The Biggest Little Interview, with special guest: Kristin Stith

In her office at Bristlecone Holdings I sat down with Kristin Stith. But I didn’t sit down with her to talk about Bristlecone, an incredible start-up in Reno, NV. No, I sat down to talk about her involvement in the BiggestLittleCity movement. A different incredible start-up in a different way. The movement is comprised of a group of volunteers who became inspired to create a campaign that is unique to the BiggestLittleCity (Reno, Nevada). They believe this type of effort has to come from the community so it can speak to the community. We’re here to build something great for the city we love. That’s from the about page at BiggestLittleCity and I went to see Kristin to lean more.

Elton: “You were actually in my Personal Branding class with Dr. Bret L. Simmons class recently, and you were talking about the BiggestLittleCity project and I would like to know a little bit more.  So, in that initial talk, you talked about how it evolved and kind of what’s going on and I would like a more personal view of the interaction inside and outside the group. So maybe if you could start, we could talk a little bit about how the dynamics of your team work?  Where’s everybody coming from and then how does that interaction go out to the community?”

Kristin: “So, what’s really unique about this group of individuals, this group of volunteers is that during the day, for the most part, all of us are entrepreneurs.  They all own their own businesses, well I don’t, I work for Bristlecone Holdings, but just about 90% of the group is entrepreneurs. So during the day, they are all competing for clients within the city and within the same industry because for the most part, all of them own their own marketing agencies. That was the cool part, a lot of these people compete with each other during the day and when it came to this task, I mean all personal egos had to stop at the door. Then when we walked in, anything that was BLC related, it was not about us.  It was not about who’s better at this or who’s better at that, it was all about getting the job done. You see, we would have multiple photographers and multiple web designers and if anyone wanted it to be about them, or made it anything personal, we were ‘Get out’ because there’s no room for that.  We all had to be collaborative.”

Elton:  “Especially since it was volunteer work?”

Kristin:  “Yes, yes especially. And we all agreed that our name was not going to be on anything we produced; we didn’t want that. We didn’t want any attention like that. And the people that did, some people kind of got filtered out.  But for the most part, everyone was very, very capable and effectively left that ego at the door and we all came together to get this job done.”

Expert’s Input: Short intermission here. After some digging, I found a great piece about an accelerator program for entrepreneurs and start-up’s by TJ Muehleman, titled Check Your Ego at the DoorIn it, he talks about the title but he also lists five things to keep in mind before entering the program. They are:

  1. Prepare for brutally honest feedback.
  2. Move fast. Real fast.
  3. Take advantage of mentors and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  4. Don’t forget who you are.
  5. Have fun.

Something tells me these are things every member of the BiggestLittleCity team experienced/agreed to when the program started, and every day after. Something that, whether or not was verbally discussed, it was necessary for the movement to succeed as it did. Let’s get back to Kristin.

“So, how it was broken down is that, we are all from the marketing industry so we had PR, we had copywriters, we had photography, videography, social media, and we had web developers. Then, we had straight creative directors who were just, kind of the whole mental magic behind the campaign. We all came together and we all kind of knew what talents and what kind of what pools we should group ourselves into.  The creative team, they were in charge of what this whole campaign was going to look like, what the movement was going to look like, what we were going to do.  Because we knew we wanted to gather all of the good that was going on in Reno, and combat all of the bad. But how were we going to do that?  That was up to the creative team.”

“So the creative team started, they developed this genius campaign, colors, fonts, taglines, the whole concept was developed by them.  Then all the other teams kind of grabbed pieces that they needed and went out on their own. So for instance, the web developers got all of the things they might need, whether it was images or fonts or copywriting and pulled all of that stuff and then plugged it into the website as needed.  The social media team kind of grabbed the same types of assets and then pushed them out on social.  Again, the creative team was really kind of the engine behind all of it.”

Elton:  “The brains?”

Kristin:  “Yeah, the brains. But then all the other aspects were the legs that made that brain move.  That’s how that all happened.”

Elton:  “And then from that structure, you guys had all these ideas that you put together. How did it get to the people?  How did it get to the public?”

Kristin:  “So these legs each had a responsibility that touched the public in some way shape or form.  For example, the PR leg, they were in charge of press releases and getting the word out via the news or the newspaper. They were in charge of really spreading the word in a more traditional fashion. Typically the PR professional is also very talented at writing so they would also do some pieces for social. Anything that they developed got pushed to social and then that got pushed out. Photography, same type of deal. They were developing imagery that got put on billboards that was touching the public. We had a woman on our team that was strictly in charge of all of our media buys and so she gets on the phone with owners of all the billboards in town, local radio stations, and local news stations and says, ‘Hey, I have this group of volunteers, I need some pro-bono space from you.  This is for the betterment of the city, I need you to jump on board. I need you to do me this favor.’  She basically called her whole phone book and said “Remember that one time?  I need you to do me a favor now.” We were on the radio, we were on TV, and we were on billboards.  We got all of these spots produced and again, all of the artwork for that, for the actual spots was created by the creative team and then taken by media and pushed out on all those media channels.  That was more of the traditional and digital channels of reaching out.”

“Then, we also had one-on-one contact.  We had several different events where people would come out. For instance, we advertised for people to come down to Campo one night, from six to eight and tell the BiggestLittleCity your story; we want to hear your story.  So people would come down, tell us their story and we actually had a laptop set up that we were typing up people’s stories to put on the website.  And that was just more content, more content for us to speak into the campaign and more content to go on the website. Bottom line, it’s more content for us to generate why Reno is a great place to live.”

Elton:  “And who better to talk about that than …”

Kristin:  “… the people! Right?”

Elton:  “Exactly.”

Kristin:  “We did a lot of work, again, this whole creative marketing campaign, but what made it genuine was that these people were telling their stories. They were just pouring it out and some of these stories were really heavy, they were really dramatic of what living in this town has done for them.  Love and loss, just all kinds of really, really cool stories that these people were offering to us to put on the website because we informed them of the cause and they were ‘Sure, yeah, love to do it.  I’d love to tell my story, tell what this town has done for me.’  I specifically remember an event we had at Whitney Peak. This was about two years ago when Whitney Peak first opened, a couple restaurants had come and gone and I was thinking ‘Is this hotel going to make it?  What’s going on here?’ But now, it’s really cool hotel and doing really well.  So, they opened up a bar or a portion of the bar for us.  We had a ton of people come in and we just shot videos of them. We had them sit down in a booth, we had great lighting (we had a lighting team that was doing that) and we just asked people ‘Why do you love Reno?  Tell us your story.’  Some stories were 15 seconds long and some stories were much longer.”

Elton:  “Lots of content?  (Haha)”

Kristin:  “Yes! Lots and lots of content.  So then after that, we went out and spoke to any organization, class, business or non-profit, anyone that wanted to hear about what we were doing. For example, Century 21 would called us up and said ‘Hey, we are a local office, and we want our office to get involved. We want all of our employees to submit stories.  Can you come down and tell us what you’re doing?’ And so we’d all go down and show up.  Microsoft in Reno has gotten involved, the casinos have gotten involved, and that’s the one-on-one part of it. So, on top of people seeing it wherever they were going, we were also trying to put a face to it too. To give it that grassroots, cause how grassroots is it if you are just seeing it all over the TV?  Versus seeing people walk into a room and talk about what they are doing? That was really impactful.”

Elton: “There needs to be that connection?”

Kristin: “Yes, yes!”

Elton: “Well, it’s a tremendous project and I’m in awe of it.  And so, as we wrap it up, what would you like to see happen with it?  You guys have been doing this for a couple years now, where do you want to see it go?  What happens from here?”

Kristin: “I may have a different opinion than everybody else, but I am being completely realistic with you, this, this is not about us.  This whole campaign is about the people so it needs to get to a point where all of these volunteers who have put a lot of time and resources into the project, can step away and it grows and it moves. What I think would be really effective is if we got an organization that has money, that has some manpower, that has some talent, if they can take what we developed and continue to push it on. Ideally the City of Reno. If the City of Reno would take a marketing campaign, a logo, and a tagline that was actually developed by a group of volunteers of their own volition, I think that would be adopted really well. So instead …”

Elton: “… not just adopted by them but adopted by the community at large?”

Kristin:  “Right! It’s not like a group of people who are getting paid to come up with this brilliant tagline that could be applied to any city in the United States.  But it’s a group that did it for free, because they love this city and actually put a lot of blood sweat and tears into it. That is grassroots and that’s how things can get adopted. And that is how they sustain and that is how they move. So, instead of these agencies that are getting paid (and that’s fine, that’s what they’re supposed to do), instead of them kind of shouting what we’re going to be, it was our own core telling them …”

Elton:  “… you had to ask too right? You guys went out and asked Reno: ‘What do you want to be?’  That is so powerful!”

Kristin: “Yep, absolutely.  Again, we’re not getting paid to do this, it’s not about us, and it was strictly because we wanted to develop something that would stick with the people. I do think it’s going to need that extra push for it to really stick.  We’re not going to do this forever. We’ve done it for a long time and it’s fun and it’s great …”

Elton:  “… but it needs that new energy.”

Kristin:  “Yeah, new energy, someone else.  And I do think we’ll stick as long as we can.  We’ll stick because we’re all stubborn I think.”

Elton: “And you care about it.”

Kristin: “Yeah, we care about it a lot and a lot of outside people care about it.  They ask, ‘What’s going on with that?  I haven’t heard from you guys in a while.’ A lot of people want to see this move on. I think it needs to get adopted by someone big in order for this to really sustain.”

Elton:  “Well, like I said earlier, I am in awe of the project and I am very thankful to you and the group as a local for the tremendous work and for the perception that is changing out in the world about us, about the Biggest Little City.”

Kristin and Me


Expert’s Input: Concluding this piece, I would like to share a post by Esther Schindler titled Tips for Project Management in Volunteer OrganizationsThere are some good tips is you ever find yourself in a project manager role in a volunteer organization and I’ll let you look for yourself. But, I do want to share this one part: “In a volunteer organization people have to be motivated to get the job done, and they do it for every possible reason besides being paid. As the person in charge of the project, it means you need to develop different motivational skills, some of which do not come naturally.” It’s clear that BiggestLittleCity is exemplary if this and probably a few steps beyond.

I want to thank Kristin for taking the time to sit down and chat about something that she obviously is passionate about and something that I’m going support in any fashion possible. So, if you’re in the Reno area, or even if you’re not, look BiggestLittleCity up, it’s an amazing outreach program and they are broadcasting the truth about Reno, Nevada. The truth that comes from the people that live here and that have lived here for a long time. And that truth is “Reno, Nevada is a great place and live and we love ya!”

This post is in continuation of the interviews I’m conducting with other project managers and leaders from a WIDE variety of industries and fields. See my 1st guest speaker post for a more detailed description.

Image credit: Photo by Author


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