FableFriday: Sarah Ditkoff, Communications and Development Strategist


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A lot can change over a cup of coffee. For Sarah Ditkoff, a cup of coffee brought her to FableVision Studios. 
 
Her career journey was a “bit of a crooked path,” (her words, not mine). After earning her master’s degree in publishing and writing from Emerson College, Sarah did a variety of jobs for two years while looking for full-time work.

“I did freelance writing, editing, and event planning,” she explained. “I also worked part-time doing everything from waiting tables to retail. Eventually, I connected with Peter H. Reynolds, FableVision’s founder. We got coffee and chatted for two hours. He took a liking to me, and introduced me to some folks at FableVision. I started part-time and was brought on full-time in March of 2013.” 

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In one year, Sarah went from Marketing Coordinator to Communications and Development Strategist, heading up the marketing efforts at FableVision Studios. 

From being the voice of FableVision’s social media to conferences, blog writing, working with clients, updating the studio website and everything in between, Sarah finds time to help organize the Salem Lit Festival, put on her reading cap in a book group, and cook up amazing meals (trust me, the meals are delicious).

Sarah attributes her innate curiosity to her success in marketing at FableVision.   

“I think marketers, in general, are curious people,” she said. “They’re always thinking What, When, Where, Why about everything. One of my mom’s favorite stories from when I was a kid goes something like this:

‘It was a beautiful summer day. I had planned a beach day for the kids. Packed a picnic, threw the lawn chairs in the van, along with noodles, toys, and sand buckets. We got to the beach. Sarah and her brother played and played and played. Then it got late, so we left. We got dinner. We got ice cream. We drove home. We pulled into the driveway and Sarah said from the back seat, ‘Now what?'"

Goes to show that from a very young age the 'now what?' question was burning pretty brightly. All marketers ask that same question. They scour calendars, they worship deadlines, they always think, 'What’s next?'”

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So, what’s next for FableVision’s marketing maven? For December’s FableFriday, we go behind the tweet with Sarah. Read on.

What’s the trick to coordinating marketing for an educational gaming company? What’s the biggest challenge?

Well, the marketing department at FableVision is relatively new, only a few years old. The challenge, always, is staying relevant. We’re legitimately proud of every project we work on, so sometimes it feels like we’re shouting over ourselves. How do we make room to showcase all of the incredible work we do and the amazing partners we do it with? It can be a tap dance.

The “trick,” I guess, is to speak of yourself authoritatively. It’s a crowded marketplace. Know your spiel. Know your hook. Know your audience. Know what makes you unique. Think and speak on your toes. Challenge yourself. Do things differently every time.

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With close to 2,000 followers on Twitter, there must be a lot of pressure to construct the perfect 140 characters. Walk us through your average “tweeting” process.
My tweets were pretty formal when I started at FableVision. I try to make them more conversational now, without losing a polished tone. There’s definitely a formula that I follow. First, I make sure I include a link, if applicable, and as many handles and hashtags as I can, so that the right people or communities get tagged in the tweet. Then, it’s all about being as clever as possible. Is there an image I can attach to amp it up? How much killer filler language can I fit in around those components?

I’m a bit of a grammar Nazi, and I stick to that too. For example, “you” is worth the characters, instead of “U,” as is “to” instead of “2.” The only things I feel good about abbreviating is “and” into an ampersand and “with” into “w/.”

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What is your best experience at a conference?
In October I went to the FutureM conference. The final keynote of the event was Shiza Shahid, CEO of the Malala Fund. Shahid was poignant and genuine. Her message of perseverance, staying true to your beliefs, and letting passion drive your life resonated deeply with me.

A lot of marketing is thinking on your toes and leaping into unfamiliar situations, can you share a moment when you were tossed into the deep end? 
Last year we were invited to give a demo for the Boston Game Night Game Demo at Microsoft, hosted at Microsoft by the Boston Games Forum. Ryan McNulty and I presented Quandary for FableVision. Gary Goldberger and Brian Grossman (president and tech director for FableVision) were in the audience, which helped, but I also didn’t want to crash and burn and have them there as witnesses. It was my first time representing the company.

I function the same way every time I have to speak publically: I get anxious. I literally script my talking points and memorize them. Then I wing it. My state of mind goes: anxious, anxious, anxious, adrenaline rush, OKAY GO. I managed to talk about the company and our mission, the vision behind Quandary, and some of our creative production behind the game. I adapted my script to the questions that were asked and managed to pull it off. That event is my touchstone for every FableVision event: If I could do that, I can do this.

Sarah shakes an egg at the National Braille Press annual gala with FableVision Associate Producer, Michael Fogarasi.

Sarah shakes an egg at the National Braille Press annual gala with FableVision Associate Producer, Michael Fogarasi.

What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on from start to finish?
I’m just starting to work more on client projects. We recently did a branding and look-and-feel project with National Braille Press (NBP) on their Great Expectations program. Great Expectations enables and empowers adults to share the picture-book-reading experience with visually impaired children. Beyond the braille overlay, NBP develops accompanying activities that enhance the written word, like songs and craft projects. There are also tips for how describe picture book illustrations to your blind child. For example, how do you explain the color red to a blind child? NBP is really passionate about the work they do, and their excitement was contagious while working with them. We helped cement the program’s name, brand look and feel, and website design. They invited us to their annual gala where they unveiled the Great Expectations program. It felt great to see our artwork on the big screen. Very, very cool. You can read a bit more on our collaboration on the NBP blog

You are in a book group! What? Tell us about it!
The Beantown Book Club (BBC) was founded five years ago by three of my friends. I joined about three years ago. We meet every six weeks or so and whoever hosts gets to pick the book. We usually try to do a different genre each month to mix it up, and our reading interests are diverse. 

For the most part, it’s the stereotypical book group. We all bring something to eat (we are all foodies and love to cook). The host and selecter of the book moderates the discussion. We chat, talk about our lives and the book, drink wine…pretty much exactly what you’d expect.

How did you get involved with the Salem Lit Festival (SLF)? What was a highlight of this year?
I worked for five years as the assistant to Salem-based Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places. Bru got involved with the SLF through Beth Simpson, founder of the SLF, and formerly of Cornerstone Books, the independent bookstore in Salem that closed, sadly, in 2010. As the 2011 Salem Literary Festival drew near, Bru asked me to join her and Beth on the planning committee, along with a small team of PR professionals and book sellers, among others. I did some marketing for the festival, assisted with programming and logistics, and coordinated the volunteer effort. 

Since I work full-time at FableVision now, my role in this year’s SLF was smaller. I helped with social media and acted as the official “Writer Wrangler” – making sure all the authors were coordinated and organized for their events. 

A highlight of this year was the kickoff party at the Salem Athenaeum. The SLF overlapped with the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference, so Salem was bustling with writers and literary folks. We bustled into the book-crammed building, drank cocktails, told stories, rubbed elbows. I also met some authors I admire: Ann Hood, Julia Glass, Katherine Howe, Suzanne Palmieri. It was pretty incredible.

I think this is a running thread in my life – in some ways, a marketer’s job is to give voice to those who make amazing stuff. We are the link between the creator and the outlet. We plug in the mouthpiece and turn up the volume. I have loved doing this kind of work for forever – starting with being editor in chief of my college’s arts magazine. I love working for an organization that supplies a visible platform, a platform with a clear point of view, whether that’s a literary festival, a magazine, or a creative edtech company. I love telling people about the incredible work that’s being done around me. 

New Year's Eve is right around the corner, so let's get fun: What's your New Year's resolution for the FableVision marketing team?
Oh, this is a fun one. I want to reach 3,000 Twitter followers. I want 400 Instagram followers. I want more website traffic. I want to blog more. I want us to make a national news outlet for a project we create – whether that be client work or an original IP. We have a few new marketing tricks up our sleeves that I’m excited to share in 2015. I want our lean, mean marketing team of two to continue to be adaptable and flexible while not losing the backbone of our marketing efforts. Marketing is about growing gracefully. 

More about Sarah:
Who's your favorite celebrity to follow on social media? Mike Birbiglia

I know you are a sucker for a good (or really really bad) pun. Do you have any favorites? I ate too much Middle Eastern food. Now I falafel. 

What's one book that gives you a good cry (happy cry or sad cry)? Sad cry: Father of the Rain by Lily King. One of my all-time favorites. It’s so good. So good. I don’t happy cry over books because I’m a robot. 

What about a book that makes you laugh? An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington. The show cracks me up and the book’s great too.

Favorite
Snack: The kindergartener in me still loves peanut butter crackers. And goldfish. And grapes. 
Tea: Constant Comment
Coffee Flavor: Hazelnut, but I’m allergic to hazelnuts. I had this coconut banana coffee at the Bee’s Knees in Boston once that still haunts me.
Podcast: Currently, Serial (Editorial Note: Everyone should listen to Serial). This American Life. Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. Also, WNYC’s Radiolab.

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