With over twenty years of experience as communications professionals and general rabble-rousers, Darcy and Jasper Totten-James are devoted to illuminating often-overlooked voices and directing a media spotlight towards stories that might otherwise be ignored. They have worked together for over a decade as partners in work and in life. Activism Articulated grew out of their own experiences as activists and their desire to share their deep knowledge of communications and media practices with those who could most benefit and would do the most good.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
We have each faced struggles in the business world directly related to our gender, our sexuality, or our race. We were faced with asking ourselves “What really matters? Is this worth it? What difference am I making in the world by allowing my ideas to become fodder for a man’s career? After years of watching white men take credit for our ideas, losing promotions to less qualified male co-workers and generally banging our heads against the proverbial glass ceiling, we decided that the only way out of what felt like a rigged game was to simply stop playing and try something new.
We decided that not only did we want to run our own shop, but we wanted to be women with a business that could transform the types of inequality each of us faced and that we continue to see around us. We are committed to making a difference in the lives of those looking to change the world. We decided to use our unique skills to uplift and empower people and groups that typically cannot afford outside communications services and, additionally, to offer training with our services, to ensure that once we were gone, each group would be equipped to move forward on their own.
Tell us about your business.
Activism Articulated is an integrated communications firm dedicated to supporting artists, activists and underserved communities. We have integrated teaching communications skills into our base model of services for small non-profit and activist groups as part of our basic package, ensuring that groups that cannot afford to hire full-time communications help can get the basic skills they need to get their message heard as they work to make a difference in the world.
We are an integrated communications firm that specializes in helping grassroots/ non-profit organizations. We do everything from basic public relations work, to intense crisis management, communications strategy development, branding, and publicity & event management. Part of what makes us unique is that we offer extremely reduced rates to non-profit and advocacy groups working to create positive change on a global scale.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Yes! We are starting to put some of our training materials online in the form of online classes. These are very basic and easy to follow and are designed to give an essential overview of what might be needed and some tools for basic communications. The first of these, “Effective Communication 101,” is a four-week class in which we examine approaches to successful communication in non-profit/activist spaces. We define effective communication in the context of organizational challenges and barriers, and offer basic tools to establish, re-establish, and grow internal communication channels. Often, we see great organizations struggle for lack of basic understanding of effective communications practices. Future classes will offer basic press-release writing, reaching out to media and reporters, social media basics and more.
This class is best suited for individuals or group organizers or even business owners who simply want to brush up on their communication and listening skills. Any LadyBossBlogger reader who is interested in taking the course will receive a 10% discount at time of sign up. Just mention that you heard about it here and the first five people to sign up will actually get access to the class for free! Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each of us has our own set of accomplishments from industries we worked in prior to starting our business. From an OUTmusic award to an Emmy nomination, we have worked hard and been recognized over the years. More important than awards to us however, is the success of our campaigns on behalf of the people we serve. We worked for eight months with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline and while they did not succeed in stopping the pipeline at this point, we were able to help get their voices heard and an entire country was made aware of the specific issues facing indigenous people in America and the risk to the environment.
We were proud to play a role in publicity during the production of the mini-series “When We Rise”, based on the book by activist and Names Project founder Cleve Jones, which made our own queer history accessible during prime time to a global audience – something neither of us ever expected to see in our lifetimes when we were young. Currently, we are so proud to be working with Black Women United Sacramento as they organize the first march for Black Women in decades in the state’s capitol. Our rewards are the success of these projects and the mark each group leaves on the world.
Where is your business based?
We are based in Sacramento, California, but work with clients in NYC, South Dakota, Chicago and Los Angeles. Thanks to the digital age, location is really no longer a barrier.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
I have a Masters Degree in Journalism. When I met Jasper, I was working in film and television industry on the entertainment side. Jasper was a musician and activist who did a lot of volunteer work. We relocated to California from NYC for family reasons and I went back to working in news. My inside understanding of how to get a story picked up by the media proved to be beneficial with old friends from the film industry looking for coverage of their projects and with activist friends when they struggled to manage crises.
Jasper is the artist and would develop content for social media campaigns and events. Between the two of us, eventually we became the “go to” folks for artists and activists looking for help they could actually afford. We decided early on that we would never charge the exorbitant amount of money that a regular PR firm does, and that we would take one pro bono client a quarter in addition. The goal with this business was always to help first. The business basically started without us, as we got more and more clients exclusively through word of mouth. So, we decided to go all in and created the firm.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
As I mentioned, every quarter we choose a pro bono client who is involved with making positive change on a large scale to represent. This work has helped us get a foothold in the communities we wanted to work with and helped to spread the word. We speak at conferences and also offer in-person workshops that we hand-tailor to fit the needs of nonprofit and activist organizations. Additionally, we believe that our online class offerings that we added this year to our business model will bring awareness as well.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Money! We started with nothing and have done everything ourselves from the very beginning. As an integrated communication firm, we have to be able to do it all. We have been blessed with amazing support from Nick DeGraff who is an incredible part of the team and with some fantastic friends who have made their services available at reduced cost.
Activism Articulated is a grassroots effort in a changing business landscape. The old PR and crisis communication models no longer hold and the best practices often involve getting a firm up to speed on the latest in social media marketing and digital branding, which can be exhausting. Basically, we do it all and we love it… but if an angel investor showed up and offered to help us hire a few more hands we certainly wouldn’t say no!
How did you overcome these challenges?
We know that an organization’s choice of communications firm can make or break their brand/message. The Activism Articulated staff is trend, research & data savvy and work smart, utilizing data and digital technologies to overcome the limitations of our size. We have rich experience in crisis management, social media campaigns, communication best practices and solid political & media ties, and can provide valuable insight that other firms are unable or unwilling to offer. At the end of the day, we love our work and know that we are doing something good in the world. That, frankly, is the most important thing.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
With the current political climate, it’s impossible to be discouraged. The pushback and the resistance to the current administration is inspiring. The need for effective communication strategy and skills is on the rise and Activism Articulated is uniquely positioned to fill the demand. We’re very happy to be here to assist in offering the appropriate tools to make the biggest and best impact possible and hope that this time of upheaval will give way to positive change.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
Not only are we a communications firm, but we are also activists and educators in our own right. All the staff have done their fair share of mobilizing large groups and taking on advocacy projects, so we are invested in our clients’ success in a way that is very personal.
We want to empower those who acquire our services. We believe that good communication practices shouldn’t be a secret. Potential clients can come to our website to learn and choose to do it all on their own if they want. If they still feel they aren’t accessing the results that they want to achieve, we are here and happy to offer more in-depth and personalized service.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
As women we need to tell ourselves how awesome we are… often. The world tells us a lot of stories about who we are and what we are capable of. History has shown that more often than not – the world is wrong.
Meet yourself where you are at. Be authentically grateful for all the things that you have in your life. Truly appreciate your health and your abilities daily and even when you don’t want to be, find a way to be kind to yourself, ALWAYS.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
If you can, connect to what truly brings you joy while fulfilling an actual consumer need, then you are on the right path. If you are working for yourself and you are still dreading life, find something else to get involved in. There’s no sense for you to be miserable… that’s why you left the workforce in the first place! This is the hardest thing we have ever done, and if we didn’t love every second, it would be horrible.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
We love Canva for easy design projects that need to be done quickly. We use a number of press release distribution sites and, of course, all social media channels. I am especially addicted to Twitter and live for my Tweetdeck! We both also run several large Facebook groups that operate as digital meeting places where folks can debate politics, social justice ideas and come together for support.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
“Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” is an incredible book by Monique W. Morris that speaks directly to the types of intersections of identity we work to highlight and includes the voices of many people who are often shouted down or ignored.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
We are constantly researching trends and taking courses to enhance our knowledge and stay up to date on any changes in our field. We are always looking for opportunities to connect with other powerful women and, of course, investors of all stripes that want to support the kind of work we do and the unique business model.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
In addition to revamping our website and getting our digital teaching platform up and running, we are producing a large public art piece for the Crocker Art Museum in June for Pride and are focused on our work with Black Women United. On Saturday, July 15, 2017, the “The Ain’t I A Woman” March will take place in Sacramento, California. It is an inclusive event focused on providing a platform and support for black women. We’re currently looking for sponsors for this event. We hope we can count on you to help make it spectacular! To make a donation, please go to: www.gofundme.com/AIAWmarch
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