While the strategies and tools political consultants and firms use to win campaigns have evolved over the years, the traditional model of a political consulting firm has stayed the same. Kelly Gibson, AAPC Board Member, recently founded Stronger Than Communications, which deviates from the traditional structure of a political consulting firm. Stronger Than is a collective of political strategists, committed to majority women-led, women-owned operations. We recently caught up with Kelly to learn more about how this different, collective approach works, and why she felt the need to branch out from the norm.
Tell us a little about what inspired you to launch a collective firm?
Gibson: In my experience in political consulting over the last 15 years, I have met and worked with so many amazing talents, people who push what’s possible and bring all their passion and purpose to the table and I want to do more of that. A collective allows different professionals to join together, with intention, for individual projects. Collaboration has always been how I do my best work, and as the game is changing, that is more important than ever. The members of the collective, currently all women, have their own operations and work with other people. This is not an exclusive professional relationship, but they are all professionals who believe in the power of collaboration, transparency and innovation. It has been just amazing learning more about the incredible women that work in this space, and I so look forward to working with them all, on different projects, to advance the progressive agenda.
How is a collective firm different from a traditional political communications firm?
Gibson: A collective is limitless in its possibilities. Those in it will change, it will grow and shrink, and it allows for custom services for each project. In my career I have had the chance to work with great teams, but more by accident, than on purpose. This will allow smart women, with decades of experience, to be an intentional team and then bring specific skill sets to the objective of any project. The collective offers traditional services, paid comms/strategic comms/media buying/digital planning, but in a completely non-traditional way. And the client knows everything, they have access to the buyers, they have access to the strategy behind a cross-platform program. Nothing is white-labeled or executed behind the scenes.
In addition to individual partnerships, Stronger Than is working on creating agency partnerships. This is to ensure there is agreement on strategic approach, to agree on the importance of innovation or medium before everyone is sitting at a campaign retreat. The intention is to work together from the get-go so the campaign or the project has the best possible chance for success.
Does a collective firm provide different benefits to clients than to a traditional firm?
Gibson: There will be cases where the services are different, but more than services the collective offers a different approach. It offers more voices, more female voices, more diverse voices. It offers access to process, and input from the client on all aspects of the communications services. It is fundamentally breaking from the traditional reality of political consultants. It certainly won’t be the right fit for everyone, but I do believe that in a post-Trump, post-pandemic, post-2020 world, there will be some campaigns and organizations that are looking for a more robust perspective or a more robust approach.
Why was it important for you to ensure your firm is majority women-led and owned?
Gibson: Historically there have been far fewer female voices in political media consulting than male voices. That is changing, and it’s awesome. More women are entering this field, and I am excited to see how that changes the races. That said, women are still in the minority on many teams. Stronger Than will always be majority women, and that brings a different sensibility to the table. The majority of American voters are women. American women make the majority of decisions around family budgets, child care options, and healthcare decisions. This is something that needs to be considered when we are building progressive communications programs. In my experience, that reality has not been as much of a priority as it should be when building teams. The creative assets that women make are different, the ads connect in a different way, and that matters. We are creating an offering that has the potential to reimagine the possibilities in the progressive movement.
Political consulting has long been a male dominated industry. Do you have any advice for other firms on how best to narrow the gender gap?
Gibson: A lot of this has to do with the bench we are building as a party, and I do believe that is changing. There are more women working in politics, and more women running for office. That needs to drive change. So women need to recognize their worth, existing shops need to be open to growth and change, and women need to help each other out. If there is a race you can’t do for some reason, share that with another woman in the business. Talk to each other about what work is out there. I have been saying to other women in the space, if there is something I am hustling, I will let you know. I know I am going to pitch against someone, so why not other fierce women? We have to change the culture to change the reality. I don’t have any overblown idea that I alone can change the space, but I know now is the moment to give it a try. Not to mention, now is my chance to work with really amazing, smart, connected women.