Like everyone growing up in La Conner, Tristen Nelson knew that every holiday season started with the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade televised from New York.
Unlike most here, however, she would one day be part of the legendary event.
That day had passed Thanksgiving when Nelson, associate director of marketing for pop culture collectibles company Funko, helped introduce the giant Baby Yoda balloon to the rest of the country.
“I’m not biased — okay, maybe a little bit — when I say this was the most anticipated ball of 2021,” Nelson told The Weekly News upon returning to Funko’s Everett headquarters.
Macy’s had asked Funko to create a balloon for the parade, and the company chose Grogu – Baby Yoda’s official name – since the character had become a global internet sensation after appearing in “The Mandalorian”, the television series in direct “Star Wars” developed. by Lucasfilm.
The balloon, which lasted two years, was inflated to 41 feet high and 37 feet wide for its national television debut.
It was a huge deal on many levels, Nelson said.
“Introducing Grogu was a pop culture moment in itself,” she said, “so to be able to partner with the team at Lucasfilm and bring that to life was a slam dunk.”
Nelson, who accompanied Baby Yoda to New York for his big moment, said it was a bonus to be drafted into the Balloon Holder Corps and to have a real hands-on role in a historic moment.
“Honestly,” she said, “just getting the ‘on the ground’ perspective and feeling the energy of the city was something I really enjoyed. I love seeing how things come together behind the scenes, so learning the mechanics and even helping to deflate the balloon was incredibly interesting for me.
“I planned on being there as it was a big marketing move for us,” Nelson noted, “but my leadership asked me to help hold the ball and I couldn’t say no!”
Nelson has been with Funko for four years. During this time, the company’s popularity and influence with toy and action figure collectors grew steadily. One reason, Nelson said, is a work environment that encourages creativity.
“The great thing about Funko,” she said, “is that I never got bored and had the privilege of building my role and my team from scratch. Although Funko is a public company, it operates like a start-up, so there is no shortage of opportunities and new things to work on.
This year alone, Nelson helped launch both a girls’ toy line and a new collectible line.
“In my experience,” Nelson said, “few companies are created to enable such reach. While it can be overwhelming, it has given me and other employees choices over the way we develop our careers and that’s pretty cool.
Along the way, Nelson also helped produce a nationally broadcast commercial and was part of a Triple-A video game launch team.
Not bad for someone who didn’t originally plan to enter the marketing field.
“To be honest, she said, I fell into it. I got a bachelor’s degree in psychology and planned to become a therapist. When I graduated, we were at the height of the Great Recession, so instead of taking out more student loans for a graduate program, I went to work for a small promotional marketing company in Burlington.
“I’ve always been interested in product and consumer culture,” said high school graduate La Conner in 2004, “so it wasn’t surprising when I realized I could make a career out of it and here we are. Not to mention, I’ve been incredibly lucky with some of the opportunities presented to me by people who believe in me.
Now, Nelson collaborates with industry leaders and sees major campaigns evolve from their concept stages to finished products.
“Working with the big studios always seems surreal,” Nelson said, “and on top of that, the people I work with on a daily basis are some of the most creative, talented and hardworking people in the business and I’ve learned a lot from that. ‘them.
“It’s also incredibly rewarding to see strategies come to life,” she said. “There are launches that I worked on for 12-18 months before they went public and seeing those in the wild is always so fun.”
It was certainly fun for the folks at La Conner and viewers around the world to watch Nelson help guide the massive Baby Yoda balloon over downtown Manhattan on Thanksgiving morning.
“I don’t know anyone in town who’s even been to the parade, let alone been in it,” said Russell Jensen, a La Conner classmate of Nelson’s father, local builder Gary Nelson.
Nelson credits her La Conner roots with laying the foundation for a career that brought her to the Big Apple and promises to continue to pay off in the future.
“As I get older,” she says, “I realize how valuable it is to have a close-knit community and how much I value that connection. There’s not much people in this community wouldn’t do for each other and I feel lucky to have grown up here.