Events Speaker Speaker Series Students

2023 Spotlight Speaker: Nihilo

As part of the 2023-2024 Spotlight Speaker series, AAF Buffalo was glad to welcome the creators of branding agency Nihilo, Emunah Winer and Margaret Kerr-Jarrett.

At Nihilo, Emunah and Margaret work with first-to-market and founder-led companies to build a unique and creative identity using their expertise across brand strategy and visual and verbal brand identities. 

Some of the key takeaways:

  • The principle of “creatio ex-nihilo” – creating something from nothing – is a challenging standard to live up to in today’s world. Giving yourself space to imagine bigger, to allow an idea that challenges preconceived standards to enter the picture, is worth pursuing. And they have found a great niche with Nihilo serving many first-to-market and founder-led companies seeking a unique brand identity to grow from.
  • Emunah and Margaret showcased several projects where they told stories through the lens of the hero’s journey. Not just advertising a product or service, but putting their target customer front and center, telling their story – and how the product or service makes an impact for them.
  • Respect your customers enough to know that they’ll “get it.” You don’t always have to spell out exactly everything you do. Honor the people who you’re for. They’ll understand the stories and the messaging you’re communicating and the value within that advertising.
  • Taking your work seriously doesn’t always mean making serious work – like the illustration for Giggly tonics pictured below, featuring a wonderful unicorn named Goldy.

Thanks to Emunah and Margaret for making the trek to Buffalo to join us, and thank you to our sponsor Crowley Webb as well as all in attendance who joined for this inspiring conversation.

AdWeek Events Social Media Speaker Speaker Series


The prominence of social media has not only altered the way in which we communicate personally, it has reshaped the information we consume, distorted emotional responses, and manipulated the visual identities of its users. In an ever-connected world, everyone struggles to balance competing priorities, remain engaged, and retain authenticity.

For this year’s AdWeek 2020 Spotlight Speaker, we invited Nikki Sunstrum, University of Michigan Director of Social Media and Public Engagement, to discuss methods for addressing the ever-increasing demands of pandemic communications, and how to deal with online negativity, competing interests, and mental fatigue. Although virtual, we were all able to carve out an evening and hear from Nikki on what this past year has taught her.

*insert “This is Fine” meme*

Throughout her hour-long talk, Nikki covered a range of topics, but first, she addressed the giant non-elephant in the room: the pandemic. While it’s no secret that the pandemic quickly impacted the way we live, learn, work, and interact with each other, Nikki focused her presentation on the impact the pandemic has had on marketers and communicators. Namely, how we speak to our audiences and communities. The way we approach our content was starkly changed, instead of encouraging users to participate with brands, and engage with us, strategies quickly became more about advocating for them to stay away, and thus stay safe. The emotions and reactions we were trying to evoke from our communities were now incredibly different than what we had been planning for, and we were left with no instructions on how to forge ahead.

Reality Check

Nikki described the pandemic as a reality check for us all, it was important to address the reality of the situation and address these alterations both internally and externally. She reminded us that social media is likely the first-place people connect, the first people complain, and the first-place people celebrate. Nikki suggested that as professional communicators we stop treating social as a solution, but rather a tool to navigate the uncertain days ahead. It was important to ask ourselves “what are we trying to accomplish by communicating outside of our organization?”. The answer? To strengthen our communities.

Another few key takeaways she shared were:

• Social media requires wit, wisdom, and wherewithal
• Social media demands proactive, preventative, and passionate messaging
• Social media necessities continuous connectivity, customer service and societal awareness
• Social media is strategic communication, and not a last resort

Although we couldn’t host her in our city and show her that city of good neighbors’ spirit, we’d like to send a big thank you to Nikki for taking the time to chat with us virtually. And thank you for everyone who attended or participated in any of this year’s AdWeek events! For more info on all of our programming for the club year, check out

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A Message from the President on Covid-19

Hi Members, 

By now, it seems like you’ve received this email hundreds of times. From your favorite store. From your airline of choice. From that one startup you met at SXSW six years ago. 

While this one will detail much of the same — cancelations, diligence, and caution — my hope is it will also be a bit more personal, as our extremely close-knit community we know and love is being directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic here in Western New York. 

We’ve been monitoring the pandemic as it continues to unfold, and makes its way into our beloved community. In doing so, we made the decision to cancel all our events scheduled in April, both professional and student. 

For pros, this includes our third Spotlight Speaker of the year, Liz Jackson, who was scheduled to join us on April 2nd. It also includes a brand new event that we were ecstatic about, Laugh Ad Loud, which was planned for April 23rd. 

For students, Portfolio Review scheduled for April 18th is canceled. In brighter news, our Don Nichols scholarship competition remains as scheduled with entries due March 27th, however, all entries are to be submitted digitally only rather than dropped off at Crowley Webb. Students, if you have questions, we encourage you to reach out to your school’s ambassador or to us directly at

All those who purchased tickets for the events detailed here will be issued a full refund. For those with the Spotlight Speaker Series Pass, we hope to reschedule Liz’s talk, where we will honor your series pass. If that’s not possible, we will address more robust reimbursement options at that time. 

In the meantime, we are exploring creative ways to possibly bring one or more of these events to life digitally. More info will follow in the coming weeks. 

We’re continuing to closely monitor this global event as it directly impacts our community, as we expect each of you surely are as well. 

More updates will certainly follow. Until then, we urge all members of our community, in advertising and beyond, to work from home if at all possible, be diligent about social distancing, and responsibly support local businesses to the best of your ability.

On behalf of our entire advertising community, I want to thank you for your continued support of what we do. Our hearts go out to all those affected by this pandemic. We look forward to reconvening at a happy hour on the other side of this.

Josh Gumulak
President, AAF Buffalo

Events Speaker Series

Recap: Rob Baiocco, Spotlight Speaker Series

Rob Baiocco HeadshotWhat do you get when you combine a Buffalo lunch pail work ethic with global advertising aspirations? It’s hard to imagine it looking like anything other than Rob Baiocco. 

Born and raised right here in WNY, Rob returned to his roots last Tuesday night to speak to the Buffalo advertising community on why what we do is unlike any other profession. Plus, he shared just how cool some industry experiences of his have been. 

A life-long love affair with advertising

Throughout his hour-long conversation that ended with a lengthy Q&A session, Rob presented his top 12 reasons he can’t get enough of advertising, ranging from the luxurious – perks of traveling around the globe to shoot for hundreds of clients, to the practical – clients will pay you to do this shit.

He showed dozens of work samples, all he was majorly involved in, including Six Flags, Captain Morgan and, in true Buffalo fashion, Crown Royal. Many of the pieces were from several years and even a decade ago, and still garnered laughs from the audience.

Once (or twice) in a lifetime

More than three decades in an industry leads to some pretty incredible opportunities, and Rob isn’t short on them. He weaved his way in detailing his 20+ years at global phenom-agency, Grey, as well as his last 6 owning his own, The BAM Connection, in Dumbo Brooklyn. 

In his time at both, Rob was fortunate enough to work on not one, but two, Super Bowl spots. The first coming at Grey for client E*Trade, which showcased the infamous talking baby brand icon. The second, just this year, was for client [yellow tail] and helped to strengthen their Tastes Like Happy campaign. 

Special thanks to Rob for making the time to speak to the full house at Big Ditch, and for never forgetting his Buffalo blood as he’s enjoyed massive success over the last 30 years!

AdWeek Events Speaker Series


To help us rethink our approach to culture, Keni Thacker joined us on Thursday, October 10 to be our first presenter in this year’s Spotlight Speaker Series.

Taking a page from a Tina Turner classic, Keni began his talk by asking attendees, “What’s culture got to do with it?” The answer: everything. Culture has everything to do with diversity and inclusion. From there, Keni illustrated what diversity, culture, and inclusion mean for our industry and what we can do to be better.

The Intersectionality of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion

He asserted that diversity is one of our biggest dilemmas in advertising, with people of color sharing only 30% representation in our industry. To combat that, Keni suggest you assess your pipeline and consider new ways to recruit employees.

Next, he described culture as a balance of learning, caring, purpose, and enjoyment. Keni urged companies and agencies to show your people you care. Take an active part in their lives and get involved in what your employees are doing, inside and outside of work.

Lastly, Keni discussed inclusion and what we could be doing to make people feel that they are a part of our organization. He encourages us to partake in team building exercise and give people experience they’ll never get anywhere else.

Food for Thought

To improve the advertising workspace, Keni recommended you think of diversity, culture, and inclusion as a constant, reflective process. Always look for ways to evolve and reexamine what you could do better. He also suggested that decision-makers take a stand. If you have a seat at the table, use your influence to include more voices and keep your company progressing.

Keni concluded his talk with an engaging Q&A session that left the audience with plenty of ways to consider how culture makes an impact.

Speaker Series Stuff

Recap: Blair Enns, Spotlight Speaker Series

Working in the business of selling ideas leads to a laundry list of challenges. One of the biggest: pricing. Lucky for us, Blair Enns, author of Pricing Creativity and The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, came to Buffalo on November 14, 2018 to teach us all his method on pricing the work we produce and sell.

Far from simple, yet surprisingly straightforward, Blair explained how to follow a few straightforward rules that can help lead your agency to realizing exponential returns.

The first rule: Price the client, not the job.

Agencies in particular need to realize that each of our clients is unique and could react to the same stimuli in totally different ways. Instead of pricing based on the projects we’re producing, it’s time to start considering pricing based on the level of value we create for our clients.

The second rule: Offer options.

Too frequently, we begin a conversation with a prospective client by finding out exactly what they need and show them the quickest—and only—way we recommend arriving there.

Blair suggests that instead of selling new work this way, present three options for your client to choose from. These should consist of: 1) work that will meet client goals; 2) work that will exceed client goals; and 3) work that will lead to exponential client returns (and not necessarily in that order).

The third and final rule: Anchor high.

Imagine this: you walk into a luxury clothing store. They ask your budget. You tell them $300-500. The stylist presents you with a pair of shoes that cost $1,100. They’ve just anchored your expectations of cost—and therefore your likelihood to spend—high.

When you anchor high on a potential new project, Blair suggests you approach it by doing two things: 1) always present the highest option first; and 2) when you present it, explain in detail why the price of this option is so much higher and what value that the option will add to their organization.

Thank you to Blair for a great presentation as our second installment of our Spotlight Speaker Series in 2018-2019!


The Spotlight Speaker Series continues in April.

Next up, join us on April 9, 2019 as we hear from John January, a CEO and lifelong creative from Kansas City, who will talk about “Dirty Little Secrets of the Creative Mind.” See you there!

Speaker Series Stuff

Recap: Bridget Todd, Spotlight Speaker Series

We kicked off the third season of our 2018-19 Spotlight Speaker Series a little differently this year. Instead of focusing on content creation or the principles of advertising, Bridget Todd showed attendees how to use their skills to help create change.

A self-described Digitial Activism Strategist (a title she is quick to say she made up to have something to tell family when they ask what she does), Bridget is known to many for her role as co-host of the podcasts Stuff Mom Never Told You and Afropunk on the How Stuff Works network. Prior to joining the How Stuff Works team, Bridget served as the digital strategist for Planned Parenthood, where she navigated daily public relations crises and online attacks, and curated heart-tugging stories to use to flip the narrative surrounding the “controversial” organization.

During her talk, “Everyone Is an Activist,” Bridget explained the key to success when it comes to online activism: compelling stories that hit home on a personal level.

“People care when it affects them, or at least feels like it does,” said Bridget.

She then brought her point to life by asking AAF board member Chris Gallant a few questions about his family and what’s important to him on a societal level.

When Chris expressed his concerns about preserving the environment for future generations, Bridget made climate control personal by adding, “Things may not seem that bad now, but taking care of our environment is important for the kids, like Chris’ son. Right, Chris?”

Forty-five minutes and numerous personal anecdotes later, Bridget concluded the chat with a 30-minute Q&A session. During that time, she reiterated the importance of the story-finding process and shared with a captive audience what it’s like to turn creative skills into tools for social justice, leaving us with plenty to think about on the way home.

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Primal Branding Unleashed on Buffalo’s Advertising Community

By Tim Bouchard

Patrick Hanlon has branding figured out. The lightbulb went off in his head while gardening in Connecticut in the early 2000s. What did all of the most successful brands in the world have in common? What elements were crucial to growing consumer loyalty? Apparently exactly seven elements: Creation Story, Creed, Icons, Rituals, Lexicon, Nonbelievers, and Leadership.

The main concept of Primal Branding is to look past the logo and recognize that true consumer loyalty resides in belief systems and aligned values. Long term value of consumers relies on the idea of their recurring interactions, whether it’s purchases, shares, or attendance. To build that level of inclusion, those people need to feel connected and fulfilled.

Each element within Primal Branding serves to support the acquisition and connection necessary for a brand to instill confidence and loyalty in its audience. Think of the creation story and leaders such as Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (Apple). Think of the icons we are exposed to on a daily basis like the orange Gatorade jugs we see at the end of the bench on a sideline at a game. Maybe you’re a Starbucks customer and love that every morning you order your beverage using language like Tall, Grande, or Venti.

Branding has become the basis for engagement strategy that reaches beyond direct paid advertising. It factors in lifestyles, actions, and senses across multiple platforms. The clutter in advertising demands the message and connection be stronger. The growth of social media and digital channels adds more and more touch point opportunities for engagement.

As a creative community, we will constantly have to fight the battle of branding being misdefined by the general public as a logo, but with every complete brand we launch, we’ll help make the world a slightly better place.

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Hiking the breadcrumb trail of food typography

By Jaime Applegate

“My ideas have always been bigger than me.”

In the second Spotlight Speaker Series of the year on November 8, Danielle Evans took us down the breadcrumb trail of her journey from art school to her coined profession, food typographer. It was a rocky road, and at some points she wanted to give up art altogether. Even her art teacher didn’t seem to have faith in her. Her drawings were good, but not great so she tried her hand at photography next. Then sculpture, then interiors, then design. Nothing seemed right. Finally, she tried her hand at typography and realized a passion developing. She loved the letterforms and how they conveyed an inherent meaning. Evans explains it this way, “there was a moment when things clicked – the breadcrumbs of my past brought me to this point.”

Evans decided lettering would be her specialty but she wasn’t able to find much work doing the type of design she wanted. With limited money and art supplies, she started lettering with different materials including food. Some of her ideas “just needed to get done” so she started producing the work she loved and posting it on Instagram under the handle @marmaladebleue. After just a few jobs, Target called and commissioned her for a project. After that, her career took off and she went on to do work for Disney, Condé Nast, and Bath & Body Works, just to name a few.

Evans captured the audience at the nearly sold out talk with her “dad joke” humor and inspiring story. She took us through many examples of her work, explaining her process along the way. She starts out with a sketch before getting her hands dirty with the ingredients – some of which she has been able to travel to different states to retrieve. Below is a sketch and final product using mined crab legs and claws.

One thing that stuck with me about Evan’s talk was this, “the work you covet, isn’t always the work you create.”

You can “covet” the design work of Danielle Evans, but that might not be the path you are supposed to take. You might even need to invent your own niche as she did with food typography. Evans did, however, recommend playing with your food and creating your own art if you are at all curious (just not on new marble countertops – they will never look the same!)

Finish out the Spotlight Speaker Series with us in 2018. You’ll even get to hear from one of Evan’s design idols – Tad Carpenter on May 16. You won’t want to miss it!



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Big Ideas Know No Boundaries

By Dan Nesselbush

Disruption. That’s the name of the game. The pursuit and execution of an idea that makes an impact on a company or cause is probably why most of us chose to pursue careers in marketing communications. It’s also a safe bet that the creativity found in Super Bowl advertising had an influence as well. That’s why we thought it’d be interesting to hear about the process of taking a disruptive idea to the biggest stage in advertising as our second year of the Spotlight Speaker Series kicked off during 2017 Buffalo Ad Week.

Enter Kevin Corfield and Derek Julin of Pittsburgh agency Brunner. The duo came to Buffalo seven months after they did what every marketing pro dreams of doing; they created a Super Bowl commercial and arguably one of the most memorable in recent years with 84 Lumber’s The Journey.

Kevin and Derek’s story began with Brunner getting a call on Friday, December 9 from the president of the lumber retailer with the plan of doing something to grab the attention of everyone watching the biggest football game of the year – which was less than two months from happening. After a weekend under the directive to be controversial, their team ultimately settled on a story that would incorporate the theme of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

What followed was an interesting timeline that went behind the scenes of an ad from a newcomer to advertising’s biggest stage with tidbits such as:

  • The wall was real – they constructed a 60 foot wide by 30 foot tall concrete wall with a door built into it for the shoot
  • The final scene took four takes on the last day of shooting – because the wall wasn’t finished until then and there were significant wind and dust storms that swept through that day
  • Having to find a solution to FOX’s announcement, during the script approval process, that they wouldn’t run the ad if the wall was shown as it was deemed too controversial
  • The flag in the ad was made from scraps found at their various shooting locations, adding to the authenticity of the story

Ultimately their work moved the needle which is what we all try to do. It did its job of being controversial and got people talking. The film has had over 11.2 million views on YouTube. The 84 Lumber brand gained national attention and they received over 60,000 applications (employee recruitment was an underlying goal of this project afterall).

The thing that stuck with me the most was when they said “big ideas know no boundaries.”

These guys are proof of that statement. They work in Pittsburgh at an agency with roughly the same number of employees as Crowley Webb; not an agency behemoth from New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles. The fact their team was able to make one of the most talked about Super Bowl ads happen under the added pressure of a time crunch speaks volumes to how important a creative approach is.

There were a bunch of other really interesting things that happened during Brunner’s creation of The Journey, but you probably should’ve joined the 60 people who attended the talk. You have your next chance to better your brand during our Spotlight Speaker Series event on November 8 with a presentation by Danielle Evans, a designer with a passion for food typography.

A special thanks to our sponsors Gelia, FB Displays & Designs, VSP Graphic Group, and Luminus for their support in making events like this possible.