Creating a brand is incredibly hard

Corridor Business Journal C-Suite Chief Marketing Officer — Jessalyn Holdcraft

As I was working on my speech, I realized that writing a speech is hard in the same way that creating a brand is — you want it to be unifying, bold, and memorable. I’m here as the recipient of this year’s Chief Marketing Officer award.

My name is Jessalyn Holdcraft, and I am the Marketing Director for NewBoCo. When I started with NewBoCo, I was the third full-time employee, and we were still known as Iowa Startup Accelerator, despite that being only one of our many programs. Here I stand four years later, and we have 16 incredible employees and countless programs that impact our community. As the sole marketing and communications staff member, I knew that we needed a cohesive brand that encompassed our vision and our community.

Although I was a recent college graduate with no professional work experience when I began at NewBoCo, I was confident in my ideas. As my fictional hero and inspiration, The West Wing’s White House Press Secretary CJ Cregg, once said, “it’s about going to the blackboard and raising your hand.” As I was writing this speech I was worried it would be bad, that people wouldn’t listen, and that I wouldn’t come across as genuine. I wanted people to understand the importance of branding and the impact it can have on an organization or company.

Branding is about making people understand the importance of an organization, the impact of an organization, and what the organization stands for… a brand is about an identity. NewBoCo’s identity, like many nonprofits and corporations, is composed of the things that make it work:

  • Our people
  • Our programs
  • And our story

I work with hundreds of volunteers and partners and 16 coworkers who are all brilliant and talented, and as part of my job, I get to brag about how amazing they are to the world as well as the impact of the programs we work on every day. We are all passionate about making this state better. For example, the women of NewBoCo stepped up to host the state’s first coding camp for high school girls, from organizing the event to catering to creating the curriculum.

Since NewBoCo started, we have brought coding classes to thousands of K-12 students across the state. Not only do we regularly host Hour of Code events in our space, but thanks to our program, we have trained more than 300 educators to teach computer science and those educators have taught more than 18,000 K-12 students throughout Iowa.

One of my biggest accomplishments has been architecting our brand and documenting our shared language to keep our staff on brand at all times. Creating our style guide was my goal on day one; fast forward three years later, and it was finally realized. Defining our style has helped move our programs forward, especially with rebrands to realign with our identity. Getting 16 people to say the same thing has been a long, continuous road, and now it has also helped us welcome new New Bohemians as we bring them on board. And since we can speak the same language, we can more easily share our stories.

Building relationships, including with the press like the Corridor Business Journal, has helped us get our stories in front of new audiences, for example, when I started, there were 9 articles written about us in 2015; then 98 in 2016 and 191 in 2017. On social media, I grew NewBoCo from brand new social media pages and now our stories reach thousands organically.

It helps that we at NewBoCo are passionate individuals who are also community builders, whether it’s the NewBo neighborhood, entrepreneurs, education enthusiasts, agile nerds, or innovative industry leaders.

Sharing our story has led to the growing impact of our organization because we’re letting people know how what we do is making a difference in our community and state through photos, testimonials, and videos.

If you want to support a nonprofit like NewBoCo (like attending their Annual Meeting), it’s a great idea to share how their mission has become part of your story. And make sure you let them know. Send an email, take a photo, tag them on social media. And if you’re going to take a decent photo with your phone:

  • Never zoom; just get closer to your subject.
  • Find your light.
  • Frame it. It’s not just the rule of thirds; make sure it looks like a good photo.

Four years ago, there were three, soon to be four of us, and a core group of supporters working to make a nonprofit not yet named NewBoCo a reality. Now, there are thousands of people of all ages from coast to no coast who have stories of how this organization has changed their lives, and I can’t wait to share them.


For the C-Suite Awards, the Corridor Business Journal created short videos to highlight the honorees. You can learn about my mentor and favorite ad campaign.

P.S. A special thanks to Kalissa and Phil for reviewing and editing this award recipient speech and ensuring that my words were on brand, genuine, and free of wood.




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Jessalyn Holdcraft

Jessalyn Holdcraft

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