Industry Spotlight: Jess Columbo

It’s the fourth month of ThinkNW’s Industry Spotlight Series where we get to know individuals working in the regional marketing, advertising, and media community.

This month we are honored to feature Jess Columbo, Principal Consultant at Jess Columbo. Jess shared with us her path towards a career, what projects have inspired her the most, and the two truths that keep her on this path.

How did you get started in the industry? What’s been your career roadmap?

I graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing. My first job out of school was at a business plan writing firm in the Pearl. I left after a few months (toxic bro culture) and reached out to Boly Welch with a simple ask: Help me find a job where I get paid to write.

A few weeks later, they sent me to interview for an AC role at a boutique PR firm called Maxwell. I was lucky to land in a creative environment led by strong women, where I was mentored and encouraged to take risks. I took out the garbage and (literally) cut many clips, but I also had the opportunity to start playing in the social media space on behalf of clients; this was just as Twitter was launching and Facebook opened its platform to brands.

During that time, I was also experiencing a lot of personal loss and became familiar with the world of palliative care. So, I went back to get my M.A. in Communications and spent two years in Southern California, merging my personal and professional interests: exploring how digital and social technologies could improve the quality of life for patients at end-of-life.

That research put me on an unexpected path toward work in health care. I returned to Portland and found an opportunity at OHSU, where I had the good fortune to build out their social media department – telling beautiful stories, weathering crises, and raising a lot of money for meaningful research.

Seven years ago, I left the hill to start my consultancy, and I’ve been “helping the helpers” ever since. Running my own practice, and supporting frontline folks in health care, education, and social services through the pandemic, have been some of the most harrowing and rewarding work of my one little life.

What excites you most about this industry?

Two truths keep me on this path:

1. I am not and have never been an expert; I’m a student. If I weren’t still deeply and consistently engaged in learning and evolving as a practitioner and strategist, I’d have switched career gears a long time ago.
2. The work has always been about people: their preferences, needs, and weird and wonderful behaviors. In its best light, technology is a vessel and facilitator for meaningful human connection. That fact keeps me centered and driven, even when megalomaniacs try to suck the life force out of this work.

What human quality do you most admire and also most deplore?

Human quality? Wow, what a question.

I admire humility and patience because I have a lot of room for growth there. I admire a dry and generous sense of humor because none of us are getting out of here alive. I admire a sense of shared responsibility or beholdenness to one another because all of life — joy, shame, suffering — is made better in the community.

I deplore cowardice.

Out of all the projects you have worked on (or people you’ve worked with), which (or who) has been your favorite? And why?

Of course, I could never choose just one.

I’m incredibly proud of the crisis communications work we’ve done to support healthcare workers and communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and ghostwriting for some incredibly strong female leaders.

I’m very grateful and proud to have hired some incredible people over the years in-house and as an agency owner. Over the last few years, I’ve brought on and partnered with many working moms who were put in the impossible position of protecting their families or bowing out of the workforce. You might remember that when the pandemic first hit, 80% of folks leaving the workforce were women.

Anyways, I live my life by a few mottos, including the Margaret Mead quote, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” My favorite projects often involve working with or advocating for strong, talented women.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

I smoke a lot of cannabis, but I’m not guilty about it. Cannabis has incredible anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, among other magical properties. It relaxes my mind and body, significantly improving my mental and physical wellness.

What is the most fun part of your job?

Creative problem-solving.


Supporting people and organizations with integrity and shared values. That is, doing work that aligns with the person I want to be.

Being my own boss.

Making that money, honey.

What is the app you wish someone would invent?

Ctrl F for the grocery store. Why can’t I hit “Control F” and find that one weird thing on the bottom shelf? For the record, tahini is hiding down a different aisle in every single grocery store in America. It’s madness.

What is your favorite local ad campaign?

My favorite “ads” are when leaders make hard decisions that put their staff and community needs ahead of (or at least in line with) their bottom line interests – like offering paid parental leave or making sure employees have safe access to abortions or holding themselves accountable to operationalizing those equity training. There’ve been a lot of beautiful examples of that over the last few years.

A few specific projects I’ve enjoyed and admired include the Safe+Strong campaign from Brink and OHA and the way Travel Portland leverages local influencers and content creators to highlight small businesses that need and deserve visibility.

Where is your favorite place in the Pacific Northwest?
The North Oregon Coast. Someday, I’ll build a property where my partner and I can grow and make things. By then, I’ll be exclusively wearing big bulky sweaters, surviving off of fresh oysters and Fort George beer, and taking my dogs to run on the beach every morning like some gorgeous PacNW cliche.

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