Shawna Harch – Shaping Thought With Words 


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shawna harchAlthough she originally wanted to design the next artistic masterpiece, Shawna Harch ended up with her fingers on the keyboard. She thanks her mother, who spent many years as an editor, for the change of heart. According to Shawna’s business card she is a “brand creative,” but she’s never been a fan of titles.

Shawna uses words to capture complex concepts and emotions in a permanent way. Through compelling writing, she ultimately hopes to inspire change and to make a positive impact on the world – one person at a time. Raised in the tiny town of Mount Shasta, California, Shawna spent her childhood among snowboarders, hicks and hippies alike. After realizing she was ready for a bit more diversity, she traveled across some large bodies of water. A few of her favorite places include Barcelona, St. Kitts, Florence and Copenhagen.

Prior to obtaining a B.S in Journalism, Advertising from University of Oregon, Shawna was a lifeguard, swimming instructor, waitress, and marketing assistant. She even helped create the first soap product sold to benefit the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Of all her past experiences, working for Amy Daniel at Pleasant Hill Nursery (www.pleasanthillnursery.com) was the most influential in leading her to where she is today. Recently, Shawna has learned that Portland is a creative mecca, adulthood is overrated, and sometimes you have to fight for a good idea.

What are you working on right now?

As copywriter at a branding and advertising agency, I’m currently developing the brand voice for a company in the bicycle industry. It’s one of my favorite projects because it’s something I support strongly. As cities begin to accommodate bicycle commuters, people are encouraged to consider the impact they have on the environment and to make positive changes. Being a part of this shift is immensely gratifying.

After hours, I volunteer with the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network.. It’s truly one of the most exciting organizations I’ve encountered. We work to connect emerging entrepreneurs with investors (and vice-versa), and host annual events and competitions in which both seed-stage and launch-stage companies have the chance to gain visibility and funding. It’s all about fostering ideas.

In my spare time, when I’m not at the gym or enjoying happy hour in Portland, I’m writing and concepting new ideas. Lately, I’ve been focused on poetry and my own version of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. Her classic really struck a chord with me and inspired me to write what I know. The key to engaging prose is finding the balance between a unique perspective and content that’s accessible to others. No matter what I’m writing, I do it with the goal of inspiring thought and action of some kind. I think you have to take it beyond storytelling and surface-level dialogue.

3 Trends that excite you?

The level playing field in the realm of communications. With technology evolving so quickly, companies (specifically in the branding, marketing and advertising industries) are being forced to change the way they do things. This state of transition allows new competitors to gain visibility and ultimately a lot of business that might otherwise have gone to the more traditional, established shops.

The intersection of sustainability, health and food. The obesity epidemic and health care costs associated with it are a huge issue. There is tremendous opportunity to improve the way we take care of both ourselves and our environment by changing what we choose to eat. If you haven’t read “The Real Cost of Cheap Food” by Bryan Walsh (in the August issue of Time) it’s definitely worth doing.

The social divide emerging between generations as a result of technology. Even within the younger generation, I think it will be very interesting to see how digital interactions that replace in-person interactions affect the way in which we relate to one another. I tend to be old-fashioned in that I like meeting face to face, to see a person’s expression, delivery of and reaction to a conversation. I think interpreting these visual clues helps us learn about people and ourselves. That being said, I find instant information and anonymity to be extremely powerful and convenient.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I guess I begin by acting like a sponge. I observe and study the relationships between issues or topics that, at first blush, don’t seem to have any commonalities. It comes naturally to those who are inherently curious about society in general.

Translating ideas onto paper (or any medium) means being very specific with my messages. Details are the secret. Often, writers try to say too much. I go by the motto “less is more.” My copy of “Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan is invaluable to me. Anyone interested in becoming a writer should read the book. Curiosity Group (curiositygroup.com) wrote a great white paper called, “What Is Content?” that succinctly captures the essence of what I do every day.

Honestly, I have to admit that sometimes even I don’t understand how my mind works. I do know that to get to the one good idea, I have to work through a hundred mediocre or bad ones first. Three things that act as “idea catalysts” for me are reading, discussions and patience. I constantly remind myself that it’s impossible to force an idea. Give your brain time to process information – to really think through all the possibilities and angles. And of course, use your imagination. Start with no boundaries and see where it takes you. Then be mercilessly critical.

Who or what has inspired you lately?

Lee Clow’s Tweets (http://www.twitter.com/leeclowsbeard), Draplin Design (draplin.com) and JDK (www.jdk.com). My kickboxing instructor inspires me to stay balanced. As she puts it, “Exercising feels good – and it’s completely legal.”

What are three things you’d like to do in the near future?

Visit Machu Picchu, write a book and obtain a degree in business.

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