For Kathryn Jones (and, likely, countless other Americans), the 2016 election of U.S. President Donald Trump came as a wakeup call. And now, she’s taking action.
Jones, a longtime executive in the digital media space—in 2011, she founded VirtualArtsTV, which produces multi-camera, live-streaming events for performance-arts clients—has officially opened her latest venture: Collective Agency, a grassroots digital, social-first media agency for progressive campaigns, groups, foundations and PACs.
Collective’s mission is to “arm the progressive movement with the social content it sorely lacked,” Jones told Adweek, alluding to Russia’s efforts to influence voters in favor of Trump through social media hacks. “We could, maybe arguably, say social media helped steal the 2016 election,” she said.
For Jones, Trump’s win catalyzed her on many fronts. “That election changed everything: in how I want to be viewed in this world as a woman, an entrepreneur and creative person,” she said.
In those initial days, Jones said she met with several professionals in the advertising industry to brainstorm how they could deploy their talents and resources to promote social good. At first, Jones worked on a volunteer basis, creating digital content and social media campaigns for major progressive organizations, including Women’s March Global, Indivisible, Swing Left and NewFounders, along with grassroots initiatives such as JustLeadershipUSA, Abort Mission and Walkout to Vote.
Eventually, what began as a “passion project” evolved into a full-time “career.”
“Without Collective Agency’s diverse talent network of individuals, the story of the thousands of grassroots women who have come together since January 21, 2017, would have never been told so compellingly,” said Uma Mishra-Newbery, interim executive director of Women’s March Global, which has worked with Jones and her team on efforts including live-streaming its annual worldwide march for women’s rights.
Now Jones said she is ready to open Collective Agency to the public to provide a “full-service, streamlined electoral content-management offering” that includes strategy, message polling, content creation and distribution of social-first graphics and videos. The agency will act as an outsourced creative team, launching with a network of 250 copywriters, directors, editors, graphic designers, actors, animators, creative directors, film producers, brand strategists, etc., nationwide who are dedicated to elevating progressive issues.
“The election of Donald Trump motivated me to become politically active, and when I set out to act, I vowed to do so in the most impactful way I could,” said Nancy Allen, part of the Collective Agency network and a feature-film music editor who most notably worked on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Black Swan. “Collective Agency gives me and other creatives the ability to unite and further the progressive movement with our craft by providing access to organizations and candidates that need our help, fostering creativity through weekly brainstorm meetings and themed creative hackathons, and project managing to ensure that the work and effort we put forth has its maximum impact.”
Allen added, “My personal experience with Collective Agency has proven again and again that even though things can feel overwhelming at times, every little effort matters in adding up to a big difference in the aggregate.”
While Collective Agency still does some volunteer work, Jones said it now offers both one-off and full-year contracts to clients.
“Progressive organizations haven’t been able to produce sociable and persuasive content in the past,” she said, which is where her agency steps in. Leaders of these organizations typically “want to communicate all their policy measures in their videos,” Jones explained, noting that part of her job is persuading them to keep content clear, concise and therefore shareable.
“We create videos we know will have an impact, know will be seen,” Jones said. “It’s sometimes super challenging [explaining to clients] that a 15-second video is going to serve you better than a two-minute video.”
The other challenge to the job is dealing with the inevitable onslaught from social media users who can be relentlessly savage in responding to views that don’t align with their own (as anyone with a Twitter account can confirm).
“Sometimes it’s lonely, hard and not fun at all,” Jones admitted. “But it’s really meaningful.”
She said she’s comforted by the fact that she can put her “head down at night knowing I produced work that mattered.” Heading into the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Jones said that work will prove all the more critical “and complicated.”