept of like, this could be a whole campaign and a whole thing.


I thought like, let's just make some funny images and send them around and get a laugh, you know?


And then it sort of spiraled out of control because more and more people started chiming in with great ideas, you know?


And yeah, and then, and then we, we thought, oh, well, what else could we do?


What if we made, you know, and then we start, is that when we started talking about coasters as the, cause we thought, yeah, what kind of swag item could go with this?


And I think, I think coasters was maybe the first idea.


It wasn't really an idea.


Yeah, I think, well, originally it was just the interview characters.


And so I was like, well, maybe like the Brady Bunch, maybe we could put something together.


It's like a t-shirt that you could wear to your interview prep sessions or something.


And that's, that's why, I mean, I love working with everyone at Middle of Six, but Becky and I are literally like two little peas in a pod when it comes to, well, what if this, what if that?


And there's also, it's like, it's one thing to have ideas.


It's another to like the process of trying to actually bring that idea to fruition.


And I think that's where you get like good collaborations, writing partners or in the arts or in any kind of job where you can find someone who's like, you know what?


I see what you're going with this.


I'll help you out.


Let's sit down.


Let's bloom out this idea.


And so we basically started with a blank OneNote, you know?


And I love OneNote because it's not like it's got any borders.


It's this giant canvas of a blank, and you can just add in thoughts and you can paste in screen captures.


And it was an absolute mess.


It exists somewhere on the system to this day.


But it was like, well, we've got interview characters.


That begs the question.


There's these archetypes that appear across all sorts of different enterprises within our marketing departments and in the procurement process.


And so it's like, obviously, during proposals, who tends to drive us nuts?


Yeah, that was my perspective because I had mostly had involvement with proposal people.


I had never really worked with the interview crew.


So my first thoughts were, oh, the people who always do this and proposals.


So I made this little sketch, like this very low rent, very hastily done crappy little sketch of a guy.


Because the first character I thought about, I called the novelist.


It was the person who writes like 50 pages worth of content, and it doesn't even address the question.


And I just made this little sketch and posted it in the thread, like, hey guys, what about something like this?


And everybody was like, yeah, there we go.


So yeah, I felt like it just started out as sort of this joke, but I thought this would resonate so much with other in-house marketing people.


Everybody will be like, oh yeah, I know that guy, it would be relatable, and I liked that.


Yeah.


And then Wendy, to your point about the end product being coasters, it was, what's the best medium to sharing these?


Because they can't exist in a vacuum.


You can't enjoy these just by yourself.


They are meant for the group and they are meant for comic relief.


And so is it a desk calendar?


Probably not.


Is it a t-shirt?


Maybe someday.


That's still in on that one.


And I love the idea of coffee mugs that people could pick their favorite.


But the coasters just seem something that is still within the realm of affordability as far as swag goes.


And we could make each one stand out on its own.


And then that opens the doors to all sorts of fun and interesting approaches to the design aspect of it.


So I think that's how we ended up landing on that.


And then we found different purveyors that print these things out, found the right one, the right price point, the right quality, and then it continued on from there.


I thought coasters were a good idea because people could put them out on their conference tables, you know, and then you could spark conversation as they're sitting around the interview practice table and stuff like that.


And I hope they're out there doing that right now.


I mean, we heard from people when they received them that they put them into their conference room and shared them or one of our clients.


Oh, good.


He opened up the package.


His team happened to be doing an interview prep, and he went into the room and then put the coasters around the table just to, I'm sure he was actually assigning each person their role.


They're like, this is you, by the way.


That's great.


So yeah, we do know that in some cases, they got used exactly as we had hoped and in other ways, they probably gave someone a good laugh or just made them realize that they're not alone in experiencing this.


And that was one of the things early on that we had to sort of resolve, I think, as a group.


This is really fun, and it's fun to be fun and creative.


But is there some value that we can bring to our clients and our friends or just people in the community that way?


Because there is a little bit of, or I'll put my business owner hat on there, some concern about we don't want to bite the hand that feeds us.


Right?


These are our clients.


These are our people that we're working with.


Maybe we have some of these traits as well.


We don't want to alienate anyone or I don't know.


There's so many feelings.


And when an idea is very new, you don't have, it's not fully fleshed out.


So you're wondering it could go in many directions.


What about the process of honing the idea to go from something that was just fun and creative to something that could make a difference or start a conversation within your team?


Maybe Allison, that's something you saw when you were giving that presentation.


You're like, oh, this resonates.


People want to hear this.


But I'd love to know a little bit more about bringing humor to a sensitive subject and striking the right chord.


It's one thing when you have it on a PowerPoint slide and you can articulate your way through it and caveat it and say, all of us, it's just like filler words, which I also cover in that same text, the likes, ums, you knows, right?


Those tack on words that we typically put in when we're either trying to find our next thought, not sure what we're going to say next, nervous, so on and so forth, that can be very distracting to the listener if they get out of control.


We all have them.


And so it's not a matter of judging others on that.


It's learning to help each other identify them and then find ways that you can overcome it with confidence, with practice, and so on and so forth.


And so these different traits, the dominator, why do they do that?


Typically they feel the intense pressure that they've got to bring in the win, and they are nervous about the team being prepared, and they feel like they have to step into that leadership role and carry the day.


It's not because they want to hog the limelight, and they wish no one else was there, and it was just them in the spot, you know, it's not about that.


So there's reasons why all of these different traits come out, and it's typically nervousness, lack of preparation, all the things that we're training for in this interview session is to how to get better at doing this, and in the getting better at doing that, you tend to tone those different types of personality traits down.


So you can say all of that when you're in the moment of explaining them on the slide deck.


You can't do that when it's a coaster sitting in your conference room.


It's got to do all the work for you to get across.


We were saying this in jest, there's of course there's a hint of truth in it, because in comedy there has to be a hint of truth, you know, but that's okay.


It's just could we package it and say it in a way that was at once poking fun but also supportive of the we're in this together kind of feel to it.


And I'd say that wasn't one person that was able to accomplish that.


That was a group effort amongst all of us to try and carefully strike that balance, which I think is more and more we are becoming even more emotionally intelligent about other people's feelings and trying to skate that line is harder these days.


And so hearing from colleagues like, I don't know, is that the right word to use here?


Is that going to make anyone feel alienated?


And so I don't remember exactly how we landed on Wildcards, but it just it felt kind of fun because it wasn't there was nothing derogatory in the name.


Becky, do you remember how we came up with Wildcards?


Because I know exactly where I was sitting at that moment.


So to me, it's very clear, please share and also talk about the things about like editing, getting critique from the team, working with our other designer, Lauren Jane.


I mean, it wasn't just you, but you're kind of representing the design, the creative side of it, and that it wasn't easy to go through that process.


It was quite a process, and we actually had several characters going in the process because I feel like, you know, I was the one who was like, let's turn this into something external that we put out, and we'll just make these images and it'll be funny, and we'll sit back and laugh.


And then people started saying, no, we should make this, we should do this.


What if we do that?


And I was like, oh my god, what?


You know?


So then we were like, okay, well, now we have to actually produce the images.


So we started talking about, you know, the artwork, and as we were planning all this, you know, who are the characters, what's their deal, what do they look like, you know, that sort of thing.


We had no idea what to call this.


And for the life of us, we could not come up with a name.


We went back and forth on this, an embarrassing length of time.


And it started with, like, the characters.


And then it was, Alison, we called it The Miscreants.


There was the Mischief Makers, who's another one she used.


I kept trying to use archetypes, but like, nobody knows what that means.


And like, we would just go back and forth, back and forth.


So more on that later.


And then so as we're refining, it's a fun little story, we're refining the imagery.


And we're thinking, we start with my little initial sketch, which was just sort of like a vector traced hand drawn style sketch of a guy holding up a book, and he's the novelist, you know, the imagery that we wanted to convey is very like, sort of similar to those like old fashioned, like corporate manual hand illustrated people.


I took some inspiration from a web comic series called Married to the Sea, which is sort of a comic thing where they make little funny captions on like old fashioned illustration-y kind of drawings.


And then we were trying to divide up like, what are we going to do?


You know, like I was kind of like copywriting the, you know, the little bullet points, the traits for each proposal person and whatever.


And then like Allison was working on interviewing people.


And then we had Lauren Jane was going to do the illustrations because she, as you know, does excellent work in like illustration and printmaking.


And she's like a legit artist and does fabulous work.


So she was like, OK, well, I'll try sketching out some ideas.


And we all kind of like came back together and like, I think like her artwork is like too gorgeous.


It was like too pretty, like truly, like it was just like it was too nice and beautiful.


I was like, this is like you would hang this on your wall.


But like we wanted to go for a more of a like snarky, you know, scruffy, scrubby tone.


And I feel like my like half-assed illustrations were just scrubby enough to make that tone.


So we kind of switched, we switched gears on the art, you know, and we, I just started putting together these illustrations that were just sort of, yeah, like kind of kind of scruffy and rough around the edges.


It just had a snarky kind of feel to them.


And then we sort of edited from there.


And we had, this is when we started bringing in the whole rest of the team.


We started presenting the drafts to the whole crew.


And we'd go through like a PowerPoint with like, here's the different ones.


What do you think?


You know, does this seem too mean?


Should we say this in a different way?


Does this make sense?


You know, and we did a lot of tweaking and refinement.


And that was really good because then we could get a broad perspective from a lot of different personality types.


And we did have people say, like, this is, that's way too mean.


We can't say that.


We've got to put that in a different way.


And we got to the point where we still had the humor, that each one of them were still like super clever and funny, but also kind of felt like no one's being like singled out here, because everybody's somebody.


Like, we're all one of these things, at least one of these things, you know?


And it feels good to have that in a group.


Yeah, we were using our own group, our own team as the initial focus group.


So in a small cluster of us were like thinking and bringing these concepts together.


And of course, there were some things in the Teams chat, but it wasn't like every single person was in the loop.


There were moments where like, okay, this is at a good place.


Let's bring this to our next team meeting and get a sense on what they're thinking.


So this was very thoughtful in that way.


And that allowed it so that we had even internally still some fresh eyes on the project.


And we could see their reactions.


And we could, I mean, we have a culture which is people are allowed to say their real feelings, you know?


And so we trust that those reactions are what they really believe and that they're not thinking later on, oh, it's not a good idea.


I don't know how to say it.


You know, so we had that we had that environment.


We were able to get that feedback at different stages throughout the project.


So maybe there's some benefit to not having your whole team work on the project, right?


Having some extra people to be fresh.


Absolutely.


And that's so that's when we started brainstorming on the name, which, believe it or not, took an incredible effort because we kept going back and forth and we'd get the group together.


OK, guys, can we brainstorm some name ideas?


And we just kept going back and forth.


The proposal characters, the interview characters, the mispronounced, the whatever.


And just we were just like, we're going to have to go to print here.


And we literally don't even know what to call this.


And then I remember Alison and I were just we were chatting on Teams about just the logistics of the project.


And Alison was just like, what if we call it The Wildcards, you know, like?


And I just realized, like, oh, my God, that's that's so succinct.


It's so clever because they are kind of like cards, you know, like each coast or each character or whatever is sort of like a playing card, like a little, you know, and I don't know if that's when she first said it, but I think that's when I first was like, yeah, I'm on board with this.


And then we took it to the group and we're like, what if we call it The Wildcards, everybody?


Yeah.


And even then it was, is it two words or is it one?


Oh, yeah.


Yeah.


There are all these tiny little incremental decisions that go into this.


And we're marketers, so we're ideators.


Yep.


You know, every single person who works here, every single person I think who works in marketing is a what if person by nature, not only just for the creative outlet of the what if statement, but because we're constantly trying to find something that is more efficient, a better way of doing something, make our life easier, get the win, the competitiveness, this, that the spirit of, of what we do is all about the what if and carrying that through to, to completion is also a part of our jobs because we got to get to the deadline.


And I think that might be something that makes people gravitate to this episode.


This episode is how do you make time for the things that don't have a deadline, that don't have an external deadline?


How do you keep making progress internally on a great idea that started as a what if and bring it to its conclusion and into something?


And that's what we did internally was maybe one person's like, I can't work on that this week.


I'm too slammed with other things.


Someone else would be like, hey, we haven't worked on this in a while.


Can we get back together?


Because I had some ideas.


And it just kept doing that along the way.


And we'd hold each other accountable.


We check in our quarterly meetings about those quarterly goals that we've got.


And it just it was such a team effort to carry that ball or that idea down the field.


But yeah, even down to the, well, is this two words or is it one?


We got to figure this out.


I know.


I think I looked it up and it was like, it is technically two words, but we're going to make an executive call that we felt it was better being like a noun wild cards together.


So yeah, those decisions were marketers.


Of course, we're going to overthink it like the social media blurb there.


And like, so the way we accomplished that, that being able to get this done was having absolutely everybody on the team working on this, like this started out with like one or two people, but there was absolutely no way that we could have had one or two people carry this to the finish line.


Like, for example, like Lauren Jane, our illustrator who does the gorgeous artwork was like, she's really good at like packaging and stuff like that and designing, you know, stuff to like put together the like, what are we going to put the coasters in and like these like fun little inserts with like messaging and like a word search and also she did this amazing job like putting together the packaging for the stuff.


And then we had Grace who was like, you know, how are we going to get this on social media?


And then she's like coming up with all this stuff and like the outreach events and all this and like that is where like there's no way that like any one or two people could have done this on their own.


And so as we as we started to bring in the other members of the team, this is when it turned into something that was like manageable that we could actually produce with all the other hands on deck without anybody getting burned out.


It did take a lot of hands to get that pulled together.


Grace, what how would you describe your role on this project?


How did it start and how did it end?


And holy cow, because there were so much in the implementation of this project.


Yes, I mean, definitely was obviously like keeping a pulse on things as things are brought to the team and during huddles and team chats and all of that.


But, you know, I really got into the fold as we were, you know, getting ready to finalize these characters and think about, all right, we have this awesome idea that we think is going to resonate.


How are we going to get this out to the people?


You know, our audience.


And so I was brought on into the folded into the project.


My specific role was more about the rollout and communication of these characters and the different facets of how these the concept could be conveyed and rolled out to our people.


So that's really where I came in.


And then we started to think about, all right, the communication plan, the different elements of that communication plan.


And so it touched a lot of social media.


And then we'll get into it a little bit later about that preview party and how that was ideated and folded into the overall strategy.


Grace, you run our social media at Middle of Six.


And so part of your, I think the initial role you had was, is this thinking about how this would be rolled out just on our own social media.


But my memory is, because we were working pretty closely on this, that as you were building that out, it became clear there were other pieces that would need to be coordinated at the same time.


Do you want to share a little bit about building out the communication strategy and realizing that wouldn't it be nice if we had, fill in the blank, a party or photographs or these different things that could kind of enliven, enrich the social media campaign and then we can dig into more about all the decisions we had to make and kind of developing that.


But you know, you've shared before your social media planning, put that in context with The Wildcard.


Yes.


So we knew that this had the potential to resonate with AEC marketers and beyond our network.


And I think that with the concept of The Wildcard, like we got it as a team, but we were like, is this going to translate on social media?


How is it going to be perceived?


We think that this is funny, but we don't want it to be offensive.


So I think that we were really in the process of the communication plan and thinking about what are we trying to communicate is how can we make this resonate as efficiently or as effectively as we wanted it to.


We I think a key part of the communication plan was really testing the waters and the reception early on, and also showing that AEC marketers get it and sharing some familiar faces of these people interacting with these characters.


And it was resonating and it brought them laughter, joy, maybe some group therapy, going over these wild cards.


So that's where we spawned the preview party idea.


It really was an opportunity for us to get with a group of AEC marketers within the Puget Sound region and showcase, share these wild cards, present them to them and get their initial reactions.


And this provided opportunity for us, one, to do some testing with an audience that we knew that this was targeted to.


But then also it allowed us to gauge, all right, it's pretty easily received and it allowed us to be able to think about the social media efforts, what we needed to provide in our communication, to help others that weren't at this preview party get it.


So that was a really key element of our communication plan that rolled into the actual social media content.


But it allowed us again to do some early on testing before it was rolled out to the greater AEC marketing community virtually.


It allowed us the opportunity to test the concept.


So that was a really key part of our communication plan.


I can add a little bit to about that preview party concept and to speak to the timing piece.


Allison mentioned, you know, how do you work on a project that doesn't have a deadline?


And while this didn't have a hard, hard deadline, we saw that it could be our kind of fall time.


It's essentially our year end campaign, but we like to back out of the very end of the November, December timeframe because it's a busy time for our clients and we may be helping them with their year end campaign.


So we just, self preservation, try to move that client care touch in the September, October timeframe.


So that's what we had in mind.


We worked on this Wildcards campaign for many, many months, you know, more than a year actually building up to this fall, but it wasn't hitting a certain date.


There wasn't a hard deadline where someone would say, oh, this is late because who knows, you know, we get to make the rules on when we send out client care gifts and put that out.


And so, Grace was developing this social media complimentary plan to go along with it.


And we were probably six weeks out from like our target mailing date or something like that.


And that's when the preview party came into view.


And we thought, can we even pull this off?


Can you at the end of the summer, in August, when people are just off enjoying their last bits of summer vacation, create a party, invite the people, get them to show up, you know, I felt like we got to exercise our marketing muscles really well.


And I don't know, Grace, do you want to share anything about the actual like coordination planning of the party and how we pulled that off in such a short amount of time?


Yes.


Yes, I know.


Remember that?


Do you remember how intense it was?


It was like, can we do this?


And I was like, oh, we can do this.


We can do it.


Yes, I know.


Definitely have cheerleaders on the Middle of Six team, that's for sure.


But I think that we knew that it was going to be a compressed timeline to get that done.


But I think that by having a really focused group of who was invited to the preview party, if that makes sense, it was a targeted group.


We knew that, okay, the odds of this X amount of people showing up is pretty high.


And we knew that we're getting a variety of voices, opinions that represented people that were, you know, maybe younger in their career to more senior.


So we knew that we were going to get a nice variety of perspectives with the audience.


But I think that having a focused, scaled approach that was appropriate with our timeline and our goals was really key.


And then thinking ahead to that preview party, what are the essential elements that we need to be able to get what content we need for the rollout of this campaign?


But then also the feedback of the group I think was key to making sure that the event was one, a good use of our audience that was there.


They're very busy people, being respectful of their time.


But then also making sure that with the small amount of time that we have with these folks that we're getting what we need to continue to make good progress ahead of that official rollout that we had in our minds of this.


So I think that coming into that preview party with a plan, but a plan that was scaled appropriately was really key to pulling it off.


And overall, I think it was a success with kind of those things in mind.


So yeah, it was a huge success.


We got so much out of it, maybe even more than we anticipated.


It certainly got everything we needed to confirm that the messaging was right on.


I mean, I think that we hoped it would resonate with our marketing friends.


But boy, did it.


In fact, someone at that preview party, as we were chatting, they said, you know, this should be a presentation, a talk.


I think we should be talking about this more.


You know, they asked for even more characters.


Can we go beyond that?


I mean, we had so many great ideas based on their initial impressions that, I mean, we did end up developing a presentation that we can just focus our recommendations on combating and helping and, you know, alleviating the issues with working with these characters, you know, that sort of thing that came that came together.


But it was great.


It was fantastic.


And we had the photography, the real life interaction, something more than just the middle of 16 or mockups of things.


Like it became real.


And that's unique to have.


Not every campaign probably needs that element.


But we felt like for this, this is something for marketers that they should be represented as we roll it out.


So that was really wonderful.


And I will say to other marketing teams who are thinking about something like that, pulling off a quick event, you know, and maybe just a matter of really, we probably ended up only having about four weeks in total.


And that includes the time to get the photography back and weave it into our campaign.


It wasn't very expensive.


It was just, you have to draw on your experience and just get laser focused and work on implementing, you know.


There are lots of reasons why you could say, oh, this could be too hard or it can't be done.


But when you start to just take it in little bites and figure out these are the people we want there, we're picking up the phone, we're making the calls, we're getting them on the list, we booked the photographer, we got the venue, we did it.


And it was great.


So it makes you feel like all of those things that you've learned over many, many years of party planning and coordinating things that pays off.


So that was really fantastic.


Grace, can you talk a bit more than about the actual campaign itself, about what you hoped to accomplish in it, and how you were gonna measure the results of that effort?


Yeah, absolutely.


So, with the overall communication plan, building it out, there was so much potential with this, and I felt like chunking out, and I love to use the word chunk, chunking out the phases of the communications plan was key to help, you know, wrap my head around all the different elements that were going to support the success of The Wildcards being communicated.


So, the chunks included hype, which was the hype building, which included the preview party, you know, building some sort of excitement about something's coming, and the people in your network or familiar faces know about it was really key.


Then we had kind of the middle section, or the exciting section, which was the launch, which was getting those wildcards out into the world and to people beyond the Pacific Northwest.


So that was a huge effort.


And then maintain, which was the content that followed that initial launch, you know, that's kept providing people with more information, sharing all of the exciting comments that you're getting, reaction, you know, really building community.


So we developed these three key phases of our communication plan, and all of the elements of the communication kind of fell within those.


And really supported those key phases.


So that was kind of the overall approach related to what determined success or what we were aiming for.


Of course, we want to see the tangible things like metrics increase or kind of do some testing on how we're presenting information.


So we had some different elements of video versus static images on social media that, you know, we could do some testing with.


So those are kind of like the, yes, of course, we want to see if our traffic to our website increases, if our engagement on social media increases, which it all did, which was a huge, exciting moment for the Middle of Six team.


But I think that like the underlying goal of what success was gonna look like was, again, you know, there's so many AEC marketers out there.


And just seeing it resonate with a large audience and having a response that I feel, and I think the team felt was positive, was a huge measure of success, you know?


And of course, that can be the reshares or the amount of comments or impressions.


But I think that just kind of seeing how people were getting excited, laughing at it, of course, like in the comments, I think that that was really satisfying for our team to see that this idea, this concept that was in development for a year and was a napkin sketch between Alison and Becky really did translate and resonate with folks.


So I think that that was like kind of the feel good success metric for us was just again, seeing that this resonated with a lot of folks, even beyond the marketing team members that we know our network, even principals were getting it because there's such like integral role in marketing.


So it was really great to see that it was well received.


Alison or Becky, do you have any memorable moments from getting feedback or just the, I mean, Becky, come on.


You were so nervous when this launched.


I feel like you were like, I gotta take PTO, I can't be online.


I don't wanna watch.


Yeah, when you first talked about doing the preview party, I was like, what?


Because I thought, we're just gonna do this on social media.


We're just gonna throw some images out there and then hide in the darkness.


But so yeah, I was scared, I was skeptical.


And then when I was sort of cringing, like, all right, how did it go?


How did it go?


And then when you came back with the results, and showed me the pictures of the people holding up the characters and being excited about it, I was pretty pumped.


Because I didn't know if they were gonna get it, if they thought it was dumb.


But I think, okay, I'll say it now.


You guys were right, the preview party was a good idea, and I'm glad that it went well.


But yeah, no, I was scared the whole time.


I was scared when we launched.


Anytime you put something out there like that, you never know how people are gonna react.


And I was just worried there'd be somebody who would say this, it's terrible, this is garbage, you're awful.


But I don't believe that happened.


We didn't get that.


Yeah, thank goodness.


If there were any haters out there, they kept it to themselves.


And I appreciate that that's a trend, that people are being nicer.


Yeah, maybe it's not for everyone, we understand that.


But overwhelmingly, the comments were so amazing, so amazing.


Alison, do you have anything that stands out in your mind?


Well, I heard more than once, I Feel Seen, which anytime you hear that, it's like, that's the best, that's the best.


But I think the surreal part about social media, if you do something really well, you put something on into the world, is that it transcends just people engaging with your content, they create their own and put it onto the world.


So I started seeing things pop up in the feed that was totally unsolicited, people taking photos of their coasters and then sharing it to just say that they had a moment, like of joy, and they wanted to share that.


Joy mixed with catharsis, which can you ask for anything better than that?


And so it was so amazing to know that these things were sent out into the world in physical form and they made people's day.


And it was something that those people could share with other people.


So that was a really heartwarming and awesome part of this.


And then that it lives on the website, that we've got other things, like we've made the booklet in addition to the coasters.


So it's a bit of a easier lift to get those printed.


I don't know if we touched on how long it took for the Washington crew to package up all of the coasters into their individual little sets, but it was a huge effort.


And apparently took up all of the floor space in the office.


And so there's a huge lift that comes along with that and the packaging.


And so it's taking it from the seed of an idea on a PowerPoint slide to working with your colleagues to bring an idea to this physical form, to seeing that then get delivered in all of its little parts, to sitting on the floor together, assembling all these things and getting them ready to stand out in the world, to letting them go, and then just waiting to hear back on what the response was.


I mean, that's a full circle experience.


And my biggest takeaway from all of this, in addition to what we've heard from folks, that this was a net benefit to them to get this.


It touched a nerve.


It spoke to something that doesn't get talked about often.


Maybe we've peeled the lid off something and it will get talked about more.


That would be fun.


But my biggest takeaway from this is that you can dream big, you can have big ideas.


You can have a little idea that someone else takes and runs with and makes into a bigger idea.


You can create, ideate together, produce and still get all of the work done if you work as a team to make it happen.


And you're very, very clear in your communication, your documentation, create a little bit of process around it, camaraderie and have some trust in each other.


And isn't that what we're all trying to achieve in our marketing departments?


Yeah, what a wonderful experience that's been.


It was a lot of hard work, a lot of good creative work, a lot of teamwork to figure out.


And teamwork sounds like just like all sunshine and rainbows, but teamwork also means providing feedback that may not be easy to deliver or to work through problems with the printing or the print quality and making decisions on the fly of how you're gonna pivot.


But all of that is then ultimately team building because we got through it together.


I'm pretty sure I heard by the time this whole thing launched that everyone at Middle of Six was over it.


We're like done with The Wildcards.


We need a break.


I don't want to hear anything more, luckily the good feedback was coming in so we could share those in our team's channel like someone who said, this is my all time most treasured marketing gift I've ever gotten, that kind of stuff.


I felt like that was refueling us in little bits and parts so that we could eventually pick up the creativity and go and work on something else.


But it took a lot out of us, but I don't think we would not wanna do it.


It just, let's just be honest, that good things take time and energy and effort and a lot of eyes and support of the team.


So yeah, that was a great summary, Alison.


And in case, we happen to be pretty optimistic and cheery over here on the podcast, but I just do wanna say that it's not all easy, you know?


Takes a lot of hard work, but it's worth it too.


So we wouldn't do it differently, and we're not any different than you all out there listening.


We're the same, we're marketers in AEC.


You know, we have a team that we love and trust, and you've heard that a bunch of times, and a lot of good can come out of that, for sure.


We're lucky in that way, but you're probably working with some really good things too, and just scaling big ideas to fit your team and your resources can bring you a lot of joy in your career, right?


Because we're trying to do interesting things.


And this was a good example of one of those.


Hey, I got a, one of our clients sent me the red baron.


Speaking of the red baron, that's just the one I picked.


With my head photoshopped on it, he thought I was the red baron.


He said, well, don't you remember like eight years ago, I had you proofread a letter for me, and it came back like with 1 million markups and blah, blah, blah.


And I was like, I don't remember that, but now I know.


I thought I was helping, so there you go.


I appreciate his humor, but that he also figured out how to Photoshop my head on The Wildcard.


Yeah, I feel like we need to include that with the episode post.


I'll get permission.


I'll check in with him.


I'm sure I did not delete that email.


I'd also be curious what all of our favorite Wildcards are.


Oh, gosh.


Including Kyle.


I love that.


I love it.


I have so many.


So many are my favorite.


I do love and yeah, I love all of them.


And gosh, it's hard to work with all of them.


But I think my absolute favorite was The Novelist, which is funny because it was the very first one that Becky threw out there.


Just the, can we fit this on the back of the cover letter?


Yeah, right.


Since 50 pages of text for a 10 page proposal, none of their texts even remotely addresses the only question they were assigned and took a look, but really couldn't find anything that could be cut.


That's The Novelist.


I mean, have we all heard that?


I took a look, I couldn't find anything to cut.


And here's two extra paragraphs of new stuff I thought of the day before it's due.


So yeah, that's, I think that's got to be my favorite.


Just head shaking, forehead slapping.


Gotta love The Novelist.


Grace, who's your favorite?


I love and loathe Dr.


Chaos.


So I'm a person that loves having a plan, loves having organization.


And so Dr.


Chaos just blows that up every time and reminds me to be flexible and adaptable.


So it's a good reminder.


Dr.


Chaos is a good reminder in my life that things don't always go according to plan and to go with the flow.


You gotta let go a little bit, loosen the grip.


I hear you for sure.


I'm always torn.


The red line baron pops up in my life all the time.


The fact that edits their own edits line in that one, I think I say that to myself every other day.


Not that I'm editing my own edits, but I'm picking up edits and I'm like, dude, we've already covered this four times.


So that one is the most constant person in my world.


But I don't mind them.


I appreciate that someone's paying attention and is involved.


They're an engaged participant rather than an absentee person, which is a little bit harder for me to deal with.


Becky, who's your favorite?


I obviously love them all, but I have got a soft spot for the artist.


Make it pop, make the logo bigger.


Hand sketch is an organizational chart that is neither organizational nor a chart.


Strong feelings on image cropping has never used Photoshop.


Email signature is in both Comic Sans and Papyrus.


And that just, you know, as a graphic designer, that person is always the one who really just gets in there.


But as you said, they try.


Everybody's got their redeeming quality, even, you know, even the bad guy characters.


They have strength.


Yes, they have strengths.


And that's how I like to put it, that they are overdone strengths.


They, you know, they may be, or a little avoidance behavior for sure, but I'm just going to put it in the more positive spin, is that, you know, we go to a place when we're under stress, and proposals and interviews are stressful moments, so it doesn't necessarily bring out the best of us.


But if we can acknowledge it and share it with our team, or even when you're not in a stressful moment, share these wildcards, and then start that conversation, you'll have a common language, then you can, with more humor, flag it for them, so that they are, let's say, they're just exhibiting their outlaw behavior.


You can just say, Hey, don't be an outlaw.


And they're like, Ah, yes, okay, thanks for the reminder.


And it doesn't feel like you have to, like, sit them down for an HR meeting over that.


Kyle, who was your favorite?


We didn't hear from you.


Yeah, here I am.


My favorite is the analytic for purely aesthetic reasons.


All my favorite wildcard designs are the ones that all have that slightly deranged, wild look in their eye.


And the analytic specifically just has always spoke to me.


Instant favorite, the first time I saw it.


Yeah, she's got a good face.


We did not talk about how many times Becky had to adjust the eyes on each character ever so slightly.


Too mean, too scary, too crazy, too deranged.


I guess we got at least one deranged, one for Kyle.


But there were a couple of people that were like, well, too intense.


Change the eye.


A lot of eye differences.


I love those eyes.


Grace, do you want to leave us with any tidbits about results?


Or you don't have to throw numbers out there if you don't want to.


But I'm just curious since that was such a big part of your role on this campaign, if there's anything related to the end results that you want to share.


We've definitely shared the highlights of the anecdotes that we've received from comments to DMs to emails and in-person interactions of the reception of it.


But we definitely do have data to back up the success of this.


So, for example, LinkedIn, our content impressions on our Wildcards content was 300% increase, which is insane.


It was really fun to keep a pulse on, whoa, look at that got reshared again.


And we have another comment.


And so it was just really cool to see kind of the virality of The Wildcards on LinkedIn, and to just see again how we were hoping that it would resonate, but it truly did.


So I feel like the stats on LinkedIn definitely backed up the reception, which was really exciting.


And then, yeah, on even our website we created, we mentioned Kyle shout out to our producer of The Shortlist and behind the scenes.


But, you know, even our website, we created a specific Wildcards website that we didn't want to overwhelm our feed with explainer videos, or we really wanted it to be a place where The Wildcards, the characters themselves could kind of just like take on a life of their own.


So we knew that this concept and this campaign was a little bit abstract in a way maybe for people to get their heads wrapped around.


So we developed this awesome web page.


And Becky recorded this really wonderful explainer video to walk through all the wildcard characters.


And so there was just additional information that was kind of this landing page of information.


So of course, you saw an increase in our visitors on our website.


And so the data of digital marketing definitely backed up what we thought was a success.


So it was really fulfilling and satisfying to see that people were visiting, people were engaged, and there was data to back that up.


I loved logging into our website and looking at the analytics to see that anyone coming directly to The Wildcards, which they could have either scanned a QR code or gone to The Wildcards through a link on social media, then to see where they went from there.


And it was often our services, what we provide as Middle of Six, or it was come work with us, which made me very excited, you know, the careers page.


So those are two places I think most companies want people to go to.


You know, what do you offer?


What do I need?


And how can I work with you or for you?


That kind of thing.