April 1, 2019
Today is the launch of Tectonic, a video agency for nonprofits, foundations and corporate philanthropy.
No, this is not an April Fools joke. Nor was it a joke on April 1, 2012 when I launched Advocate Creative, a creative agency for nonprofits and foundations. In both cases I just happened to be ready to launch in the late winter/early spring, and instead of choosing a random date, April 1st had a better ring to it.
I also chose April Fools Day because when I started Advocate Creative, my friends and colleagues thought I was a fool to start a creative agency that worked exclusively with nonprofits. “After all,” they offered, “aren’t nonprofits always broke? And it’s obvious they don’t value communications — just look at their websites and print design.”
My friends weren’t entirely wrong. Of the 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S., the overwhelming majority are struggling financially. And in my experience, most nonprofits don’t recognize just how essential communications are to accomplishing their mission. But my hope was that there would be enough nonprofits who value communications and could afford to pay us to keep our lights on. And thankfully there are.
Advocate Creative’s first office, 2012.
We set up our first office in the back corner of a warehouse that we sublet from a t-shirt company. We quickly outgrew that space and moved into an office of our own. As the team grew, so did our opportunities. Over the years we’ve had the chance to work with some of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations. We’ve won dozens of industry awards, and our work has been featured in the New York Times, on NPR, and been viewed by hundreds of millions of people. We’ve visited 17 countries and trekked all over the United States. And we had a lot of fun along the way.
Leading Advocate Creative for the past 7 years has been the most rewarding and most challenging thing I’ve ever done. There have been huge victories and crushing defeats. I’ve been stretched far beyond what I thought was possible, and I learned more than I knew there was to learn. Through it all we never lost sight of why we were doing this work: because world-changing organizations deserve world-class communications. Starting Advocate Creative was never about scratching my entrepreneurial itch, or capitalizing on a lucrative business opportunity. It was about living out my calling.
Back in 2004 I spent a year backpacking around the world. Sparked by a quarter life crisis, I wandered through 33 countries, seeing some of the great wonders of the world, and experiencing enough adventure to last a lifetime. Along the way I met dozens of people working at nonprofits. I would sometimes tag along with them to wherever they were going, and I was often invited to come and see their work firsthand. What I saw blew me away.
From fighting poverty to safeguarding the environment, from advocating for refugees to addressing trauma through the arts, the work these organizations were doing was compelling and vital. Yet, when I visited their websites or saw their communications, I cringed. They didn’t know how to compel their audiences, and their impact was reduced because of it.
Telling their stories became my calling, and when I returned to the U.S. from my travels, I began preparing for what would become Advocate Creative.
Me on the Great Wall during my trip around the world, 2004.
I’m so proud of my team at Advocate Creative and what we’ve accomplished together. I had never dreamed that I would start a business and build it into one of the top creative agencies for nonprofits. And I never dreamed that I would step away from Advocate Creative to launch another company.
The impetus for Tectonic is a byproduct of our success at AC. The last couple of years at AC have been our most rewarding, and most demanding. Our design team and video team have been maxed out, and our opportunities have been growing at steep pitch. The demands of leading both sides of the company were more than I could handle, and the team was feeling the strain. I came to realize that both sides of Advocate Creative, design and video, needed their own dedicated leader to realize their fullest potential and best serve their clients. And if each team had its own leader, then it made sense for each team to be its own entity.
I’m so grateful that Jon McGrath, AC’s Design Lead, and his wife Jessie, AC’s Art Director, are up for the challenge of becoming the owners and leaders of Advocate Creative. The new AC will focus on brand strategy, website design, and print collateral design, and continue providing world-class communications to world-changing nonprofits. They are off to their best year ever, and I’m so excited to see them grow.
Tectonic’s new logo.
Tectonic is AC’s former video team, and we’re a full-service video agency for nonprofits, foundations and corporate philanthropy. I chose the name “Tectonic” because I believe that brand communications are in the midst of a tectonic shift. While there will always a need for compelling text and images, video is the future of nonprofit communications. Industry leaders have been saying this for a while now, and lifestyle, sports and entertainment brands have led the charge into this new reality. But soon, “video first” will be mainstream, and nonprofits will need to quickly adapt to this new reality. Ultimately, I believe that video-first communications will be a great thing for nonprofits because they have tremendous stories to tell and compelling reasons to tell them (the world is depending on it!). But nonprofits will need help navigating these changes, and Tectonic will be here to help.
Launching a new company is never easy. We’re already in start-up mode. But I have an incredible team around me, and we’re up for a new challenge.
So happy 7th birthday to Advocate Creative. We love you and wish you all the best. We’ll cheer you on every step of the way, and we know we’ll have many opportunities to continue working together on projects in the future.
Happy birth day to Tectonic.
Let’s do this!