Crystal Johnston is a funny girl, and one who cares about the Colorado Springs business community. The 30-year-old Denver native works as director of marketing and events for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and runs an Improv comedy company on the side. In the year since she started at the BBB, Johnston said she has incorporated themes from her standup experience to teach people how to think on their feet and be more successful communicators in business. Johnston spoke to the Business Journal this week about that, her decision to make the Springs her home and what she does for the BBB.
Can you start by telling us about your education and professional background?
I grew up in Denver and moved when I was in the middle of high school to Florissant and ended up going to Woodland Park High School. I graduated early — technically in December of 2001. Then I was a banker for many years. I was a teller, then a reconciliations clerk, then a personal banker, then a business banker, then a customer relationship banker and so on. I finally finished my degree in business communications and got a job marketing with Drive-In Autosound, which sells high-end auto accessories. I marketed for them and developed their website and that’s really when I started enjoying events.
So I did that for a few years before I was contacted by Graham Advertising and was brought over as an account executive. I worked for them for a little less than a year handling commercials for Honda associations. We did that for about 150 Honda dealers and six Honda associations on the East Coast. … That’s how I met Matt Barrett, who was the COO for the organization. He left in early 2013 to come to the Better Business Bureau and in September of last year my position became available here. So he contacted me to see if it would be a good fit and I have really fallen in love with it since I’ve been here. It has just been a blast.
What does your role at the BBB entail?
My day-to-day is always different. I’m the director of marketing and events, the foundation and public relations. I handle the website and social media, I have two staff members who handle events, I have an outsourced public relations person and a part-time web developer who all work with me in my department. One of our claims to fame are our events. We just got done with our Night of Excellence event, which showcases businesses in the community that excel in customer service and ethics, as well as high school students who are rewarded with $2,500 college scholarships. That concluded Oct. 2 and we have our Buzz with the Bees networking breakfast coming up on the 19th, which is a new thing since I’ve been here.
Why did you choose to start a career in Colorado Springs?
I did want to look for career opportunities in Denver when I was younger, but the positions I was being offered were all here. I like Colorado Springs — it’s a close-knit community and one of the biggest small towns I know. I like being able to connect with my community and see people that I recognize.
How do you feel about this environment for the development of young, female professionals?
I also own a business, and I’ve found that people in Colorado Springs highly regard women in business — especially business owners. I think that all women in business tend to struggle in the sense that you try to get ahead but just can’t or don’t meet the qualifications or those sorts of things. I really think Colorado Springs assists in equality and growth, not just for women but also with the elderly and with military — really pushing those individuals forward.
So that’s one thing that I’m very grateful for in Colorado Springs, and I feel as if the competition just isn’t as high. I feel like Denver tends to have a higher level of young professionals than Colorado Springs, so as a young professional and as a woman, I really feel like I have a leg up because we don’t have as many people competing for opportunities.
Tell me about your business.
I’ve been a standup comedian and improv comedian since 2009. … At the beginning of this year, me and a partner of mine were sort of wondering why we don’t just start our own company. So we started a business called Improv Anywhere. We don’t necessarily perform improv; what we prefer to do is teach people improv. So what we’ll do is go to businesses, companies and explain to them the importance of improv and how it can really change your day-to-day thinking process and how you can actually benefit from thinking on your feet.
I work with Colorado Technical University and teach their students improv … I’ve worked with Leadership Pikes Peak and their students … I love performing, and I still do, but I’d much rather show people how improv will teach you to think on your feet and totally change your perspective of people.
What’s next for you? What are your professional goals?
I really want my business to be recognized and to get the name out there. I’d also love to get to a place within this next year where I can get to a point where I can run half marathons and full marathons. … I’d like to be in a VP-type of position or a larger-title position within my early 30s. I’ve strived to become a young, working professional for quite a while, and I want to continue to push myself to get to that level.