Truth be told, “SecretPenguin,” is arguably one of the coolest business names in Omaha. But what does it mean?

“I used to hide ‘secret penguins’ in my artwork when I was bored drawing still lifes in high school,” said Dave Nelson, founder, creative director, and former professional skateboarder. “When I started traveling more for skateboarding, I had stickers made so I could hide them wherever I went.”

Some of the key qualities that have made SecretPenguin so successful over the years are rooted in skateboarding. “Skateboarders are constantly surveying their surroundings to find elements to skateboard on and then figuring out how to do so,” said Nelson.

“Because of this, I believe we are inherently trained to be aware of the details and work through the challenges to develop great strategies that actually work – rather than bloated and wishful-thinking strategies that might work in a perfect world, but fall flat upon execution.”

Started in 2000, SecretPenguin is a leading experiential branding agency that creates, refines, and manages brands to stand out in a busy world. “We do this through designing identities, and then designing the experience,” said Nelson.

And that experience includes three stages:

  1. Before: how people learn about the brand
  2. During: how people interact with the brand
  3. After: how people build a relationship with the brand

This approach has turned SecretPenguin into a branding powerhouse. “We’ve created or refined more than 250 brands with the intent of making their communities better and more fun.”

This community-minded focus isn’t by happenstance.

Nelson and his team are thoughtful with the projects they take on and the impact they might have. Two of their most profound are Skate for Change and 24 Hours of Impact. The former is an initiative that empowers kids to skateboard around the city, while the latter was a collaboration with Leadership Omaha that encourages businesses to donate one hour of their time towards charitable causes.

“We always aim to make our clients’ lives easier,” said Nelson. “From how we write emails to our weekly check-ins to the elimination of any unknowns. In the end, our hope is that our clients are always happy to hear from us because we’re not only competent in delivering what is needed, but also warm in our approach.”

Winning Insights from Our Winner:


Best Practice Tip For a Small Business Owner

“To care about the impact your brand has on the communities it serves.”

Cultivating a Strong Company Culture

“We give everyone autonomy of how they prefer to work – from their own creative process, to where they want to work (remotely or not), to how much time they want off, etc. And for each project, we assign a Creative Lead and an Account Lead, so everyone has ownership over projects.

“We also make a point to prioritize work-life balance so our team has plenty of time to spend investing in the community or into their own children so their kids can grow up and invest in the community.”

The Value of Chamber Involvement

“Membership in the Greater Omaha Chamber has opened us up to see what was possible, to talk to people we may not otherwise get to talk with, and provided us a way to learn from the business community.” 

Giving Back to the Community

“Our mission is to make the community better (and more fun). We do this through the projects we take on and the impact they can have.

“For example, Skate for Change is an initiative that empowers kids to skateboard around the city and give wellness packs to houseless people. We also collaborated with some people from Leadership Omaha and branded the 24 Hours of Impact program, which encourages businesses to donate one hour of their time towards charitable causes.”

Overall Operating Philosophy

“Our mission is to make communities better (and more fun). A lot of this comes through in the brand experiences we design. There are eight psychological steps that people go through when interacting with a brand, and we design the elements and language around each of those steps to ensure people feel those emotions.

“We believe communities can be better (and more fun) when everyone feels invited to the table, everyone feels welcomed to be there, and when everyone walks away, they feel happy they were there.”

Many thanks to our generous sponsor!

Premier Bank is the sponsor of the Small Business of the Month award. View more information or nominate a small business online.

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