Tag Archives: Dave Nelson

Around the Table

May 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and contributed

In this new department, the B2B editors are asking key questions of three executives in the same, or a similar, field. In this inaugural article, for the design issue, we spoke with three executives of ad agencies/PR firms: Robin Donovan, president of Bozell, which has nearly 50 employees; Wendy Wiseman, president and COO of Zaiss & Co., which has nearly 20 employees; and Dave Nelson, founder of Secret Penguin, which has nearly 10 employees.

Talent retention is a big worry for many ad agencies. How do you retain talented people? 

Donovan: Our culture is what keeps our people. The entrepreneurial environment, the family atmosphere (kids and pets are in and out), and the obsession with giving back to the community (paying rent for the space we occupy on this earth). Those who do leave for a time often come back. 

Wiseman: All [our employees] are empowered and expected to bring their “A” game. When people are motivated by meeting marketing challenges, they thrive here, because that’s what we do.

Nelson: We’re in a very fortunate position to have talented people, and even more fortunate to have thoughtful people. Our mission is to make communities better…and more fun. We hire, take on work, and have created a work environment based on that. Because of this mission being very authentic, and not something we just say to feel good, everyone here feels a sense of purpose. We don’t report to one another, we support one another.

Robin Donovan

What question are you often asked that drives you crazy?

Donovan: “Even though I’m an engineer, I created this brochure for my company. Everyone tells me it’s great. Do you think it’s great?”

Wiseman: “Do you do websites?” As a marketing partner we do what needs to be done to reach marketing goals. We say we are medium agnostic—we don’t favor one over the other and in fact, integrated media is what works, but planning, building, and maintaining websites is something we’ve done since companies could have websites.

Nelson: We can’t expect other people to know the right questions to ask about our industry. I’d rather have a conversation than not. I love questions. When I used to get upset about questions, it was more because I couldn’t just give a simple and clear answer—meaning I didn’t know enough to be able to talk about it. Furthermore, if anyone asks a question, that could mean we didn’t communicate clearly what we can offer—so every question is a potential learning opportunity.

What practices or resources help you stay ahead of the curve?  

Donovan: We go out of our way to recruit folks with an insatiable curiosity. That makes it a lot easier to keep up with what’s coming next, because as end users change, so must the methods of communicating with them change. These incredible folks are our best resources.

Wiseman: Belonging to the current conversation via forums, associations, certifications in the social sphere, being in the marketing culture. We observe and absorb what is working for brands out there, and frankly, we’re creating strategies that work and lead—all to get to goal.

Nelson: Caring. Caring about our clients, our clients’ communities they serve, our team, the work we put out—caring is the only reason to stay ahead of the curve and it pushes us to do whatever we each personally need to do to do so. That being said, each member of the team cares and they do their own thing to stay ahead of the curve with whatever their role is.

Wendy Wiseman

How are you working to create an enduring organization?  

Donovan: We don’t just do what is asked; we dive deeper and do what is needed to take our clients to the top or keep them there. And we are intent on helping them drive success to their bottom line.

Wiseman: Zaiss & Company just celebrated our 29-year anniversary. Our organization endures because we have an enduring mission to help our partners grow profitably through our dedication to making marketing strategies and marketing communication as effective as they can be. We stay up on our industry and those [industries] of our clients.

Nelson: One of our main goals has been to create a sustainable business. We prioritize everything we do at SecretPenguin with personal health (physical, mental, spiritual—whatever any of that means to the individual); relationships (family and friends); work; and community. We only take on work if we will create or refine the brand. And we are focused on a slow and steady growth plan to create a solid team and a solid group of clients.

What keeps you up at night?  

Donovan: Envisioning how we can possibly top our last success so that we can keep our clients enthralled and our staff engaged.

Wiseman: As entrepreneurs at heart, we relate to the responsibilities our clients carry. From marketing directors to presidents/CEOs of all sizes of businesses, we empathize with what keeps them up at night—leads, sales, earnings, competition, innovation, staffing. When we commit to helping grow our clients’ businesses with marketing, meeting their goals and strategic solutions play through our brains throughout the night.

Nelson: The only time I have a concern is when there is miscommunication. If there’s anything that keeps me up, it’s how to resolve any miscommunication that could hurt the team’s relationship or our client’s relationship.

Dave Nelson

How has your industry changed since you entered the field?

Donovan: Way back then it was about helping clients meet and exceed their challenges—and that’s what it’s about now. [But], when I entered the industry we used desk phones, typewriters, Western Union, and faxes. And we had mechanicals for every ad. Do you know what any of those things are?

Wiseman: Exponentially and not at all. Digital media and digital natives have turned a lot on its head; however, in the end, this is marketing—the art and science of changing attitudes/stimulating action. The age-old practices of knowing who you are targeting and what you want them to know, think, and feel about your brand is primary no matter the medium. It’s about a focus on benefit and understanding that content is king.

Nelson: Technology, mainly. But, at the root of it all—our industry has always been about clearly communicating what a brand offers to their community, then building relationships between the brand and their community. So, no matter what comes along, I can have peace knowing that will never change.


This article was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B. 

Co-Lab

September 1, 2015 by

This article appears in B2B Fall 2015.

It is an unassuming space, but if you have made your way to TD Ameritrade Park, Filmstreams, or Hot Shops, chances are you’ve passed one of the most vibrant offices in Omaha.

CoLab3The fact that Co-Lab (short for Creative Collaborators) is not a traditional work space is certainly one of its best features. Located inside the Tip Top building at 15th and Cumming streets is a project dreamed up by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, who happens to share the main floor of the building. Based in the heart of a once-isolated section of the city, Co-Lab’s funky, creative vibe is making waves. In fact, that vibe seeps into Omaha’s everyday, bringing about small changes pushing our city toward a more innovative future.

Home to 18 businesses plus Alley Poyner Macchietto, Co-Lab is free of walls and signage. It is also free from traditional office norms. For instance, you don’t just walk over to your neighbor’s space for a brainstorming session—you skateboard. At least you do if you’re Dave Nelson of SecretPenguin, a leading experiential branding agency. The best part is that the businesses surrounding SecretPenguin appreciate the break from tradition. “That’s the beautiful part about being around like-minded, good people and businesses,” Nelson says.

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In addition to having pathways large enough to skateboard or bike through, the space also provides Co-Labbers with a kitchen, various conference rooms, bike storage, bathrooms, and a battleground (otherwise known as the ping-pong table). Walking in the main doors, clients and employees alike are greeted from the front desk while catching a view of the five-story open atrium basking in the glow of sunshine from the skylight. Workers can also access the fitness room and rooftop deck, sharing amenities with TipTop apartment residents, who use a separate entrance.

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Businesses in Co-Lab, all creativity-related, range from entrepreneurs to start-ups to non-profits to small businesses. The art varies in form, but runs through the space like an electric current. At Zicafoose Textiles, Mary Zicafoose works steadily on her loom, creating gorgeous tapestries. 4Site Programming is where Joi Brown works as an independent consultant for performing arts centers across the nation. Heartland B-Cycle, a large-scale municipal bike sharing system, brings art in the form of economical convenience.

Holly Boyer, a founder of non-profit organization Mission Matters, explains that one of the best things about having an office at Co-Lab is feeling the innovative, positive energy from the moment you walk in the door. So while individuals may join Co-Lab with a business-minded focus or a more creative vibe, finding a yin to their yang is just a shout away.

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“There is certainly a wonderful built-in support network that comes along with working in a collaborative environment,” quips Omaha Creative Institute Executive Director Emily Moody. “Everything from sharing ideas and finding ways to collaborate with an organization different than yours to sharing a stapler.”

At the heart of making it work, says Laura Alley of Alley Poyner, it’s simply playing well with others.

The skateboarding, ping-pong playing creatives do that well.

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Believe the Omahype

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha resident Will Simons has worn many hats. As the managing editor of the now defunct Omaha City Weekly, he flexed his journalistic prowess while balancing a music career in the local band Thunder Power and jumpstarting his own business venture, Omahype. The curated online events calendar aims to provide locals with all of their entertainment needs. It solves the problem of having to sift through several different websites and papers just to find out what’s going on, plus it’s optimized for mobile operating systems. Simons had a little help coming up with the concept.

“I can’t say it was my idea initially. It was definitely a team effort. I used to interview local musicians at a previous job. One of those interviews was with Laura Burhenn, who, at the time, was a recent Omaha transplant from D.C. She was about to release the debut album for her group, The Mynabirds,” Simons explains. “She mentioned that she was in the early stages putting together an online youth culture-oriented events calendar and blog for the Omaha area and asked if I’d liked to help out. Of course, I said yes. With a background in arts and entertainment journalism, I knew Omaha sorely needed a one-stop website that listed all the best events in town for a younger, more culture-savvy audience. What sealed the deal was when Laura told me that two of the most talented web designers in town, Dave Nelson and Cody Peterson [of Secret Penguin], were already on board to help build it.”

Getting it off the ground hasn’t exactly been simple. To run Omahype successfully, obtaining multiple advertisers is key for Simons and the rest of the team. People are slowing coming around, but with all four founders having time-consuming day jobs (and rock careers), it’s difficult to juggle it all. However, Simons is working on a solution.

“The biggest challenge is generating enough money from advertising to justify someone working for Omahype full-time. I am transitioning into a part-time situation at my job so I can direct most of my energy toward Omahype,” he says.

Will Simons

Will Simons

“Aside from advertising, we’re seeking sponsorships from companies with employees and customers in sync with the readers of Omahype. We also plan on throwing more events. Our goal at Omahype is to support, nurture, and expand the cultural landscape of the city.”

Peterson is currently working on Omahype’s redesign and once that’s done, Simons assures visiting Omahype will be a “beautiful and intuitive experience.” In addition, browsers will discover the most relevant listings for concerts, art galleries, comedy shows, and independent films. Also, local restaurant reviews and concert photographs are popping up more regularly. Simons is optimistic.

“With the new redesign, we hope to realize our goal of having an online calendar that is the one go-to source for all of the Omaha area’s best events and major cultural happenings,” he concludes. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to expand to [other] cities at some point. Oh, and an office space would be nice, too [laughs].”

In the meantime, Simons and crew have executed a handful of fundraising events to help generate funds. They are planning on throwing more music events to keep up the momentum. Most recently, Omahype sponsored its third annual Rock-n-Shop event at The Slowdown on December 14. It featured a slew of prominent Omaha bands such as All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship, Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds and, of course, Thunder Power. Several local vendors were also on hand to showcase their goods. If Simons keeps this up, Omahype could very well be the go-to calendar for all of Omaha’s “cool kids.”

Secret Penguin’s Dave Nelson

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Seven years of touring full-time as a sponsored skateboarder leaves you with A) a lot of skateboarding product from your sponsors and B) a definite magnetism for skater kids looking to channel their energy.

“Skateboarders have an addictive personality,” confesses Dave Nelson, a former skateboarder for Untitled Skateboards and the owner of Downtown Omaha brand strategy and design firm Secret Penguin. “That’s all they think about…skating. They’re consuming, passionate people.” So when fellow skateboarder Mike Smith asked if he’d like to be on the board of a new nonprofit called Skate For Change, “I was like, yes, instantly. Completely excited about it.”

In his TEDxOmaha presentation last October, Smith explained that a closing skate park had offered him its ramps while he was working with homeless teenagers in Lincoln (TEDxOmaha is a local conference inspired by world-renowned TED events, dedicated to spreading world-changing ideas). Taking the opportunity and running with it, Smith started Bay 198, an indoor skate park in a Lincoln mall. “It answered a missing point,” Nelson says. “The kids needed a place that was genuine and safe.”

In the meantime, Smith had been skating through Lincoln on his lunch break, handing out socks and bottled water to the downtown homeless. Friends started joining him, then kids, then energy-drink maker Red Bull even stepped in with a launch party for the park and effort. “I’m just watching all of these skate kids pour their lives and their hearts and their souls into helping people,” Smith said at TEDxOmaha. “Feeding people.”

“He said when I gave him that board and took time to talk and skate with him, it made him realize that there are good people out there that do care about others.”

Secret Penguin handled the branding of the new incarnation of the skate park (now simply called The Bay) at 20th and Y streets in Lincoln. The Bay’s new park is made out of cement and bricks, “so it would feel more like the street,” Nelson explains. Most indoor skate parks are made of wood.

An indoor skate park for Omaha similar to Lincoln’s The Bay isn’t far from Nelson’s thoughts, but for now his typical haunt is Roberts Skate Park at 78th and Cass streets. He’s there about three times a week, meeting new people and trying new tricks.

“A few months ago,” he recalls, “I ran into this kid that I’d met at Roberts maybe 10 years ago.” The young man told Nelson that on that day, his parents were gone on yet another bender. His friends knew no one was home, so they broke into his house and stole all his stuff. The boy decided he was going to kill himself but first, one last skate at Roberts Park. He met Nelson there, who gave him one of the boards from his sponsors and talked with him. “He said when I gave him that board and took time to talk and skate with him, it made him realize that there are good people out there that do care about others,” Nelson remembers. “He said that was the first time he can remember feeling like someone cared. And that skateboard was a representation of hope to him throughout the years.”

On Saturdays, Nelson meets interested skaters at either the Mastercraft building, 13th & Nicholas, or in front of The Slowdown for Omaha’s own version of Skate For Change. “We’ll go hand the stuff out to whomever,” he says, referring to the donations of bottled water or socks received at the Secret Penguin office or purchased with donations forwarded from Smith. “Kids just get behind something like this.”

“We don’t need money,” he says, “just supplies.” Anyone wanting to donate water, socks, canned tuna, or hygiene kits can drop them off at the Secret Penguin office in the Mastercraft building.