Faces of Shift with Danny Burns, Business Development Manager of TOKY

We meet a lot of people while working at Shift. And while many make lasting impressions, there are few who make you feel like family right of the bat. One of these people is Danny Burns. Danny’s smile is infectious and he’s always extremely well dressed. What’s not to like about that?

Danny also works for TOKY, a creative branding + design firm. Not only are they likeable people, but they’re also extremely talented. To prove it, they just took home “The Best Website Award” at the Colorado SMPS Marketing Excellence Awards.

Learn more about TOKY’s continued success in my interview below.

Hello, Danny! Thanks for meeting with me. Can you give us the whole story behind TOKY? How did it come to fruition, and what separates you from the rest of the branding & design companies out there?

TOKY, like most organizations, is defined by its people and our collective talents. We’re a specialized creative services firm made up of artists, designers, brand strategists, programmers, photographers, writers, art & architectural historians, and project managers. A perfect mix of left & right brain to keep us dreaming, yet on the level.

Our work; TOKY partners with local, national, and international organizations and institutions to help them define their unique points of differentiation…both internally and in the marketplace. Focusing specifically within architecture, arts & culture, private education, health & wellness, and food & dining – we turn those institutional differences into unique websites, brand identities, and marketing systems.

But as Simon (Sinek) says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. We strive to work with the brightest, most forward thinking and influential organizations and people we can find. Project by project, aspiring to put a little more of the ‘human’ back in humanity. It’s our ethos…and fortunate for us we’ve had the privilege of working with a highly selective and diverse group of clientele…all with a tie that binds us in a desire to create a more accurate and enlightened impact on everyone and everything around us.

What brought us to Denver besides the weather, mountains, and plethora of excellent brewpubs? Short on the coattails of winning work with local architectural firms, RNL Design and Fentress Architects back in early 2016, we became more and more enamored with the energy and overall vibe in this city. It was infectious…and we saw a huge opportunity to jump in and be a part of the exploding economic and cultural movement. Over a few cocktails and a ‘comprehensive’ New Market Launch Plan sketched on a napkin – the Denver office was born.

Five months into it – we’re still kind of the ‘new kid’ in town. We’ve been busy meeting with and joining local boards – both in the arts and with local business/civic initiatives. We’re steadily making friends and contacts, elevating our awareness in the creative community, and identifying some great opportunity for getting involved and doing more great work here in Colorado.

And if hardware were any indicator – our recent work with RNL Design took home the “Best Website” award last month at the Colorado SMPS Marketing Excellence Awards. We certainly don’t measure our success by the trophies we collect…but getting a little gold star in a new city definitely feels pretty good.

Now that is quite the prolific overview and a more impressive track record. Can you tell us a little bit more about you and how you fell into this  opportunity?

Ah, what a winding road it’s been. A fairly unconventional career path has spawned an approach unhinged from the conformity and general malaise that burdens those calcified into obsolete, archaic roles. I graduated from University of Denver in ’02 with a BA in Journalism and Fine Art – so naturally I’ve held prominent roles in animal control (Martha’s Vineyard), ski patrol (A-Basin), and several years driving 18-wheelers around the country on experiential marketing gigs, before settling into a multi-faceted career in all things marketing and advertising. The work, slow-baked and flash fried for an array of clients has been put to the test across screens and platforms, race tracks and supermarkets, All-star Games and street corners. It’s a career that might be described as a ‘tough read’, like if Tarantino was adapting a screenplay from Faulkner. But the result has been something utterly unique, enjoyable, and positively compelling.

But that’s all about me…and I’m hardly the most important individual to know about at TOKY.

Our Eminent Commander and Executive Creative Director, Eric Thoelke and his wife Mary founded TOKY twenty years ago in our hometown of St. Louis. The man is somewhat of an icon in the design, brand strategy, and cultural development circles around the US. Again, not to harp on the accolades, but Eric’s work has been recognized by all the who’s who in branding and design publications – Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, Print Magazine, Brand New, etc. Eric and Mary also co-founded the Midtown Alley Design District – basically a creative agency row where our St. Louis office is located. They also co-founded the annual St. Louis Design Week…yes, St. Louis has a Design Week and it will surprise you.

So when Eric Thoelke asks you to dinner to discuss the prospect of working together…and potentially opening a new TOKY office in Denver, you accept.

We are thrilled that TOKY has chosen us to be their second home. How has Shift helped you and your business grow? 

Once we decided to plant a TOKY flag here in Denver, we visited a handful of locations and offices around town looking for a place to call home. We wanted to be in the city, we wanted to be close to the cultural and creative epicenter, and we wanted an environment that was in line with the TOKY personality and brand. Even though Shift Bannock was only about 75% complete when we first toured…we knew it was the perfect place for us.

What we didn’t know, was that in addition to its great location, the creative and funky aesthetic, and damn fine coffee – was the human element and interaction we’d get from all the likeminded folks in the Shift building. As the office has filled out over the last few months the energy and overall mojo has just taken off. Even though the other folks in the building aren’t necessarily your colleagues, you still get a semblance of camaraderie. You learn names, family members and their pets – you give and take recommendations on weekend adventures. And when relevant, you talk shop and do business together. For a lot of us here at Shift we’re manning an outpost of sorts. With home offices on the left or right coast (or Midwest) – it helps to have a community of professionals in the same boat. We’re all relatable, and we help motivate one another.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Shift staff. Agata, Steph, Lindsay…exceptionally nice and supportive people. Like I mentioned before, I consider them more colleagues than community managers or building staff. I know I can count on them for anything.


Well, we love having you and the TOKY team here.

To wrap things up, please leave us with a final thought on why someone would choose TOKY as their next brand mastermind. 

Let me see if I can answer this without sounding too conceited or ‘salesy’.

I would have to say the number one reason we receive referrals is because of trust. Over the last twenty years TOKY has perpetually raised the bar in our branding, design and identity work. We’ve pushed, explored, made mistakes, innovated, and come out the other end better for it. Our diligent approach and seasoned experience allows us to get it right, the first time, every time. It’s all about track record.

Referring TOKY is like referring your favorite restaurant – while the menu may not be for everyone…the craft and quality is undeniable. And people hire us because they trust that we’ll deliver what they need, not just what they want.

To learn more about TOKY, or to inquire about their work, visit their site here.

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