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Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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An Interview With Dave Ravenberg and Jesse Staley

Conducted by Luke Hawley

Luke Hawley [LH]: What exactly do you do?

David Ravenberg [DR]: When we created Simon & Bennett, Inc. we had a long-term vision of what we wanted the company to become. In our dreams, we'd really like to get into the publishing world. We think that publishing is going through a big change, much like the music industry did. It's getting easier and more viable to publish yourself instead of going through the gatekeepers. It's riskier, for sure, but we think the potential payoff for the artist is greater. So we envision ourselves as kind of indie agents/publishers. We want to help artists become stars for their benefit. We have several radical ideas of how to accomplish this, and we've already begun the process of setting Simon & Bennett up as a valid publishing entity. This is the biggest of several business ideas that we'd like to pursue. So that's the dream. In the meantime, we're sticking to what we know will pay the bills while we build something bigger: marketing. We do web design, print design, package design, branding and some animation. We're traditional artists, and that's the strength we bring to the market. Many designers are not necessarily traditional artists. Having that artistic eye, in addition to software proficiency, makes all of the difference. We've recently started offering SEO [search engine optimization] as well, which is an exciting endeavor and something that every company who wants to get noticed these days should seriously consider.

LH: It's a tag team business. When do you tag in and when do you tag out?

Jessie Staley [JS]: It's a constant, everyday thing. You've got to have the right chemistry and good communication skills. Because we're good friends and family outside of business, we've kind of already established that relationship, which makes it a lot easier to work together, I think.

LH: How'd you get in touch with Grey Sparrow?

DR: Joseph Michael Owens and I became aquatinted during the University of Nebraska's MFA in writing program. We're always looking out for pro-bono work. We think it's important to take on several such projects every year. Of course literature is near and dear to me, so when Joe said Grey Sparrow needed a hand, we were more than happy to look into it.

LH: What's one tip that you would give to people wanting to start their own business?

JS: You've got to take yourself seriously or no one else will. And that means discipline. You need to set expectations for yourself and stick to them. It's very easy to cut yourself a lot of slack, give yourself the day off, or arrive whenever you feel like it. This kind of attitude WILL come out in your work and your relationships with your clients, and you'll have a hard time getting your business off of the ground. If you take yourself seriously enough, you'll get somewhere. It's only a matter of time.

LH: Is it worth it to hire an outsider to do web design? I mean, I own a Mac and can figure out iWeb a bit, shouldn't I be able to figure out how to design my own website? Or can't I just use the standard blog set up?

JS: Web design is so broad. It really depends on what your needs are. There are so many things to consider. First, what is your time worth? You can learn how to design your own stuff if you've got the time to do it, and if you do we say go for it. If that time could be better spent elsewhere, get a professional to do it. We adopt that attitude. If we've got something bigger on our shoulders, we have no problem outsourcing some of the more tedious work, because our time can be worth more. It's also depends on what your into. By that we mean is designing and running your own site appeal to you? It can be huge fun and very rewarding. A lot of freelancers are going the blog rout, and it really suits the solo endeavor. Being artists and designers, we do think that the look of one's blog is often given short shrift. Maybe that doesn't matter to some potential readers but it does to us. We like things to look at other than walls of text. It keeps the blog interesting and broadens the appeal.

LH: You're interested in guerilla marketing. Can you give me a quick run-down on the bones of guerilla marketing?

DR: The idea behind guerrilla marketing is finding a low-cost method of getting the word out to mass amounts of people. It can be as simple as fliers or as crazy as graffiti and air balloons. It appeals to us as artists, because we could spend all day coming up with wild ways to get people's attention. It's all about creativity. It doesn't even have to have anything to do with the service you provide, as long as your name is tied to it. It's all about getting attention, coolness by association. "Those are the guys that rolled that 2 story balloon down Dodge [Road in Omaha]! I wonder what else they're doing..."

LH: What's the best example of guerilla marketing you've ever seen?

DR: I'm very intrigued by reverse graffiti. It's a process where you create an image by removing dirt and grime. So you're not damaging anything, you're cleaning. But it has the same impact and exposure of regular graffiti, perhaps more so. I've never actually witnessed it in Omaha. The city is primed and ready for it. Look out!

LH: Any tips on how to draw internet traffic to a website? Like a personal blog or a startup literary magazine or something?

JS: It's all about relevance. It's about using words that Google will notice when someone makes a search. And that applies to who you associate with. You want to build a web of like-minded entities. The spirit behind guerrilla marketing can be applied here as well. Find a cheap way to get yourself noticed, like a crazy youtube video. They may find you because of the unrelated video, but there's a decent chance they'll stick around because "Hey, this guy writes? I'm kind of into that too."

LH: You're a graphic designer and a writer. How often do those two things intersect?

DR: I think it all comes from that same creative place. I'm into so many different arts, and they all fuel each other. I think that the same things that make writing appealing also make a design or painting appealing. The story, leading lines, flow, unity. Once you get a taste for that in one art, that understanding will bleed into another. I think you could look at my art having read my writing and say, "Yeah, that's the same artist." That's my hope, anyway.

LH: Most writers can cite their biggest influences. Can you cite some web design influences?

Not really. We both were artists before we became designers, so we approach web design as a canvas or lump of clay. You could say that our web design influences come more from digital or traditional artwork. A lot of web design today has a very template feel to it. We like to stretch the boundaries in our designs. Sometimes it's inappropriate or it doesn't work, but when it does it's stunning.