Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the HOW Fall 2017 Marketing and Promotion issue. This is part 4 of the 4-part series Design Agency Insider featuring firms from Washington, DC. Grab your copy of the magazine today!
THE ART OF PERSUASION
Locals joke that as soon as you meet a fellow Washington, DC resident, they’ll waste no time asking you what you do for a living, as if they’re sizing up your status. But in my 20 years living in the city, I always assumed that people were simply curious to know how I spent most of my waking hours. Because nearly everyone who lives in DC comes to the city with the goal of making a difference. From the latest issue of National Geographic to a viral social-media post from the Human Rights Campaign or a financial appeal from a multimillion-dollar foundation, Washington’s brand of creativity is all about opening eyes and fueling change.
MEET DESIGN AGENCY BLUE STATE DIGITAL
Before Katie Newport became a creative director at Blue State Digital, she noticed friends’ Facebook feeds that cited the agency’s work with clients ranging from labor unions to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. “My undergrad degree is in art history, and I have a masters in writing, so I’m the kind of person who has a lot of different interests,” she says. “I was really drawn to the fact that BSD’s mission and values drive the client selection, and that’s reflective of the people doing the work, whether we’re helping Lady Gaga galvanize her Little Monsters to make a better world or helping a labor union rally for a big political battle.”
Blue State made a name for itself with Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, when its founder Joe Rospars helped set fundraising records as the chief digital strategist. Now the staff of 250 in six global offices focuses the same skill set on clients including Google, UNICEF, MIT and Ford. But the DC office still focuses largely on bills and ballots.
“Whether it’s politics [or corporate work], we’re focused on creating a mutually beneficial relationship between a brand and its supporters,” says Newport. “We try to make sure the lessons that we’ve earned from the political campaigns translate into lessons for our other clients—so much of what we do is focused on helping people understand, ‘How will this big thing that I can’t wrap my head around really matter to me as a supporter or Facebook follower?’ We’re helping brands craft stories and experiences that speak to individuals so that when we do need them to act on our behalf, they feel like part of a relationship where they’re valued.” The last six months, those relationships have centered around the healthcare battle playing out in Congress and cable news 24/7. Every time a bill changes, Blue State staffers may end up rewriting and redesigning emails, social media badges, display ads and landing pages for trade associations looking to weigh in.
“Right now, the battle over health care is one of the most urgent ones for many of our clients,” says senior designer Kate Starr, “but we’re also making buttons for people to wear to the Women’s March and the Science March or Gay Pride, and we see people walking by our offices who are impacted by all of these issues. We had huge letters in our windows that spelled out RESIST, and you’d see people on the street taking pictures, so yes, we’re helping our clients, on this larger scale, but we’re also involved in these fights individually.”
Starr and Newport often recharge their batteries with a walking meeting to the Supreme Court or the Capitol grounds, and they recently took a break from the deadlines with a midday stroll through the Botanical Gardens. “There’s something really powerful about changing what’s happening in our own backyard,” says Newport. “The fact that we can just walk outside the office and see the Capitol or the Washington Monument is a constant reminder of why we do what we do.”
Scott Kirkwood spent 20 years in DC as a writer and editor with the Humane Society of the United States and the National Parks Conservation Association. He’s now a freelance writer living in Denver. www.scottkirkwood.work