Our Voices, Our Waterfront – Kathleen Deakins

TWA members and others are talking to writer Sharon Babcock about enduring inspirations, life lessons, and perspectives from their experiences on the working waterfront. This month’s feature:  Kathleen Deakins, president of the creative marketing and strategic communications firm JayRay.

Picture of Kathleen DeakinsKathleen Deakins is a 30-year veteran of JayRay, a  Tacoma agency that works with local, regional and national clients across sectors—mainly healthcare, non-profits, government agencies, real estate developers, and diversified businesses.

Q: What is important about the organization’s history?
A: We opened our doors in Tacoma in 1970 with expertise in creative arts, business, and strategy—especially strategy. The space we occupy in the Dock Building is a significant part of who we are. Our building was once part of the historical and iconic mile-long warehouse on Tacoma’s waterfront. We considered ourselves to be urban pioneers when we moved from our space next to Ranko’s Pharmacy in the Stadium District to Foss Waterway in 1991. When we moved in, it was a sketchy place to be, before Thea’s Park, condos, the glass museum. I had a love of water in my blood from where I grew up overlooking Puget Sound. After living for a time in waterless Texas, I came back to the South Sound and to the water; I was home.

Q: What is the thrust of the work?
A: We are a team of spirited professionals who believe in creativity with a purpose and a plan, integrating the variety and range of internal communications, marketing, advertising, and public relations strategies for our clients. We first ask what they are trying to accomplish and then help them get there.

Q: The JayRay tagline is “A Place to Think.” What does that mean?
A: We find many people in their hectic jobs and lives don’t have time to think. We offer our space and ourselves as thought partners to counteract this time poverty.

Q: How does this time to think happen?
A: Sometimes we meet one on one with a client; sometimes we come together as a group to brainstorm, consider and debate. We have 14 professionals on our team, with different skills and perspectives that we combine to explore possibilities.

Q: Your group at JayRay did the work on the current “Live Like the Mountain is Out” campaign that we see in local print, stenciled in chalk on sidewalks from Tacoma to Puyallup, on light-filled boxes around the South Sound, and in social media. How did that come about?
A: South Sound Together, a local group of about 20 businesses, universities, community organizations and others, chose us to brand Pierce County. We reviewed plans and research from many of them—including the City of Tacoma, Pierce County, the City of Fife, Metro Parks, and the Port of Tacoma. We facilitated a branding committee appointed by the South Sound Together board and gathered and evaluated additional input. The committee was our partner in evaluating options and gaining approval from the South Sound Together board over the yearlong project.

The JayRay team distilled the essence of the region in the South Sound Proud name, messaging and mountain logo, and the Live Like the Mountain is Out campaign. We launched the campaign in March, without identifying the sponsor, in a stealth effort that included sidewalk chalking, a 28-foot banner on the crane at Point Defiance, an Instagram account and guerilla art projects by partners from the creative community across the county.

We followed that with a rolling billboard on the back of a truck, digital and print ads, coffee sleeves in local shops, a Snapchat filter, a Facebook page and tweets. We created a brand guide and toolkit with downloadable graphics so anyone can use the materials. And this summer our street team is at local fairs and festivals in the Live Like the Mountain is Out booth giving away prizes and spreading the South Sound Proud spirit.

Q: What is the intent of this group?
A: South Sound Together seeks to promote Pierce County as a great place to live and work. JayRay’s charge was to capture the emotional and intellectual energy that enlivens the spirit of the region, proclaiming its confident authenticity as individuals and as a community by developing the name, brand and launch campaign.

Q: What does “Live Like the Mountain is Out” capture about Tacoma and the surrounding South Sound region?
A: The maker spirit (from artists, musicians, writers, storytellers, builders) that is here, the lack of pretense, the history of doing things with our hands, an authenticity, and a certain optimism.

Q: Is the effort mostly about jobs?
A: Yes, but not exclusively. It is also about creating fulfilling lives and healthy lifestyles for those who live here. It includes enjoying beauty and self-expression, supporting a family, and education.

Q: What did you learn in the process?
A: We learned that you’re not able to understand the spirit and essence of Tacoma with statistics; that rather than focus on what we are not, we need to highlight what we have—adventure, even grandeur. We learned that our waterfront is a significant regional asset.

Q: How will you measure the success of the campaign?
A: The campaign is intentionally designed to lift spirits, to build pride, and not to be measured in the typical way with metrics. That’s what is important to South Sound Together.

Q: What encourages you about Tacoma?
A: There is tremendous vibrant and creative energy here with entrepreneurs exercising their self-expression. A good example of this is the Spaceworks Collaborative which showcases and develops opportunities for underserved small businesses, adding exciting art and cultural activities to the community. If people are not in this atmosphere or not active on social media, they may not notice this surge.

Q: What opportunities do you envision for Tacoma and its waterfront in the future?
A: I’d like to see people broaden their perspective about development and think more critically about our future. Our community is troubled by divisiveness when we most need openness, civil discourse and collaboration. Things are uniquely interconnected here. We have the opportunity to be an even more special place, and we are the right size for a constructive community conversation.

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