Marie Danzig is responsible for creation and products at blue state, a values-driven creative and campaign agency that partners with leading causes and businesses to help them transform their interaction with the public. Founded in 2004 and based in Brooklyn, its clients include UNHCR, Amnesty International and Tate Modern, as well as companies such as Google, Co-op and Nesta.
Specializing in online fundraising, advocacy, social media and constituency development, Blue State is on a mission to make the world a better place. And that’s nothing new for Marie, who previously worked as deputy digital director for Obama’s presidential campaign (2012-13) and online fundraising manager for the World Food Program (2010-12). .
We chatted with Marie to find out what Blue State’s corporate clients and charities are looking for, how it engages them and delivers real results, and what the difference in the world of 2022 looks like.
What makes Blue State different?
Blue State is more than an agency. It’s a place where people can work on the causes they care about and inspire them to take action. We’ve helped elect presidents, change laws, change opinions, and raise millions of dollars for nonprofits. And we also connect people to businesses in meaningful ways.
Over the past two years, the world has seen one crisis after another: from pandemics and wars to racism and gun violence. And it’s great to work with partners who are knee deep in these fights. Supporting brands on how to engage. And to find and feel that solidarity with each other.
What kinds of things do your customers ask for?
Among advocacy and non-profit organizations there is always the question of scale and how to have an even greater impact? How to reach more people? How can we do more good in the world?
When it comes to business, there has been more movement towards goal-oriented work and beyond CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] campaigns and activities. These are important elements and a good way for companies to direct their profits. But now, more and more companies are really leading with a purpose. They are afraid to take a stand and see how it will help them grow their customer base and retain them.
What do you think of the role of social media in all of this?
I have very mixed feelings, of course, about social media. It has probably been used recently for more harm than good. And it’s not just the bad actors; we see these studies and a negative impact on things like self-image and health. Additionally, the platforms themselves make it harder, in some ways, for organizations to reach people who can help them with their good causes in the name of transparency or data privacy.
It’s still a bit of a necessary evil. So we continue to evolve on these platforms and figure out how we can continue to engage communities. But it’s getting harder and harder.
You led the digital efforts of Obama’s campaign, which had hope as its theme. But do you still have this hope for the future?
Yeah, absolutely. We have been through dark times with the recent school shootings and the moves to end abortion rights. Thus, even our employees who are truly committed to these causes feel the weight of these crises and are extremely affected personally. It’s hard to show up when you’re feeling so down. But that’s exactly when we need to keep fighting and not become complacent or discouraged.
Indeed, that is part of our job: finding ways to inspire and mobilize people, to inject hope in a way that really resonates. Especially since people have become quite cynical. There is less trust in institutions and organizations. And so, helping organizations overcome that and build momentum is so important.
Creativity plays a big part in choosing the right pictures and words. But also by helping organizations define their theory of change so that we are in the mood and help people rise to the challenge.
So how does this work in practice? Can you tell us about what you have done for Amnesty, for example?
Of course: I love talking about our work with Amnesty International! I am proud of what we have done in partnership with them. It is an incredible organization with deep roots in popular mobilization and collective action to end human rights violations.
Amnesty needed to evolve to remain relevant and effective in its work. And they felt they weren’t representative and inclusive enough in their marketing and branding. So they asked us to help them develop a new global brand platform that would resonate and inspire the next generation of advocates and supporters.
We knew we would not be successful unless we took action and ensured that all voices were heard. We therefore organized co-creation workshops with dozens of representatives around the world; I think it was in six different countries. As a result, we’ve built a brand positioning that puts hope and humanity at the heart of the brand story and helps reframe human rights for the 21st century.
You also worked for Co-op: another good cause.
The cooperative is a fun example of applying our engagement strategies and expertise to a company that has always been committed to social good. Community organization has been part of their model since the 19th century. But they wanted to build a more sophisticated program and increase their impact. They wanted to do more than your standard CSR campaign and truly transform communities; really get in there and make a difference.
So we helped them build a model to engage their customers locally. Not only online but offline; marry this digital activism with the organization on the ground and with the development of the platform and the technology. So it’s a really great combination of expertise that we’ve been able to offer, and it’s really rewarding to see her grow and continue to engage people in local activism.
With these massive projects, where to start?
We like to say that it all starts with people. So make sure we listen to the right stakeholders and find out: what exactly is the challenge? What are the goals, what are the needs and what are the considerations? And so, it starts with a massive discovery and strategy phase that puts the user and people at the center.
Depending on the size, scope and nature of the project, this strategy phase can be very different. But we have plenty of tools to analyze the audience, making sure we’re listening to the data and not just our guts. Do lots of interviews, surveys and focus groups with stakeholders. And just make sure we have all the right information and foundation to build a solution. Because the most dangerous thing you can do is jump straight to a solution without fully understanding the requirements.
You smile telling me that. Is this your favorite part of the process?
I think that’s a differentiator for us at Blue State; what value we place on this phase and how it can transform the way you work. Some other agencies invest in trendy or flashy things, and we really aim for that real and lasting change and impact. Sometimes that’s not the easiest or the sexiest path. But it’s the good one. And Blue State is usually here for the long haul, whatever you need to do to really build that change and transform how your organization works or how you deliver to communities.
So when you’ve gone through this whole process and made a difference, how do you feel?
Seeing your work activated in the world is so rewarding. For example, seeing a visual identity you’ve been working on at a bus stop in your “real life”. And just make an impact in the world and accelerate change. At Blue State, we just want to accelerate progress. And so it’s beautiful to see all your blood and sweat and tears appear in the world.