Drupal – Steep Learning Curve

What is Drupal, you ask? It is one of the top open source content management systems, right up there with WordPress and Joomla. Drupal is a CMS with a reputation for being notoriously hard to learn, even for seasoned web developers. Part of the issue many have is that the documentation and support rely entirely on the development community; hence open source. Often times seeking out a solution to a specific problem can take a lot of time. Oh, and don’t forget which version of Drupal you’re running, as that answer may not apply to your version of Drupal, and so the search continues. Lynda.com’s Essential Drupal Training and Advanced Drupal Training courses provide a 15 hour or so crash course to get you up and running with Drupal. These courses take you through run-of-the-mill Drupal scenarios such as installation, adding modules, adding/editing blocks and content types and so on.

At the end of the courses you will be ready to launch a fully functioning Drupal site, using free or purchased themes. But that just won’t cut it. The project was to develop a custom Drupal-integrated website for The Ambassador Health System, and for me that translated to double the development time. You see, as a beginning ‘Drupaler,’ trying to combine learning Drupal with developing the front-end using CSS was potentially a recipe for disaster. With the goal in mind, we split the project into two parts, with Part I being the front-end development of The Ambassador’s site in HTML/CSS/jQuery, and Part II the back-end Drupal integration. As you can see from the Drupal Learning Curve Diagram below, those who feel comfortable with non-Drupal content management systems have another thing coming.

Steep Learning Curve

Part I: Some Fresh Hope was a pretty straightforward process of applying styles to fit the design. Working with new CSS3 banners, web-fonts and Javascript to bring the design to life in the way only a computer monitor could (slow clap). With the front-end in place we could now bring on the Drupal. Harkening back to my days with Lynda.com, we had Drupal up and running in no time.

Part II: Drupal Strikes Back was now in full force as the marriage of The Ambassador Health System’s front-end development was combined with Drupal’s Core. The next phase was swapping out the Drupal template “Bartik” with the custom Ambassador Health System theme.

The Bartik Theme

With the new theme in place it was time to start adding content, sixty pages of content. We gave each category or service on the site its own sub-template, with different colors and banner images that provide a distinct feel for each division of the site. We took many of the images used on the site from our previous video shoots in Omaha, Lincoln and Nebraska City.With the content in place it was time to go live.

I wish I could say it went off without a hitch but, as I came to find out, transferring the Drupal database is anything but rudimentary. With a little patience (both from the client and us) we had brought the site live! Our last step was to host the client at our office for individual training on using Drupal’s interface, adding/editing content and performing other tasks on their site. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project, as it brought so many challenges that provided a great learning experience and were a joy to overcome. Going into this project I knew that the Drupal Learning Curve demanded respect. With patience and persistence we were able to make something eloquent and unique. Enjoy the screenshots of the before and after, and visit the new site by clicking here – The Ambassador Health System.

The Previous Homepage
The New Homepage
Previous Interior Page Example
New Interior Page Example
Previous Location Page
New Location Page

Tasty Email Marketing to Feed the Soul

I love cooking and eating really amazing recipes. Nothing hits home like a wonderfully crafted meal shared with friends and family. In this same context I want to share my thoughts and passions about a really well designed HTML email campaign. Both require great attention to detail and are considered  art forms. Just as a great dish can be defined by it’s fresh ingredients and care in preparation, the same can be said for a well prepared HTML email campaign. With the right graphics, the right content and the right execution you can inspire excitement, drive traffic and generate leads.

We help our clients cook up some tasty HTML emails as part of their marketing strategy. The use of HTML over traditional email means you can entice your customers or leads by branding your message with the same yummy flavor that you do with your other media, drastically increasing click throughs to your website. In turn you will also be able to track targeted data that you can use to blend and perfect a long term drip campaign specifically formulated to drive sales.

HTML Email is extremely cost effective and offers excellent return on investment (ROI) allowing you to change up your message quickly responding to market changes, your latest company tid bits or goods before anyone else reaches your competitors.

This new capability being offered by Local Hero has me really jazzed, because I’ve been able to see first-hand some amazing results. Again, it’s not just another email, it’s a beautifully hand crafted design that carries a targeted message that transcends the senses and gets the reader to the table. This sort of attention to detail has proven, in a very short amount of time, to be just the thing to help our clients stand out in a crowded free market.

Here are some examples of successful campaigns we whipped up for our clients resulting in improved click through and lead generating recipes.

Xcellience – CML Event Promotion
Local Hero designed some beautifully brand HTML emails that carried the messaging in a cleaner and more palatable way. The new templates offered the reader access to alternative media through embedded videos and links to clinical research papers. The results were undeniable.

The open rate was 21.54%. The total click through rate was 61.54%
Total open rate was a 20% increase over previously non branded HTML email blasts.

Aspen Heights – AntiApartment Campaign
We took existing branding and mixed in a little fresh flavor that included graphic links to sign up for additional information, an invitation to LEARN MORE and the opportunity to watch some videos. Again the result exceeded expectations.

The Open rate was 46.15%. The total click through rate was 25.87%
Total click through rate was a 22% increase over previously non branded HTML email blasts.

There is no better time than right now to start serving up HTML emails to satisfiy your marketing hunger. Local Hero’s design connoisseurs will masterfully create tempting engaging  custom HTML emails that really hit the spot with your target audience. It sure beats what stale, old canned templates deliver.

Celebrating 4 Years. Part 3: Ephemera & Accoutrements

Of course I could’t talk about the culture of Local Hero without referencing the items we’ve chosen to inhabit this space with us.

Building The Hero: It’s all in the name

Not very many people realize this, but Local Hero wasn’t the original name for this business. Nope. The original name was far different. In fact the paperwork to register the company under another name was already filled out. A web domain was already purchased and emails already set up. I even had business cards and letterhead ready to go to press. Then I thought about it for awhile and realized the original name wasn’t a very good representation of what I wanted this company to be. It was fine. Even unique. Very designerly. But not true to the aspirations I had for this place.

Ideas come from many places. I can’t keep track of all the crazy things that pop into my head or the time and place they appear. But my mind is always sparking. I do, however, remember how Local Hero manifested itself. I was reading an article online about a man who had recently died. He was respected by many in the community. He wasn’t flashy and he didn’t make a lot of money. But he always went above and beyond what was expected of him. That man was labeled a Local Hero.

I really liked the sound of Local Hero. The idea of doing uncommon things from common resources resonated with me. My time working on farms and in oilfields taught me to be resourceful in difficult situations and that can-do attitude has been carried with me ever since. Is it true with advertising and design? You bet. In the past four years I’ve worked with fantastic creators to build unexpected ideas that were able to exceed clients expectations–time and time again.

The name connects with clients and potential clients. I’ve got a complete understanding of what the name means to me. I’m passionate about it. The name becomes a point of interest in a conversation. Prospective clients hear me talk about it and respond with, “Wow. I really like the sound of that.” Rather than “that’s cute” or “how clever.” It carries respect.

People within our industry identify with the name. Folks that work in the office. Ex-employees and designers who have never worked here. I’ve never been with an agency that had it’s name so enthusiastically supported and defended as this one. They all believe in the concept of the Local Hero.

The name also carried an indie charm about it. By design, the company isn’t built to work the same ways the larger agencies function. I’ve learned a lot of useful strategies from my time at the larger agencies. But I’ve also learned that great, unexpected things can be found outside traditional conventions. I’m a maverick and I’m in charge of my own destiny. I don’t have multi-million dollar contracts to fall back on if something doesn’t work out. I have to be able to adapt to incredible pressure and changes on a daily basis.

Local Hero has become far more than just the name of an independent advertising and design shop. It’s become a badge of honor. A title earned through daily struggle and accomplishment.

Celebrating 4 Years. Part 2: The Interns

You can learn a lot about yourself by taking in an intern. I know I have. I learned how to manage people. I learned how to set expectations. I learned how to deal with difficult personalities and how to handle difficult situations that said interns put me in. I also learned to enjoy new things. I learned that it’s OK to trust people to do good work. But I’ve also learned that I need to be judicious with my trust as well.

You can also learn a lot about your company culture with how interns interact, adapt or influence day to day activity of the office. I’ve learned that our office is a dynamic environment that inspires creativity in some people. But it can prove to be an intimidating environment to folks still in school. We like to have a good time, but it’s going to take more than a portfolio full of class projects to catch the attention of Peter Worth–he’s a tough critic to win over. Some interns put in their time trying to look busy while doing the least possible amount of work necessary. However, other interns maximized every opportunity given to them–or even created their own opportunities. They are easy to spot: they are the ones looking for new ways to use design across all forms of media. They are the ones challenging standards of advertising and design. Some of these folks are still working with us and a few have taken their new found talents to a couple of Nebraska’s biggest agencies.

We’ve had fun with our interns and we’d like to think they had a good time in the office as well. We’ve had them involved in a wide variety of activities. They’ve moved furniture into LHD 1.0. They’ve painted walls. They survived Taco Apocalypse 2011. They sticker bombed downtown Lincoln. They’ve built furniture out of recycled office equipment. They’ve been the subject of many amusing videos. They tasted incredibly hot peppers. They’ve taken part in a performance at the Community Playhouse. They’ve been put into the octagon in Pershing Auditorium to defend their honor against other interns. They attended wine tastings. They’ve played badminton with our clients. They set the standard for papusa digestion. They learned how to make microbrew beer. They delivered lemonade to businesses during the summer. They defended beer at Klein’s Corner. They helped us build a wall of refillable cups from the local U-Stop. They kept Peter Morris out of trouble on his 40th birthday. They wore a giant, foam cup costume. They were treated to a lot of cheap Runzas and pizza. They worked on real client projects. They won awards. Most of all, they learned to be critical thinkers and creative professionals.

Building The Hero: Introduction

I’m often asked what it is like building my own business and running my own creative shop. The simple answer is: It’s damn hard. But it’s also a very rewarding experience as well. In an effort to shed some light on the subject, I’m creating a series of posts called: Building The Hero.

First of all, there are many different ways that new creative shops are started. Sometimes it’s a matter of working for an agency and poaching clients on your way out the door to have a solid stream of revenue from the get go. Then there’s the option to bring on investors for start up capital. Then there’s how I got started: Open the doors with no clients and nothing to bank on but my reputation and my relationships in the community. Each of these strategies can prove to have positives and negatives associated with them. Poach clients and you risk hurting your reputation in an industry where everyone knows everyone. Take on investors and any concept of being in charge of your own destiny is no longer. You become accountable to those investors and their timelines. The third way means a very slow build, a lot of re-investment into the company and any real success or failure is directly associated with your efforts.

This has been a very difficult road to travel. Nothing has been given to me and any business I’ve done or will land in the future has been dependent upon my relationships or the creation of new leads. But it suits my personality well. I’m a scrapper and I love a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I get down. And sometimes I need to take a day off to collect my thoughts, dust myself off and get back into the ring for a few more rounds. Once I’m back into my groove, I’m a force to be reckoned with once again.

See there are many reasons this company continues to grow. One of those reasons? I have had such a devotion to the craft over the course of my career that my reputation for creating smart ideas at such high standards has opened a lot of doors for me. I offered my talents up to the advertising gods, and they in turn have responded with awards and success.

But it’s not just my reputation. In addition to applying my talents, I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet great people to help me build my own network of potential clients. These relationships don’t stop at introductions and handshakes. They go far beyond. True success with networking extends to being a kind and decent human. I’ve had many opportunities to be an unscrupulous bastard. I could have easily taken advantage of clients, vendors or even co-workers. But I’ve chosen to take the high road. Sometimes it means a blow to my ego. Sometimes it means a blow to my wallet. But at the end of the day and the end of my days, I want to be at peace knowing that I put forth an honest effort and that I gained the respect of my clients and peers.

Celebrating 4 Years. Part 1: The Music

We’re closing in on the end of our fourth year in business. So as a way to acknowledge this milestone, I’m pulling some stats and putting together a series of posts celebrating the unique culture that is Local Hero Design. This first post is centered around the peculiar songs that have become part of the fabric of the work environment. The stories behind how each of these songs came to be is as varied as the people we’ve had working here. But be certain, this playlist is uniquely Local Hero.

Being a Local Hero

Three weeks ago today, I walked over to the office of Local Hero Design, fresh (read: jetlagged) from an adventure in Japan. I like to tell people I was shaking from the excitement of beginning the job, but more likely it was the gratuitous amounts of caffeine in my system to fight the change in timezones. Either way, the excitement was there, and I was anxious to begin my newest adventure as an intern.

Upon my arrival, Jereme, Peter, and Lance gave me my first project: helping move furniture and make a space for yours truly (and organize a stack of magazines while the computer was set up).  While my strength is about that of an ant on a scale of dust mite to 10,000 gorillas, I did what I could to help, and an intern space was made with the sacrifice of one of Jereme’s desks. Soon enough, they had me working on projects for both Local Hero and its clients, spanning across categories of social media management, static and web designs, animation, and video editing. Not only am I polishing skills I already had, but I’m also learning all sorts of new skills that I might not have had the resources (or motivation) to learn on my own.

Now, three weeks in, I’ve settled in to the community here. I love coming to work in the LaBelle building every day, despite its ability to make the indoor temperature surpass that of the summer air outside. I also dig the small size of the office, where we can all see what everyone’s working on and give input/be a part of whatever project comes through the office. Best of all, I’m growing a lot and looking forward to the weeks to come.

Oh, and my coworkers are pretty cool too, I guess.

Giving Birth to Hakeem Olajuwon








I purchased this 1970’s Schwinn road bike on Craigslist recently. The seller put brand new tires and tubes on it, every other part was original and in pretty great great shape, considering it’s 40 years old. I got a hell of a deal and thought I would save some money on gas while it’s nice out. There are bike paths almost the entire way to Local Hero, which makes for a relatively quick ride.

The first couple days of riding went great, aside from the excessive amount of back sweat accumulated. The third day I’m riding, I get 2 blocks from Local Hero and start feeling every bump in the road. I looked down to see my tire was flat. I checked out the tired and see the tip of a nail. So the bike sits at the office for a few days and I come back over the weekend with my roommate, Jarzynka, and we go to pull the nail out and it was like giving birth to Hakeem Olajuwon. The damn thing was never-ending.