Has it Been 15 Years?

Our team had an ideation session recently to think through our yearly holiday mailer. During the process, it dawned on me that our business has been around for 15 years. Fifteen years! That’s hard to believe. As I sat there with some of my team, who 15 years ago would not be found in a meeting but more like a middle or elementary school classroom, I began to wrap my head around the evolution of thinkPARALLAX and the world as it relates to what we do.

We currently define ourselves as a branding and communications agency focused on amplifying impact. And when I do the math, I realize that we have actually rebranded ourselves at least five times since our inception. Parallax Visual Communication started as a humble graphic design firm operating out of our garage in 2003. Three years later as the digital space was starting to boom, we morphed into Parallax Branding & Interactive. Around that time we realized that all of the projects we had been taking on had a common thread: focusing on the greater good. So we rebranded ourselves as a communications agency with exactly that focus. Then after a brief time, we streamlined that focus to sustainability.

Which brings us to now. thinkPARALLAX has grown into a branding and communications agency that gives meaning and voice to brands’ sustainability, social impact, and citizenship initiatives. We are on a mission to better the world by articulating and amplifying our clients’ impact.

As the business has changed, so has the skillsets of the people on our team. If I’d told myself back in 2003 that Parallax Visual Communication would be developing communication strategies and messaging for Fortune 100 companies and at times not even being responsible for design work, I honestly wouldn’t have believed it. How we market ourselves has become more sophisticated as well. Our original postcard mailers and trade show booths are a thing of the past. Now, thought leadership and content marketing drive new business. Marketing is always changing and agencies have to keep pace to stay relevant.

Like any business, we’ve weathered a recession and our share of ups and downs. There’s a level of risk and uncertainty inherent in owning a business and I don’t think that stress (or excitement, if you see it that way) ever disappears. For this reason, it is essential to prepare financially and strategically, both internally and with our clients, for whatever the future holds.

But on a lighter note, as I look back over the past 15 years, a few laughs come to mind when thinking about just how much the world and our business has changed:

  • Our first ever project was an event invitation for one of the Big 4 accounting firms. I was ecstatic to bill $600 for the project!
  • Tucked away in storage are binders full of CDs, DVD’s, and a box of hard drives — all of which house old files and client work. A stark contrast to now, where everything lives on the Cloud, and we get annoyed when it takes more than five seconds to access a file.
  • We used to build shopping carts and intranets from scratch. Today there are about 20 off-the-shelf options, from Workplace to Shopify, that allow anyone to plug-and-play in almost minutes.
  • Working from home wasn’t really an option, but now we telecommute Wednesdays and Fridays, and several of our employees work entirely remotely, all in an effort to help reduce our carbon footprint.
  • Virtual meetings have become the norm, file sharing programs eliminate the need for a call, and when we do meet, it’s often in a coffee shop or co-working space.
  • “Purpose” and “sustainability” barely existed in 2003, but now you can’t go ten minutes without hearing about a product made with recycled materials, a brand taking a stand, or the innovative corporate culture of some company.

Needless to say, we are living in a new, transparent world moving at light speed, with technology connecting and pushing us forward. Global issues such as climate change, poverty, inequality, and hunger have moved to the forefront as our population and awareness increase. And more and more, consumers are demanding transparency. All of this requires a new level of corporate responsibility and communication that focus on the impact on people, communities, and the environment.

As the world and our business evolve, I feel fortunate that we’ve been able to create our niche: helping companies tell their stories of the positive impacts they are making in the world. While our business could have become a digital marketing agency building out sites to sell products and focused on conversions (and I’d probably be living closer to the beach), I’m grateful that we have focused on enabling companies to amplify their impact.

Reflecting over the past 15 years has me thinking about the future, as any business owner should. When future-proofing our business, how will the world change 15 years from now… and how will our business evolve with it?

12 Gives in 12 Days

As 2018 comes to an end, we at thinkPARALLAX look to celebrate another successful year with our team, give thanks to our extended family, and show our support to certain organizations we resonate with by donating to their causes. That said, there are numerous ways to donate, including grants, cash, employee matching, sponsorships, etc. We preach to our clients, that regardless of the vehicle, to make sure that the causes or organizations you choose to support align with your business.

Patagonia’s CEO recently shared that the company plans to donate the $10 million dollars it saved from the recent tax cuts to various nonprofits that are aimed at protecting the planet. This move both aligns with Patagonia’s business strategy and matches the values of the company. Since Patagonia’s inception, founder, Yvon Chouinard and company have been focused on making environmentally-friendly products, while also putting in the time, energy, and cash to not just raise awareness on environmental issues but to create change. About 10 years ago, I was part of a protest that Patagonia and the Surfrider Foundation organized that kept a toll road from being built that would have destroyed a historical beach in Southern California. Be it through donations, making eco-friendly products, or organizing a protest to save a legendary surf break, Patagonia’s actions clearly align with its values and business strategy.

Along those lines, but not quite as grandeur, this year we launched our 12 Gives in 12 Days campaign where we gave 12 organizations $1,000 each over the course of 12 days. Our employees chose organizations that align both with our business and specifically with the skills each person needs to be successful at their job. I invite you to follow along on our social media channels to see which organizations our employees chose to support. The organizations are also listed below.  From myself and the entire thinkPARALLAX team, we hope you have a great holiday and a Happy New Year! 

Ireland Heritage Trip – Shannon’s PARALLAXploration

As a sun-chaser and crowd-hater, my travels have almost always taken me to far-flung tropical islands or warm, secluded getaways. But in June, I found myself bundled up in a Patagonia fleece and rain boots, gazing over the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland, surrounded by tourists and shivering from head to toe. Drenched in rain, my mind drifted to the deserted beaches of Barbados, and I asked myself why I had chosen Ireland — a country not exactly known for its sunny weather — for my PARALLAXploration. At that moment, the sun peeked its rays through the grey clouds, illuminating the majestic cliffs, and a feeling of gratitude quickly replaced any lingering thoughts of regret. Ireland is sublimely beautiful, but it’s more than the lush green landscape that left a lasting impression on me.

In case you can’t tell by my first name, I come from an Irish family — my great-grandmother immigrated from Ireland to the States in the 1920s. As such, I have always had a strong desire to visit the Emerald Isle to connect with my Irish roots. My intention for my PARALLAXploration was to gain a deeper understanding of my ancestral identity and make it a bigger part of my story moving forward.

I started in Dublin where I got the chance to meet a handful of distant relatives, volunteered at a seal rescue in County Wexford to fulfill the “social good” element of my trip, then headed west to explore County Clare and Galway. From there, I rented a car and drove to Achill Island, one of Ireland’s most remote places, for the main purpose of my trip: tracking down the home where my great grandmother was raised.

Achill Island is a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland, accessible from the mainland by a small bridge. The island is known as the gem of County Mayo, which is a haven for outdoor adventure seekers. People escape to Achill to surf, bike, hike, dive, or just hang out at the beach. I was told that less than 1,000 people live on the island full-time (there are far more sheep than people), although it’s a popular vacation spot for the Irish in the late summer. The island is so small that they don’t even have a police station — they “share” police with a nearby town so officers are only on the island one or two days a week.

The moment I drove over the bridge, I was awestruck by the indescribable beauty of Achill Island. When most people think of Ireland, they think of the lush green countryside, but the dominant hue of the island was blue — from the intoxicating azure ocean to the shadowy lapis hills towering in the distance. The coast was dotted with endless stretches of beach, where a handful of surfers braved the ice cold Atlantic. I immediately sensed a friendly, laid-back island vibe that was understated and somewhat untamed. A stark contrast to everywhere else I had visited in Ireland, the landscape was distinctively empty — it was rare to see another car on the road or person on the beach and I was actually the only guest in the entire hotel for part of my stay. However, there was definitely no shortage of sheep — I often had to stop for them to cross the road (an Achill traffic jam). As I drove aimlessly around the island, suddenly my affinity for the ocean and distaste for big cities made sense, as it is ingrained in my DNA.

Because all the road signs were in Celtic and cell service was nonexistent, I spent a lot of time being lost on the island, but I did manage to find the mythical Keem Bay, a white sand beach sheltered between two cliffs. The bay is only accessible by a narrow road with a steep cliff edge, but when you get there it’s like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. With dreamy turquoise water, it could have very well been a beach in the Mediterranean, if it weren’t for all the sheep. There wasn’t a soul on the beach the entire time I was there and I found peace in the solitude.

After getting acquainted with Achill, it was time to find my great-grandmother’s house. The only clue I had to finding it was a photo my mom took in the 70s and this map provided by my great aunt:

I had dedicated an entire day to finding the house, anticipating that it would not be an easy task, so you can imagine my disbelief when I had been on the island for less than three hours and stumbled upon it — completely by chance. Driving alongside the Wild Atlantic Way, I noticed a cottage in the distance that looked similar to the photo my mom gave me. As I turned down the dirt driveway towards the house, I got goosebumps because I knew it was the one. Shooing a herd of sheep away, I stepped out of the car and stood before the exact house from my mom’s photo, except that the undressed stone was a bit more crumbled and the landscaping was a bit more overgrown. It was difficult to imagine an entire family living in the tiny, disheveled cottage. It didn’t even have any windows, because an old Irish window tax mandated that homeowners pay a flat rate for every window in their home (luckily this tax was abolished in the mid 1800s). Although the old house looked as though it was barely standing, its walls undoubtedly held a million memories, and that is what made it beautiful.

This moment was so surreal it almost brought me to tears. I was standing where my great-grandmother had spent her childhood, seeing the same amazing ocean view that had provided the backdrop for her upbringing. I could picture her running home from the local schoolhouse, warming up by the fire during Ireland’s dark winter months, and playing in the Atlantic ocean which was just steps from her front door. I wondered what she would think if she knew that many generations later, her great-granddaughter would make the 5,000-mile trek from California to see where she had lived.

But as magical as this moment was, it was a bit anticlimactic. I had assumed that this ancestral house was the link I needed to connect with my Irish roots, that finding it would provide me the ‘ah ha’ moment I was looking for — but I was so wrong. As I drove away, I thought to myself, now what? Was my life forever changed? Did I suddenly gain this deep connection with Ireland? Not necessarily.

It wasn’t until later that night, while I shared a pint of Guinness with some new Irish friends, that I had a revelation. Getting in touch with your roots isn’t just about finding an ancestral home, or even long-lost family members — it’s so much more than that. It’s about experiencing a country and forming a deep, personal connection with the culture at-large. For me, it was getting lost in the streets of Dublin, jamming out to Irish music at the iconic Temple Bar, dodging sheep as I drove through the countryside, learning Irish slang over a glass of Irish whiskey, watching a game of curling with my mom’s second cousin, hearing stories about basking shark hunting from a salty old fisherman, and being taught the proper way to pour a Guinness at Pattens Pub, my great uncle’s old watering hole. It was all the incredibly kind, welcoming, and hilariously sarcastic Irish people who reminded not to take life too seriously. Above all, it was the palpable sense of belonging I felt the entire time I was there.

I am so grateful that PARALLAXploration gave me the opportunity to fall in love with a culture that has played such a large role in shaping my family history, and ultimately who I am today.

Lovely Hanoi: Where Old & New Collide: Pat’s PARALLAXploration


As a first-timer to Asia, Hanoi seemed the perfect pick for my PARALLAXploration: manageable, not overly-touristy, and with a rich culture and history. For four days I immersed myself in this chaotic yet charming capital, with its tree-lined streets and French colonial architecture. The streets of Hanoi are sensory overload –  colorful shops, flowers, and lanterns everywhere, the ubiquitous low plastic bright blue stools that clutter the sidewalks outside storefronts and pubs, non-stop beep-beeps from countless scooters clogging the streets from every direction, and delicious smells wafting from street vendors’ tiny makeshift grills. Old and new collide everywhere. It’s common to see a rural woman in traditional clothing and the classic conical hat selling fruit or vegetables from her bike, right smack in front of a hipster coffee bar or swanky spa. High-rise office buildings inone neighborhood compete with temples dating back almost a 1,000 years in another — tradition and history still have a grip thankfully.

My first morning I woke up quite early expecting to find deserted streets as I went on a search for coffee at 6am. As I approached the renowned Hoan Kiem Lake, I noticed the street had been blocked off. I turned the corner to see literally hundreds of Hanoians of all ages taking part in various dance, tai chi, or exercise groups. This went on for blocks – group after group, some in matching uniforms, doing everything from line dances (yes, the Macarena is alive and well in Hanoi), to hip-hop aerobics, ballroom dancing, or Vietnamese Zumba right there in the street, at the crack of dawn. I later learned this is a daily occurrence from 6:00 to 7:00am sharp, as Hanoians are a very disciplined bunch. Once the clock strikes seven, roadblocks are removed, and the nonstop scooter insanity ensues for the day.

My days in Hanoi were spent visiting the Ethnology Museum and the Women’s Museum, eating amazingly fresh (and cheap) food, and spending countless hours walking the Old Quarter, where each of the 36 streets is dedicated to a specific trade or product. I spent a day with 20-year-old An from Hanoi Kids, a student-run organization that offers tours to English-speaking visitors in exchange for practicing their English. An gave me a fascinating glimpse of the city from a young woman’s eyes and a real window into Vietnamese life and culture, still very patriarchal, old-fashioned and full of traditions and beliefs.

I spent two nights on an eight-cabin junk boat cruise of Ha Long Bay, a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site about three hours from Hanoi with dramatic limestone karsts jutting out of emerald green water. This was a nice departure from the bustle of the city. I toured caves and a pearl farm, hiked, kayaked, and visited one of the remaining working floating fishing villages which completely blew me away.

My six-day PARALLAXploration flew by, but this part of the world left an indelible mark on my heart – not simply because of its stunning natural beauty, mouthwatering cuisine, or rich history and traditions  – but because of its people. No matter what social strata, Hanoians seem to have a good outlook on life. Life is simpler and slower-paced, and the focus is on family and friends.

As a solo female traveler, I thought I’d be on edge in Southeast Asia. Reality: I felt safer there than I do in my urban San Diego neighborhood. The Hanoians I came across were a respectful and incredibly kind bunch. On my last day, a front desk person at my hotel noticed I was limping from a slight ankle sprain the night before. She insisted on walking with me (slowly) several blocks to the nearest pharmacy so she could translate and make sure I got proper medication. That was a typical gesture.

Overall, my PARALLAXploration was a bit of a reset for me personally – a reminder to slow down, really see things, and appreciate, even consider, a different outlook or way of doing things. That’s the cool thing about travel – nothing breaks down intellectual barriers and preconceived notions faster than being in a new place or culture. But perhaps most important of all, my time in Hanoi was a reminder that now more than ever, a little civility and gratitude go a long way.