September 10th, 2014 - Brand

The Evolution of Blackcoffee

Launching Blackcoffee Studio has been a powerful and humbling exercise. Following the creation of Blackcoffee Communications in 2002, I tackled client challenges with gusto and determination, soon forgetting to tend to the needs of my own brand. I knew I suffered from the ‘shoemaker’s children syndrome’, but business was good and lots of other priorities jostled for my attention.

This summer, when we were finally coming up for air after a year of rebuilding from the floods that hit Southern Alberta (and our home), we lost a dear friend to cancer. These two events forced me to take stock of where I was going, what I wanted out of life, and what my contributions to this world might be.

And so began the refresh of Blackcoffee.

I started Blackcoffee following a stint as communications director at Alberta Treasury and working in Premier Ralph Klein’s Office. I value my time in government and the learning opportunities given to me as a young woman. I even earned the dubious honour of being named best spin doctor by then Calgary Herald columnist Don Martin in 1999.

It was an amazing time for the province and the Alberta Government, but when faced with a new-born baby that needed open heart surgery, I waved goodbye and started my own shop.

As my baby healed, Blackcoffee took off. I got to brand the new Alberta Drivers’ Licence, serve as Press Secretary to Jim Dinning, meet Lucy the Elephant and send Bob Barker packing, and help get a Senator elected.

Through it all, I started to notice a service gap. 

In the world of communications shops and creative agencies, strategy and creative are two separate continents. Because of this anomaly, strategy is often sacrificed for pretty pictures; usability takes a back seat to the latest trends; and brands are not properly articulated. Sadly many great stories are not well told.

For years, I’ve dreamed of closing this gap, of marrying strategy with creative to more perfectly tell my clients’ stories, instead of simply handing my vision off to a designer and moving on to the next client. I wanted to create better solutions and offer greater value to my customers, and believed I could.

So while on self-imposed summer retreat, I reinvented Blackcoffee.

The humbling part? Taking a partially thought out concept to designers and expecting them to read my mind. Why couldn’t I do for myself what I have done quite well for others over the years?

I hadn’t taken the time to understand my own story. To dig deep, ask the tough questions and express the true value of what I could offer. It was swiftly reinforced that well-thought-out strategy is vital to strong creative execution.

In the end, thanks to the help of a patient and talented design team, I did the hard work. Together, we negotiated the gulf between strategy and creative and came up with a visual identity and a website that tell a story and speak a brand.

Strong, stand out design is essential to enable a brand to cut through the over-cluttered marketplace. But it can’t just be pretty. It needs to resonate with target audiences, compelling them to choose you over your competitors.

Creative strategy. Strategic creative. Don’t settle when you can be remarkable.

With gratitude,

Shannon Larkins

Shannon Larkins

Founder, Blackcoffee Studio

Over the course of 15+ years, Shannon has grown Blackcoffee Studio out of a love for building brands and reputations. She serves up Blackcoffee as a morning ritual while caffeinating clients and readers on the regular. You can find her at


Blackcoffee Studio

Blackcoffee is a premium brand development agency, offering luxury brand experience to clients at home in Calgary, Canada and around the globe. Brands create experience, set you apart from the competition and drive growth. Anyone can bulid a business but only the exceptional can create a brand. Are you ready?

Shannon Larkins

Shannon Larkins

Hi I’m Shannon, founder of Blackcoffee Studio. A former reporter, spin doctor and politico, I now focus on using my powers for good.

I create mighty brands for clients and share their stories with the world. I’m also rather addicted to my nutty family, dogs with pushed in faces, Mexico and of course coffee … black.