Duffy’s Dispatches: An Interview with Context Creative

Context Creative is a marketing and web design company which helped launch our website into the exosphere. I shouted a few questions into the void, and Andy Strote, Context Creative’s Director of Strategic Services, kindly shouted back.

Duffy: Greetings, Andy. Could you tell us how you got involved with Story Planet?

Andy: I knew about Dave Eggers before there was a Story Planet. In fact, about 10 years ago, I made a point of visiting 826 Valencia on a vacation in San Francisco. I have a t-shirt from the pirate store! Then one of my friends, and eventual Story Planet board member Daniel Ho said a similar outlet might open in Toronto, and was I interested?

Sure! The first meeting was in a bar at Bloor and Bathurst. There were many people involved with getting this off the ground obviously, but that night I volunteered Context Creative to build the website. And it rolled from there….

Duffy: From strategizing marketing campaigns to developing websites, Context Creative appears to do it all. (If you’re ever looking for a career change, we could use your versatility on long-term space missions.)  Can you expand a little on the different ways you bring a client’s vision to life?

 Andy: The first step in bringing a client’s vision to life is to ensure we all have a common understanding of that vision. It’s important that we’re very clear on the objectives, the audience(s) we’re talking to, the outcomes we’re expecting and what constitutes success.

Then, we make sure we’ve defined the audience in a way that’s useful.

Once we’re clear on objectives and our audience, we look at media. In most cases the campaign will have some presence on the company or product website, or it may need its own site. But perhaps it’s also on paper. Maybe an insert that could be distributed in media, but also handed out at events. We’re always looking for the biggest bang for the budget, so if something can do double duty, it helps. Also campaigns are likely to include social media and perhaps email.

So, then we write, design, produce and deliver the campaigns. Once they’re launched, we measure, observe, adjust if necessary and rinse and repeat.

Each project is a bit different and has its own challenges, and that’s what keeps it interesting.

Duffy: Besides helping us with our website, you also generously donated two computers to our space. Why is community engagement important to Context Creative?

Andy: It’s quite simple. We live in a big city. At Context, we’re fortunate enough that sometimes we can help others, and so we do. I think there’s a moral obligation to do so. Everyone can decide what’s right for them, and how they want to contribute, but doing so is just part of life. We don’t live on an island, and we’re all in this together.

Students enjoying Context Creative's gifted iMac computer

Duffy: Storytelling is the backbone of our organization, and it seems to span many disciplines. In what way is marketing similar to storytelling as well?

Andy: That’s a very interesting and timely question because it’s currently the subject of a lot of discussion. Sometimes in marketing we get so focused on the “features” of a product or service,that we forget about the benefits to the user. Why would the user care? What’s the story?

As much as people like to think they’re rational, they don’t actually buy for rational reasons. They buy on emotion, and then justify their emotional decision with rational points.

Smart marketers tap into the emotions, and once you’re talking emotion, you’re talking stories. It all comes down to how it makes you feel, even for an everyday product like laundry detergent. Underlying every purchasing decision is a set of emotions. Some are stronger than others, but they’re there. Good marketers know how to appeal to those emotions, and it’s often in the form of a story.

Duffy’s Dispatches: Joe Lasko on Story Planet’s AGO Event

Joe is Story Planet’s intrepid Program Director, and on Saturday, March 21, he led our An Alien Has Landed event at the AGO. During the single hour of the day that I am awake at the same time as humans, I had the chance to sit down with him to ask how it went.

Duffy: Unfortunately, I was at the ITA on Saturday welcoming a group of lost Zyxxons and couldn’t make it to the AGO. Can you let me know what you got up to?

Joe: When aren’t we welcoming a group of lost Zyxxons? We really could have used your help at the AGO, but of course we totally understand. Here’s what happened…  Early in the morning, we got a call from the AGO, reporting that there was some strange activity being reported around their young learner commons. Some strange rock-like materials had been found, and it appeared that someone or something had been in the space, looking for something. We searched and searched, but other than a few strange messages printed out and written in a language we were unable to decipher, we were unable to find anything. Now, as you are well aware, sometimes adult eyes are the problem, so we asked a group of young Earthlings for their help, as their eyes often see things ours don’t. They searched the scene and were able to find a number of strange artifacts. After some series investigation, the young Earthlings figured out that an alien spaceship must have crashed somewhere nearby and that these were parts from the ship.

Duffy: It sounds like you and your team of intergalactic mystery-solvers had a blast. Here’s the question of the hour: what was the alien looking for?

Joe: Funny you asked!  We were lucky enough to have a few young Earthlings in the group who could read the strange language. They translated the messages and revealed that the alien was here looking for new energy sources for its home planet called Zero. From there, our team of young Earthlings wrote a story to help explain to others what happened, and then created a number of art projects to spread the word and help the alien find what it was looking for. They made buttons, booklets, posters and alien ships in a jar.

Duffy: We call this program ‘galaxy-famous’. As someone who has successfully traversed the Milky Way (despite being lactose intolerant), I agree with that statement. Could you explain what makes programs like An Alien Has Landed so unique?

Joe: As I said before, young Earthlings are able to see things adults can’t. They just need to be given the opportunity. Being able to take part in an experiential project where they are immersed in the mystery allows them to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways, making connections and applying prior knowledge to the investigation. It’s also a lot of fun. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend their Saturday afternoon looking into alien activity?

Duffy: One of the most inspiring aspects of Earth is that volunteerism is thriving. How are events like these exciting opportunities for not only kids and youth, but volunteers as well?

Joe: These events couldn’t happen without our volunteers. They are so vital to the success of the project, ensuring every young Earthling on our team gets the attention and assistance they need. Events like these are a lot of fun. Not just in terms of setting the scene for the adventure, but in being able to see how excited young people get when they’re invited into this strange and exciting world of mystery. It’s an experience that really does last an intergalactic lifetime.

Thanks for hosting such a fantastic event, Joe! 

Introducing Duffy the Alien

Story Planet is thrilled to officially introduce Duffy the Alien to all of our fellow travellers, storymakers, and friends. If you’ve ever visited the ITA, you may have seen Duffy lurking behind the portal door, taking a nap on a bench, or even siphoning a cup of Black Hole Brew (but only when it thought you weren’t looking). Duffy may be a new face for some, but like a Federation starship’s warp core, it was actually the driving force behind Story Planet and the ITA.

In a gripping tale involving an out-of-control spaceship and a passionate hunger for an enormous space squid eyeball, Duffy hurtled through the Earth’s atmosphere from its home planet Plutonia PS9, and crash-landed at the corner of Bloor and Dufferin. It named itself after the first sign it saw – a street sign for ‘Dufferin’ – and a little offended by Canada’s frigid climes, sought shelter in an empty office space located at 1165 Bloor Street West.

Much like the ITA we support today, Duffy invented the ITA to create an intergalactic travel hub here on Earth. It was a place where aliens many parsecs from home could recharge and grab a couple of souvenirs before beaming up and blasting off. And because the local children thought Duffy was interesting, they started gathering there to share tales, write stories, and create artwork about their travels. These are the values to which Story Planet remains committed, under the leadership of its Alien Chieftess, Liz. (According to Plutonian record, Liz’s coronation was so beautiful even the most poker-faced of alien species wept.)

Now, Duffy has decided the time and space has arrived for it to directly interact with our community. Communicating via the Space Blog, it will discuss its Earthly explorations, particularly liaising with our generous partners to help us get a sense of what community engagement on our planet is all about.

Check back soon for some stellar interviews about the people who help keep Story Planet in orbit.