Work in Advertising? Here's How Your Skills Can Make a Difference in the Midterms

TBWA\Chiat\Day strategist builds nonpartisan toolkit

It's no secret that this year's midterm elections feel critical in a way they haven't in the past. The country is divided, the future is uncertain, and the only way to make things better—whichever side you're on—is to vote and make your voice heard. 

Given the high stakes, more people want to get involved in helping candidates this election season. But how? The options can seem overwhelming. But now, if you work in the advertising and marketing industries, there's a new toolkit that can give you some guidance, and help you apply your specific skills to candidates who need them. 

It's called The Midterm Brief. It was dreamed up by Corianda Dimes, a senior strategist at TBWA\Chiat\Day in Los Angeles. You go on the site, select your job description, and see options for volunteer work that can employ your specific skill set on behalf of candidates. You can also enter your location and find candidates, on both sides of the aisle, who are locked in competitive races and could use your help. 

Muse spoke to Dimes about the initiative. 

Muse: Why did you want to do something around this issue?
Corianda Dimes: The midterms are a thing this year in a way they haven't been in the past. I wasn't alone in finding that when I was talking to friends and colleagues, there was this sense that things mattered. We want to get involved in something outside of work, beyond the client work we do on a regular basis, but we don't know how. I'm a strategist, and if I'm struggling to find these answers and figure out the right path forward, other people must be too. 

There are incredible campaigns out there around getting people to vote and getting people involved. What was missing was making this very personal, and answering the question of, "Where do I start?" We wanted to create something that was very specific to our industry and answer that question: "I know I want to do something. Where do I start? What can I do?" 

We're in the persuasion communication business to begin with. We can get on the phone and try to pitch something to a client who's really fighting us on something. We're trying to communicate to consumers who don't really want to hear from advertising. We have skills that can be valuable in volunteering for political candidates. The goal was just to empower people to do so, and give them that little kick in the ass before Nov. 6.

Explain how the site works differently if you're a copywriter versus an art director versus a producer, and all the other job titles. 
Our strong objective from the get-go was to make volunteering very tangible and very personal to our different job titles. The second goal was to make sure it was something actually attainable and useful at this stage in the game. Had we launched this thing a year ago, we could develop entire strategies and beautiful 60-second campaigns. But the reality is, we are four weeks out. We are in get-out-the-vote mode. Here are things that are fast, and tangible, and require manpower. Two big things are canvassing and phone banking. In talking to friends, most people have no idea what that means, or it seems a lot scarier than it is. 

We have listed out a bunch of titles that apply across the advertising industry, and they're tailored slightly differently. For example, if you are an art director, some of the things you'll get are very much focused on short-term needs around social and things like that—designing flyers and graphics for last-push initiatives, resizing assets, helping format print-ready files, creating compelling social posts leading up to Election Day. And then, when we do recommend canvassing and phone banking, which we do for every person who comes to the site, we try to make it specific to that profession. So, for example, if you are a PR professional, you're using your communication and pitching skills to phone bank. Literally what you do. A strategist is using your persuasive pitching and storytelling skills to canvass, as well as doing things like research for briefings ahead of big appearances or strategizing on how to reach specific groups or audiences like teenagers or senior citizens. 

And we wanted to make sure this wasn't just focused on the strategy/creative space. We do go all the way to account people, HR professionals, legal professionals, developers. It's probably not exhaustive, but the goal is to have enough in there that everyone can find something that feels personal to them. And then when you get to the end and you get your "brief," the statement it makes is, "I am a strategist with unique skills and I can help shape the outcome of the midterm elections." So it becomes very personal and tangible. 

And the key point, too, is that it's not partisan. The whole system functions better when everyone's involved.
Yes. That was really important for us—from a practical standpoint in getting it made, but also, there was no reason the site should be partisan. If anyone feels this need to get involved, they should do it and they should feel empowered to do so. That did affect the way we built the site—down to the gradient, as opposed to trying to balance the red and blue, to the way we present both Republican and Democratic candidates once you get to the personal "Find Someone to Help" stage, even down to some of the resources we provide. 

There are incredible resources out there to help people vote but a lot of them are partisan. So we wanted to make sure that this was from the get-go something anyone could use no matter where they stood on the political spectrum. We also prominently feature the option to skip. If you want to volunteer for someone else, you have someone in mind, if you want to do more research, if you want to volunteer for a cause, you have the option to skip. And you still get the value of understanding some of the tangible skill sets that you can bring to a cause or a candidate. 

Tell us about how the sites chooses local candidates near you to help. 
That was a tricky part, to be honest. Getting it down to someone you could help also makes it very real and tangible. We wanted to focus on competitive races in the House and Senate. We wanted to make sure that it got localized, it felt real, it felt like there was an impact, especially because there are definitely geographical hubs where advertising and communications are centered. Big cities. I think there's a misconception that, if you live in L.A., that there's nothing I can do. It's going to go one way politically no matter what, so I don't need to vote and I don't need to get involved. The reality is there's three to five competitive districts within an hour of Los Angeles. There's three down the Orange County area. There's one up in Lancaster, Palmdale. Those are within an hour. There is stuff you can do close. Now, the caveat is, of course, the closest "competitive" race where there's two parties in the Senate isn't anywhere near. It's in Nevada. But there are things you can do both remotely as well as pretty close to you. 

Does the site actually connect you with the candidate's staff? 
It doesn't. The website is definitely a work in progress. As we're getting feedback and more people get into it, we're going to continue to improve it. At this stage, to get it out in the world, we opted not to connect you directly to candidates. We wanted to make sure we were being really careful about being nonpartisan. We can send anybody to a website. Everybody's got a website. But when we get down to connecting you to an actual human, or even sending you a specific part of someone's website, we didn't feel 100 percent confident at this stage that we can do that and make sure everything was equal and fair. 

The overarching POV of the site is also that we're adults. We're professional, right? Are we capable of going to a website and figuring it out? Yeah. You want to volunteer. That's the least you can do. And so we do have instructions for that once you get to the last page. 

How is TBWA promoting the initiative, and how broadly are you hoping it catches on?
To answer the second part of your question first, and just speaking entirely personally for myself, if this even gets a handful of people to volunteer, that's something that matters a lot to me. What's been amazing throughout this process is the support that has come from Chiat and from TBWA. This is definitely the work of a small group of people who care passionately about this. TBWA, especially the leadership here at Chiat, has encouraged us, supported us, allowed us to do this, as well as shared it out internally and with their network as a resource. Fundamentally, this isn't a campaign that I think is done for glory or attention. It's a campaign where we're trying to build a useful tool. Our whole mantra is "Be more human," right? Part of being more human is about pursuing your passion and feeling like you have a purpose. It's been really amazing to see that come to life from the support that we've gotten from leadership.

And, we compete so much against each other in the advertising realm. This is one of those things where we can actually be more human and come together. It doesn't if you're a Democrat, if you're a Republican. It doesn't matter where you stand, who you support, just do it. It's a step in the right direction. 

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards, editor of Muse by Clio, and host of the podcast Tagline. He is the former creative editor of Adweek.

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