Seeing the Sagebrush from the Sage
Updated: Jun 12, 2018
Today, communication requires more creativity than ever. Millennials are the most marketed-to generation in history, meanwhile consumer trust hinges upon the transparency and perceived integrity of the brands they buy. It’s an exciting time to be a communicator, and an incredibly challenging opportunity to help each of my clients discover and convey the forest from the trees – or in my view, the sagebrush from the sage.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to help both employers and clients to see the larger story in the work they’re doing, and to communicate that story in unique ways for the greatest impact. For a global manufacturing and recycling company, I communicated the value of individual facilities’ technological advances to audiences across four continents. For a technology start-up, I elevated its messaging from waste reduction to a circular economic model, winning the organization a circular economy award at the World Economic Forum. I’ve built a fulfilling career helping global corporations, consumer brands and tech startups communicate their brands, products and value propositions to businesses and consumers around the world in new ways.
Millennials are the most marketed-to generation in history, meanwhile consumer trust hinges upon the transparency and perceived integrity of the brands they buy.
Turning a new leaf
In 2017, building on my track record of communicating complex sustainable technologies, I founded Huded Communications, a freelance writing and consulting practice focused on bringing sustainable disruptive technologies to market.
Experienced in brand management, I assumed building my own brand would be a simple task, that it would just happen organically. I was wrong. But it wasn’t coming up with the brand identity that was the issue. Rather, it was making the time to execute a brand and communications plan for my own business, rather than someone else’s. I soon understood the truth in the age-old saying, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.”
Since founding Huded Communications, I’ve written web copy, blogs, bylined articles, press releases, corporate key messaging, thought leadership pieces, white papers and more, but none for my own business. So, this spring, in the spirit of new beginnings, I finally carved out time for my own story.
Sage advice received
I kept the name of the company simple – it doesn’t get much more to the point than “Huded Communications.” But I wanted to use my logo – a hand-sketched sagebrush – to tell more of my personal and professional story. While “sage advice” might seem like an obvious, even cliché foundation for a consulting practice, there is a bit more to this particular sagebrush than meets the eye.
Designed by my father, an artist and geologist, this logo represents the sage advice given to me, rather than by me. Both nature and nurture have had their part to play in my professional life. My passions for storytelling may have set me on the path to becoming a communications professional, but that path was cleared for me by my parents—my mother’s executive presence and my father’s attention to detail—and by a network of other bosses, mentors and advisors along the way. With this nurturing spirit in mind, I chose the image of the sagebrush, whose leaves and branches represent the fluidity and possibilities of language, and the growth that comes from both cultivation and environmental opportunity.
Sagebrush, not just sage
Having spent most of my life on the heavily forested East Coast of the U.S., I was largely unfamiliar with sagebrush until this past year, when my husband and I took to the road, traveling across the U.S., Canada and Mexico for 12 months in a camper trailer. It was only then that I discovered how arid much of North America is, west of the Mississippi River.
From an outsider’s perspective, I honestly didn’t see much at first. A few dead-looking shrubs and lots of rocky, sandy soil, as far as the eye could see. But with time, I came to see what I had overlooked previously – an intricate ecosystem made possible, in large part, by sagebrush.
The sagebrush steppe and shrubland covers more area than any other type of rangeland on the North American continent, and it’s home to thousands of species of animals and insects. Highly adaptive to its surrounding environment, sagebrush tempers its growth in drought and is quick to grow in times of recovery. As a larger network, the roots of the sagebrush hedge against erosion, while its canopy provides protection from the elements. It was only after I understood the larger ecosystem at play that I came to appreciate the individual shrubs. Much like the forest from the trees, I had learned to see the sagebrush from the sage.
I realized that communications in business is very similar to sagebrush in the arid west. It is commonly observed by outsiders as simple, an afterthought in the larger scheme of business. Yet, those who understand its purpose and greater impact, understand the complex and critical role communications plays in a business’s success or even its survival.
Finally, the third and perhaps most important story behind the sagebrush comes from my grandmother’s initials – Shirley Anne Grigg Ellison. An engaging and proactive communicator, she would cross a room to find out your story and to share hers. Her optimism and sincerity was magnetic, and she could captivate a person simply with her positivity and passion.
Shirley shared her depth, knowledge and optimism with the next generation as an educator and teacher. And, when that wasn’t enough, she turned to the stage as a dancer. An old French proverb says, “That which cannot be spoken can be sung; that which cannot be sung can be danced.” Shirley communicated with the world through whichever medium most appropriately conveyed the message, no matter how complex. I’ve been told that in many ways, I have Shirley’s nature. I certainly hope it’s true.
From social media and messaging apps, to experiential marketing and virtual reality, communicators and marketers have access to more stages now than ever before. The challenge is not only knowing which stories to tell when, where and in what way, but also knowing how to respond to feedback from the audience. With so many platforms and audiences available at our fingertips, it becomes more critical than ever to take a step back, work smarter not harder. It’s critical to communicate with intelligence, integrity and with purpose - to remember to see the sagebrush from the sage.