Message Makers: From brand-building to clever campaigns, creatives talk projects & trends

What’s in a tagline, a logo design or billboard campaign? A lot of brainstorming, probably a few bad ideas and maybe even some late nights. But ultimately, all of that creative work ends in slick slogans, eye-catching graphics and memorable messaging.

For companies and non-profits that engage an outside advertising agency to craft a public identity, develop a strategic marketing plan or design a social media presence, these can be dollars very well spent.

The TCBN checked in with the leaders of Traverse City agencies offering marketing guidance, advertising expertise and communication strategy to a range of clients in size, reach and industry. Take a look at what they are up to, and see examples of their work from the last year below.


Jennifer Lake, owner

Top three services: Brand development (messaging and visuals); identity design and development (logo, naming, identity materials); nonprofit campaign creative (theme, communication materials)

Regional clients: The Botanic Gardens at Historic Barns Park, Charlevoix County Community Foundation, Copper Aesthetics, Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, Grand Traverse Bay YMCA, Hemming& Wealth Management, Interlochen Center for the Arts, King Orchards, Northwest Michigan Health Services Inc., Old Town Playhouse, Rotary Charities, The Children’s House & Compass Junior High, The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay

2022 highlight projects: We were thrilled to partner with Old Town Playhouse last year to revamp their brand messaging and identity. With a 60-plus-year legacy, OTP was ready to refresh their brand to capture the energy and positive impact on the community.

Offering a wide variety of opportunities for entertainment, education, personal enrichment and social connections, OTP is truly at the corner of art and culture — a place where community comes together. Through thoughtful messaging and new visual designs, we guided OTP through stages of brand development, logo design, season materials and an annual report to showcase how community theater impacts not only the cast, crew and audience members, but contributes to the vibrancy of the entire community. Using a mosaic of colors and icons, OTP’s new brand represents a place where all are welcome, and every role is vital to creating enriching experiences.

We also had the opportunity to brand the new school in downtown Traverse City, Compass Montessori Junior High. In a unique and engaged process, we created workshops with the students over 12 weeks to develop brand messaging, naming options, color palettes and logo ideas. With the input from staff, parents, students and alumni, we shaped the identity and brand for the junior high. Being able to guide the students through the process was rewarding and provided valuable insight to the end result.

New in 2023: We are seeing trends in response to the past three years of pandemic isolation. There is a strong need for human connection and for audiences to see themselves in brand communications. We see this particularly in the nonprofit realm. Annual reports and brand messages are already starting to evolve around engagement and inviting people in.

It is no longer just about what the organization does, but how you can engage with it, and why that is important to the greater community. Organizations are more intentional with their communications, and we love to see this connectedness.


Aaron Swanker, co-founder/creative director; Dan Smith, co-founder/account director 

Top three services: Innovative campaigns and branded content; social and content marketing; media and content distribution

Regional clients: Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, Vapur (reusable water bottle), Michigan Broadband Services, Neumann Law, Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association

2022 highlight project: The Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA) is a green industry trade association with members in a wide range of Michigan green industry businesses, including several in northern Michigan.

The MNLA supports its members on legislative issues, education, certifications and marketing. The MNLA engaged Flight Path Creative to address marketing and recruiting needs for its members. Through data, social listening, search analytics and other metrics, we developed branded content campaigns to build awareness and address the staffing issues. The media and content distribution drives traffic to a campaign website where visitors can learn more about the industry and directly apply for open positions the members post themselves.

New in 2023: We will continue to see growth in omni-channel marketing and technology. Brands will engage customers through multiple, integrated digital and physical touchpoints, physical locations, websites, social media, apps, etc.


Susan Wilcox Olson, owner, co-founder and president; Charlie Olson, client director 

Top three services: Public relations; media promotions; marketing services

Regional clients: TVC-Cherry Capital Airport, National Cherry Festival, GT Pie Co., Mawby Wines, Fustini’s Oils & Vinegars, Novello Health, Iron Fish Distillery, Treetops Resort, Gaylord Tourism Bureau, Great Lakes Winter Trails Council, Visit Keweenaw, several Mackinac Island businesses, including The Original Murdick’s Fudge, Doud’s Market, Sip ‘n Sail, Cottage Inn/Mackinac House, Wawashkamo Golf Club

2022 highlight project: We are particularly proud of our ongoing work with TVC CEO Kevin Klein securing and maintaining market presence in each destination. Through this initiative, we utilize traditional and digital marketing, public relations, media promotions and social media outreach. After more than a decade of hard work and in-market and airline visits, we have grown TVC’s nonstop service from three destinations to 17-plus. The growth in nonstop services to and from top destinations has shown to be an important driver of economic health for the northern Michigan region. Working in tandem with TC Tourism, our other regional CVBs and Pure Michigan has been an important part of this initiative.

New in 2023: We are seeing more marketing cooperation across northern Michigan – bringing partners together to make greater impact in important U.S. markets as well as within our region. For example, TC Tourism, Discover Northern Michigan (regional CVBs coming together) and America’s Summer Golf Capital (more than 25 premier golf courses and CVBs working together.)