Heading into 2020, we saw a long and arduous path to the November election: political polarization was at an all-time high, and Americans seemed more focused on tearing each other down than propping each other up. Then, of course, the pandemic hit. As millions around the world continue to get sick and lose family, friends, and jobs, the discord along social, political, and cultural lines only grows deeper.
From day one, FIG has worked to build a culture of openness and curiosity, one where we accept and celebrate differences instead of running from them. It’s not only reflected in the work we create for clients (more on that below), but also in how we create positive change within our own walls. Part of that is a focus on internal philanthropic initiatives — from cultural awareness to community volunteerism to mental health support — to make space and time for the entire staff to wholeheartedly engage with broader social issues. To that end, one of the causes we've always stood up for is voting participation. And, this being an election year (and a consequential one, at that), our commitment to this issue is stronger than ever before.
The goal of our voting-awareness initiative is, simply, to encourage active civic participation among all our employees. “We want our employees to be informed, active participants in society, and we’ll do whatever we need to do to help them be that,” says Ted Alcarez, Chief People Person at FIG. The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in numerous societal changes, one of them being how and when many of us vote; the election is now recast as more of a voting season than as a single Election Day. This means more flexibility for voters, but it also raises a lot of questions: When and how do I request a ballot? And when do I have to send it back? Can I still vote in person, and when?
The main goal of FIG’s internal voter awareness program is to provide clarity around these questions, so that every team member can develop a personal voting plan that works for them. How will we do it? By communicating clearly, frequently, and effectively. That includes:
Sharing information in weekly all-agency meetings on how, where, and when to vote;
Emailing reminders with links to voter registration information;
Encouraging staff to use their uncapped PTO allowance to vote;
And facilitating open forums during and after the election to share advice, troubleshoot pain points, and reflect on the overall experience together.
For those who want to go a step beyond, we’re collaborating with Work the Polls, a nonprofit aimed at increasing voter engagement and fighting voter suppression, and are sharing tools with staff to participate in the organization’s ongoing efforts. As part of our partnership, representatives from Work the Polls will be joining our all-agency meetings in September, sharing specific details on getting involved. Beyond that, we’ll regularly circulate additional volunteer opportunities, encouraging team members to take advantage of our unlimited paid time off policy for charitable projects.
No matter a person’s level of involvement, the intended result is that everyone feels not just empowered and informed, but as de-stressed as possible during a doubly stressful time. “It makes logical sense for us to encourage employees to be active participants to ensure that they are happy, they are taken care of, and their livelihoods are protected by going out and voting,” says Alcarez. Plus, he notes: “Happy employees make happy clients.”
While each of our clients gives us a unique opportunity to explore particular sociocultural trends and touchpoints, one of them — CNN — connects directly to our voting initiatives. In two recent campaigns, we leveraged the brand’s reputation as an arbiter of objective facts (signified by the “Facts First” slogan we launched for them in 2017) to promote bipartisan discourse and freedom of information in advance of the upcoming election.
The first campaign revolves around stop-motion footage of a donkey and an elephant engaged in playful debate. Released in time for the Democratic and Republican national conventions, it uses political cartoon imagery to represent how those with different political views can still talk openly, respectfully, and, crucially, with humor. Originally conceived in February 2020 to promote CNN’s election coverage, the idea underwent significant alterations in the wake of the pandemic. “We were going to show a donkey walking into a diner full of elephants, or a Thanksgiving table with donkeys and elephants, the message being that there's going to be a lot of arguments this year, and if you just go back to the facts, you'll get through it,” recalls Howard Finkelstein, a lead creative director on the project. “When coronavirus happened, those spots suddenly made no sense.” The team ultimately landed on a narrative that avoids crowd imagery and resonates beyond the particulars of the 2020 presidential election. The resulting spots build the case that, despite the symbolic and literal distances separating us, we still can — and need to — come together.
In the coming weeks, we’re releasing a CNN campaign that directly addresses access to and participation in the upcoming vote. Witnessing recent attacks against mail-in voting, we saw an opportunity to respond with something simple and informative that reinforces the “Facts First” value statement. Working fast (the entire execution, from creative development to shipment, will be wrapped in under a month), we’re reimagining historical and commemorative stamp imagery to showcase the enduring legacy — and overwhelming success rate — of mail-in ballots since the Civil War. Concluding with calls encouraging people to vote no matter what, the spots will be buttressed by a bespoke micro-site (CNN.com/vote) with detailed information on state-specific voting laws.
While the campaigns differ in tone, style, and content, they repeat the same message: information empowers people to act with clarity and intention. When we’re armed with the facts, we can sift through the cacophony of conflicting messages and advocate on behalf of our values and beliefs, whatever they are. At FIG, standing up for voting rights is an extension of our overarching commitment to truth, not only in how we work, but in how we relate to and connect with clients, neighbors, and the community at large. We’re incredibly proud of the work we put out in the world, but we know it’s not everything. It’s the people behind it who are.
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