Author Archives: Annie Brown

Akoya Wins 2018 Communitas Award for Excellence in Community Service

Under the leadership of Chief Creative Officer Nancy Reese, Akoya’s pro bono work with the Women’s Law Project has won a 2018 Communitas Award for excellence in company community service. Administered by the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals, the Communitas Awards honor excellence in social responsibility and community service among individuals and organizations.

Akoya was recognized for its work on FAIR:PLAY, a website designed to help parents, students, and communities advocate for a fair share of sports opportunities for girls in Pennsylvania’s public secondary schools. The concept was born when Nancy – also a Women’s Law Project board member – identified that the Department of Education’s abundant but unwieldy raw data made it nearly impossible to determine if a school is out of compliance with Title IX law.

After collaborating with WLP on the game plan, Akoya created the website’s branding and homepage design; recruited volunteer mentors, programmers, and coders (nearly all women); and, with support from the FISA Foundation, hosted a weekend-long hackathon to crunch the data and create an easy-to-use interface. And while ultimately the result was a website providing meaningful and actionable information, the hackathon itself was a remarkable STEM learning experience showcasing the region’s technical talent and the participants’ dedication to fairness and equality.

The Communitas Award is a testament to Akoya’s ongoing commitment to giving back and using its talents to help nonprofits and organizations that may not have the funding or resources to do so. We are grateful for the honor and for the opportunity to bring attention to the advocacy work of the Women’s Law Project.  

D.C. Akoyans Enter the Ring for the Fight Against Hunger

Akoyans and friends volunteer at DC Central Kitchen.

One evening in late January, Akoyans from our Falls Church office laced up their proverbial gloves and entered the ring to battle a formidable foe: systemic hunger in the Washington, D.C. area.

At DC Central Kitchen—the nation’s first and leading community kitchen—food isn’t just used to nourish and strengthen bodies. It is central to breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty. DCCK’s holistic strategy diverts millions of pounds of food waste toward millions of meals for homeless shelters, schools, and nonprofits; expands access to healthful, local options in urban food deserts; and develops meaningful career training and job assistance for at-risk individuals.

DCCK’s mission resonates with Akoyan Katie Walker, who grew up volunteering, often to help the food insecure. As a first year student at American University in 2001, Katie lived on a floor dedicated to students interested in volunteering locally. DCCK was among the different locations students on the floor were introduced to each week. It wasn’t long before Katie started volunteering there regularly—sometimes several times a month.

“The people who work, train, and volunteer there have—and continue to be—a great source of inspiration for me,” Katie says.

Katie decided to introduce Akoyans to DCCK not only because she has a strong connection to the organization but also because it’s a great place for groups to volunteer. “It’s a chance to interact with coworkers, other volunteers, and the people who work there,” she says. “You’re helping others, having fun, and as an added bonus, learning new skills in the kitchen.”

And in true Akoya fashion, we had a good time for a good cause: we rolled up our sleeves, donned our hairnets, and joined the ranks of volunteers who’ve dedicated time to fighting hunger in the nation’s capital.

Akoyans get some “Facetime” in Pittsburgh

When Akoyans suggested during our August retreat that making trips to our Pittsburgh office would be beneficial, we made it happen. In November, December, and January, small groups of Akoyans based outside the Steel City made overnight trips to visit home base.

The meetings, dubbed Facetime @ Akoya, were a fantastic way for coworkers to further solidify connections made with each other in August and gave us the opportunity to brainstorm ways to make those connections even stronger. Discussions centered around how to improve the onboarding process for new employees working outside Pittsburgh and ways to replicate Akoya’s company culture at a client site where many of us work in Falls Church, Virginia.

Akoyans appreciated the opportunity to see Akoya headquarters, work with Pittsburgh staff, and learn firsthand why Honest John’s is so special to our president, Holly Wray. We look forward to making Facetime a regular gathering.

Villarreal, Goldberg Join Akoya MHS Team

Laura Villarreal and Ari Goldberg

We’re glad to have recently welcomed two new Akoyans to our Military Health System team.

Laura Villarreal joined the Health.mil writing team at the Defense Health Agency in November. With more than a decade of health care communications experience across the public and private sectors, Laura crafts compelling stories for Military Health System beneficiaries about health, wellness and the latest innovations across the MHS.    

Laura is no stranger to the MHS: from 2009 to 2012, she served as a senior strategic communications consultant to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. She has also worked as an account director for a communications contract at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and as a communications consultant for UnitedHealth Group. 

Ari Ben Goldberg joined the strategic communications team last month as a senior communications consultant, bringing more than 20 years of experience in speechwriting, op-eds, and media relations. Ari’s role involves applying all these skills to special projects that strengthen the Defense Health Agency’s communications and outreach efforts.

Ari’s previous work has included writing speeches and op-eds focused on health, world hunger, global poverty, and peace for high-profile individuals, including former Irish president Mary Robinson, former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, the president of Radio Free Europe, and U2’s Bono. He has also served as a producer for BBC News and C-SPAN.

Honest John’s Is a New Pittsburgh Favorite

Akoya designed Honest John’s logo, which includes a playful nod to the restaurant’s Eighth Avenue location.

At Honest John’s, good food and a memorable dining experience come honestly—and Pittsburgh agrees. The casual dining spot, which opened in Homestead in November 2016, won public endorsements in both the Pittsburgh City Paper and The Pittsburgh Business Times this fall.

For three weeks over the summer, Pittsburgh City Paper readers had the chance to vote for their favorite restaurants in the ‘Burgh, and they selected Honest John’s as Pittsburgh’s Best New Restaurant and Best Contemporary American Restaurant.

City Paper staffers declared Honest John’s “an awesome place” that’s helped revive Homestead’s downtown scene. They praised the Eighth Avenue eatery’s candied-bacon BLTs, blackened tilapia fish tacos, and pimiento mac and cheese.

The Pittsburgh Business Times polled their readers too, asking for their favorite restaurants in the region. Of the 240+ restaurants mentioned in responses, Honest John’s was voted one of the top 50 restaurants, which were published alphabetically.

Having designed the restaurant’s website and logo, we’re glad that Pittsburghers are fans of Honest John’s. And perhaps no one is more thrilled than Akoya President Holly Wray, who is both mom and business partner to son John, Honest John’s owner and manager.  

Holly is a frequent visitor to the restaurant, and she loves bringing fellow Akoyans with her. During recent trips to visit our Pittsburgh office, Akoyans from Falls Church have all had the chance to savor this honestly good fare.

Akoyans from Falls Church and Pittsburgh break bread at Honest John’s.

Once a Marine, Always a Marine

Wearing his Dress Blue-Whites, Neal Fisher awaits giving a speech at a Memorial Day celebration in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands during his final year in the Marine Corps.

Our Akoya Military Health System team wouldn’t be complete without veterans, whose unique perspectives on military life and operations are a crucial component of our success in working with the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Agency (DHA). This month, in recognition of Veterans Day, we will profile Akoyans who have served our country.

Neal Fisher joined our team in 2015 and writes and implements communications plans for DHA’s communications shop.

Neal’s military story started in 1992, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves. He spent five years as a member of Company A, 863rd Engineer Battalion in Kankakee, Illinois, and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant before requesting an inter-service transfer to the active duty Marine Corps and Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. He was commissioned in April 1998 and was selected to serve as a Field Artillery Officer following his completion of The Basic School in October 1998.

In 2001, the Marine Corps offered Neal a tour of duty in Public Affairs. “I thought Public Affairs/Communications would be a relaxing tour of duty after three hard years in artillery,” he says. Then 9/11 happened.

“After receiving orders to the Pentagon, and then experiencing the terrorist attack on September 11 from just 25 miles away at the Defense Information School, my misguided impression of Public Affairs as an easy job changed very quickly,” Neal says. 

Neal returned to artillery after his time as a public affairs officer at the Pentagon and says that he was fortunate to experience “the challenge and honor” of commanding a field artillery battery, leading 155 Marines for 14 months.

But Neal’s interest in public affairs never waned. “Though I considered commanding Marines the highlight of my military career, the daily challenge of public affairs and communicating with the public on behalf of the Marine Corps was unmatched,” he says. “In 2007, I committed to Public Affairs full time, relinquishing Field Artillery as my primary specialty.”

In 2015, Neal left the Marines with the goal of becoming a civilian public affairs professional. Someone directed him to Akoya two weeks after he and his family moved to northern Virginia, where his wife Yvonne had accepted a new job.

Neal appreciates the challenge and reward of working in dynamic and highly visible communications environments. “I have always loved the adrenaline rush of responding to a crisis situation, or the challenge of developing a communication plan that immediately produces ‘something,’” he says.

Working for DHA has been an enriching opportunity for Neal. While his military experience informs how he communicates with the military community and TRICARE beneficiaries, he had never previously worked in military medicine. Joining the Washington, DC, chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives helped him gain a different perspective on healthcare management and administration, and he credits Yvonne, a healthcare administrator, with helping him understand the language and mindset of healthcare outside of the military. “This has been very valuable in working the accounts I’ve been assigned here in the DHA Communications Division,” he says.

Outside of the office, Neal is an avid motorcyclist. He and Yvonne both have their own Harley-Davidsons and they are members of the Harley Owners Group (HOG). They also rode with Ma’Gachong, a  motorcycle club for married couples, when they lived in Guam. Neal recommends riding along the southern stretch of Route 1 in Guam, between the villages of Agat and Talofofo, for its amazing views of mountains and the ocean.

Neal is the proud father of two teenage sons, three adult stepchildren, and two adopted daughters, ages 11 and 7, whom he and Yvonne fostered while stationed in Guam. And of course, Neal is “once a Marine, always a Marine.”

Neal and his wife Yvonne at Talofofo Falls Park in Guam

Akoya Wins MarCom Awards

We are pleased to announce that our work has earned recognition in the 2017 MarCom Awards, an annual creative competition for marketing and communications professionals.

Three of our projects were selected as MarCom Gold Winners: a fundraising report for The Midwife Center of Pittsburgh, a benefits awareness campaign for Puget Sound Military Health System, and the feature article “D-Day Through the Eyes of Combat Medic, 73 Years Later” for the Military Health System.

Additionally, our 2017 National Nurses Week campaign for the Military Health System earned an honorable mention.

MarCom is sponsored and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals. A full list of winners can be found on their website.

Akoya to Manage Logistics for 2018 DesignLights Consortium Annual Meeting

For the third consecutive year, the Boston-based DesignLights Consortium has chosen Akoya to manage logistics for its annual stakeholder meeting, scheduled for summer 2018 in DLC’s home city.

Akoya will work with the client to help select and negotiate contracts with venues and vendors, manage registration and the room block, supervise all logistics for the run of the event, and oversee post-event wrap up for this conference of 250+ lighting designers and manufacturer representatives.

A Night on the North Shore for Cleaner Waterfronts

Illustration: Mark Bender/Riverlife

Akoyans are always happy to join the party–especially if it’s for a good cause. We love doing our part to make our hometown a better place, and we’re proud to support Riverlife in their mission to make Pittsburgh’s riverfronts cleaner, safer, and more fun for everyone.

As a corporate sponsor of this year’s royalty-themed War of the Rosés fundraiser, Akoya was represented nobly by partner Genna Cavanaugh and her husband Sean, who danced, braved the waves on an Allegheny River paddleboat, and enjoyed all things pink throughout the whimsical North Shore fête.

Akoya Welcomes New Strategic Outreach Communications Manager

Jane Acton

Jane Acton

We’re thrilled to welcome Jane Acton to our Military Health System (MHS) team as the strategic outreach communications manager. In her new role, she’ll coordinate campaigns to support the mission of the MHS and develop strategic plans to keep internal and external stakeholders informed and engaged.

Jane brings more than three decades of experience in strategic communications, publication production, and event planning and management across the private, government, and nonprofit sectors. She has previously worked for the MHS and has held leadership positions in marketing and PR for two major league sports teams. She’s also a certified etiquette coach.

Akoyans Assemble at a Retreat to Remember

akoya-chili-cookoff

Always prepared for a team challenge, Sarah and Matt chop ingredients for their team’s winning chili.

Earlier this month, Akoyans from around the country convened for three days of team building and relaxation at the historic Bedford Springs resort in idyllic Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania. The retreat was a wonderful reminder of why we love working for a small business like Akoya. When we come together, things aren’t strictly business — we gather for camaraderie, good food, and good fun.

Several new team members have joined Akoya over the past couple of years; many of us working in different locations had our first chance to meet each other in person. Breaking bread together and roasting marshmallows around the fire pit made fast friends out of Akoyans assigned to different contracts who normally don’t get to work with one another.

The memorable main team building activity was also replete with food. Divided into five teams, we felt the heat of boiling pots, spices, and competition as we put our culinary skills to the test to see who could concoct the best chili in a short amount of time. (Congratulations to Sarah, Genna, Matt, Neal, and Angel for your winning recipe!)

On the work front, we discussed ways we can better review our performances on the job, facilitate communication between team members at multiple sites, and showcase our successes to prospective clients.

We made sure everyone had ample time to spend with their guests and explore Bedford Springs and the resort. Some of us enjoyed the resort’s pool, golf course, and hiking trails, while others ventured into town to investigate the local antique stores and boutiques.

Everyone expressed satisfaction with the outcomes — a quick yet welcome break from our day-to-day office activities and a renewed readiness to make the work that we do better than ever.