August 27, 2021

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Anthem Club: Brian Lightbody, Creative Director, RYOT Studio

The Anthem Club is a professional networking and convening space for folks who work in the social impact community. Held by humans across non-profits and digital organizing, as well as journalists, documentary filmmakers, creatives and marketers, the Anthem Club is a digital and offline squad that comes together to share what’s working on the ground and inspire each other to build new dynamics for a better future.

Brian Lightbody is Creative Director at RYOT Studio

Was there a moment in your life when you knew you wanted to pursue a career in social impact work?

I was 8 years old during the 1988 U.S. Presidential campaign, and there was one particular Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes produced TV spot that hit me like a freight train. While the Willie Horton ad became the awful hallmark of that campaign, it was an ad about pollution in Boston Harbor (candidate Michael Dukakis was the Governor of Massachusetts) that moved me to tears and inspired me to beg my parents to vote for George H. W. Bush! In the ad there are ducks drowning in oil slicks with an over the top voice over “Michael Dukakis wants to do for America what he’s done for Massachusetts.” It was pretty traumatic and made an instant impression on me. As I became more politically astute, I realized I had been duped and that George  H. W Bush was not the ideal candidate on environmental issues, but the power of that ad to influence my opinion and inspire activism, I think about it all the time.

Around this time in the early 90’s there also was an eco consciousness that kids had exposure to. I used to collect and clean cans to recycle. Captain Planet was on TV, it’s kind of amazing to look at now.

What was your first job in social impact?

As a late teenager I was really inspired by adbusters and how they learned the tools of corporate communications to subvert it. I started my professional career in ad agencies as a designer and art director and always angled to get involved in the cause related work. I got to work on nonprofit campaigns the agency took on like Rock the Vote, Dress for Success and some brand led campaigns that had a CSR angle. There were only a handful of brands working on this when I started out, the landscape has definitely changed in that brands now feel they need to be involved in racial justice, sustainability and weighing in on topics like immigration and voting rights.

What advice would you give to young people who would like to pursue a career in social impact?

Get started. You don’t need a job or title to volunteer and get involved in the causes you care about. Building a body of work, making contacts, building a reputation and knowledge on that topic is going to lead to opportunity. This generation has so many great tools to broadcast and experiment with on social media, take advantage of that. My biggest advice career-wise is to not be shy, stay connected to the people you’ve worked with, as they grow in their careers so will you.

What is the role or project you have been a part of that you are most proud of?

I was proud to help develop a short film and social media campaign that brought Christian evangelical rock stars to the Paris climate accord in 2015. A lot of the messaging in the climate community is playing defense, I loved that we went on offense with a community that is rapidly changing — a younger generation questioning ideologies they may have inherited through their faith and family. Who says southern evangelicals can’t become climate activists? I’m a big believer in being open and pushing the boundaries of who can be moved on a particular issue.

Recently, I’ve also been proud to have helped in a behind the scene role, helping to push a very large corporation to take on a greater role in expanding their efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion.

What is your dream social impact project?

Anything that both makes an impact and resonates within the broader culture. I would love to work more with artists, musicians, athletes, new technology and speak to new audiences. How can we create the consensus for change, where do we need to go and who do we have to move to do that? 

What is your favorite past or present campaign or piece of work (i.e. book, film etc)

The Greenpeace piece with Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi playing on a glacier in the arctic is so beautiful, artful and powerful, that is one I always think about.