Holding the Baby Yoda balloon at Macy’s Parade

Like everyone who grew up in La Conner, Tristen Nelson knew that each holiday season began with the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade televised from New York City.

Unlike most people here, however, she would one day be part of the legendary event.

That day was past 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 headquarters in Everett.

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 following his appearance in “The Mandalorian,” the live-action television series. “Star Wars” developed. by Lucasfilm.

The balloon, built two years ago, 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.

“Grogu’s introduction was a pop culture moment in itself,” she said, “so being able to partner with the Lucasfilm team and bring that to life was a slam dunk.”

Nelson, who accompanied Baby Yoda to New York City for his big time, said it was a bonus to be drafted into the corps of balloon bearers and to have a real practical role in a historic moment.

“Honestly,” she said, “I really enjoyed the experience of having the perspective ‘on the ground’ and feeling the energy of the city. I love seeing how things go behind the scenes so learning the mechanics and even helping deflate the ball was incredibly interesting for me.

“I had planned to be there because it was a great marketing initiative for us,” noted Nelson, “but my leaders asked me to help hold the ball and I couldn’t say no. ! ”

Nelson has been with Funko for four years. Meanwhile, the company’s popularity and influence with toy and figure collectors has grown steadily. One of the reasons, Nelson said, is a work environment that encourages creativity.

“What’s great about Funko,” she said, “is that I was never bored and had the privilege of building my role and my team from scratch. Although Funko either a public company, it operates like a start-up, so there is no lack of opportunities and new things to work on.

This year alone, Nelson helped launch a line of toys for girls and a new collection line.

“In my experience,” said Nelson, “few companies are created to allow such reach. While it can be overwhelming, it has given me and other employees choices over how we develop our careers and that’s pretty cool.

Along the way, Nelson also helped produce a nationwide broadcast ad and was part of a Triple-A video game launch team.

Not bad for someone who initially had no plans to enter marketing.

“To be honest,” she said, “I fell into it. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and planned to become a therapist. When I graduated, we were at the height of the Great Recession. 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 do this as a career and here we are. Not to mention that I have 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 design stages to finished products.

“Working with the big studios always feels surreal,” said Nelson, “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 it. ‘them.

“It’s also incredibly rewarding to see strategies come to life,” she said. “There are launches that I worked on for 12 to 18 months before they went public and seeing the ones 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 huge Baby Yoda balloon over downtown Manhattan on Thanksgiving morning.

“I don’t know of anyone in town who even attended the parade, let alone be a part of it,” said Russell Jensen, a La Conner classmate of Nelson’s father, local builder Gary Nelson.

Nelson credits her roots to La Conner for laying the groundwork for a career that brought her to the Big Apple and promises to continue to bear fruit in the future.

“As I get older,” she says, “I realize how precious it is to have a close-knit community and how much I appreciate that connection. There isn’t much that people in this community wouldn’t do for each other and I feel lucky that I grew up here.

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