Meet an Anthem Judge: Jason Rzepka, WRIT LARGE
As the President and Founder of WRIT LARGE, Jason helps social impact and non-profit leaders make an impact by “harnessing the power of culture and coalitions.”
We sat down with Jason, who is also an Anthem Judge, to discuss his work, what he is looking forward to seeing in this year’s Anthem entries, and what campaigns has inspired him recently.
For those who are unfamiliar, can you tell us a bit about yourself and the work that you do?
For a long time, I didn’t really have a great vocabulary to express my work and what I strive for with respect to social impact. I think I’ve settled on a few key terms: cultural strategist, bridge builder and accelerator.
Cultural strategist in that I try to help social impact leaders harness the power of culture — which some would argue is one of only three major levers we can pull to effect change at scale — to elevate their impact. Bridge builder in that I operate at the nexus point of, and as a translator between, many disparate communities — including foundations, cultural influencers, business leaders, storytellers, athletes, non-profits and issue experts. Accelerator in that everything I do is geared towards hastening positive change that helps people live better lives now. All of this work is made possible by 20 years of watching and learning from some of the most talented people in the world, at organizations like MTV, Everytown for Gun Safety and IMAX, plus connected to philanthropies run by people like Laurene Powell Jobs, Howard Schultz, Alice Waters, Warren Buffett and Mike Bloomberg, to name a few.
What expertise are you bringing as a judge for The Anthem Awards?
One of the key throughlines of my career has been an emphasis on strong storytelling and effective communications. We’re bombarded with content, messaging, calls to action and requests for our attention every second of the day. How do you boil a message down to its raw essence, make it memorable and actually inspire someone to do something as a result? I’m excited to bring decades of experience on this front to bear as the judges of the Anthem Awards work to discern the gold standard in contemporary mission driven work.
What are you looking for in Anthem Awards entries?
As far as creative, media or campaign work goes, I definitely want to see big originality, memorability and a commitment to excellence that would hold up well when compared to the best recent work in the commercial sector — be it from Nike, Ogilvy, Apple or Procter & Gamble. I feel like sometimes people working in the social impact realm think it’s good enough for their creative efforts to be considered “good for a non-profit.” I totally disagree with that premise. All of this content — non-profit, for-profit, news, entertainment, sports clips, funny TikTok videos — is swimming together in everyone’s social/media feeds, side-by-side. If your mission-driven work can’t hold its own against all of the other entertainment options and commercial appeals people encounter on a daily basis, you’re in for tough sledding.
Separately, and most importantly, I’ll want to see a strong connection between the intention of the project and the results it generated. Clever creative or a super smart partnership that lingers with me is great, but did it evoke what it was intended to evoke from its target audience? Did it play a role in catalyzing change that helps people live better lives? This is what matters most.
What does it take for a project or campaign to cause real-world change?
I wish I had a pithy answer for this one, but in my experience it’s more like alchemy than a formula. There are like 50-100 things that all need to be in place, be executed well and go your way for the outcome to be “real-world change.” Because real-world change is extremely difficult and elusive to achieve.
But I think it all starts with clarity of purpose and intention. Do you have a strong, reasoned and informed point of view on the role this project or campaign will play in effecting the change you seek? Are you clear on the maximum impact this one element can credibly contribute to making that change? How it needs to be interwoven with other less glamorous, boots-on-the-ground, in-the-trenches work that may never be eligible for an award? Have you considered how this work might be a building block that needs to play out for 3-5 years, to create the conditions for subsequent work to actually drive more demonstrable change? Have you made a commitment to measuring real *outcomes* — not just merchandising *outputs* — even if it runs the risk of disappointing your funder(s)?
What social impact campaign, grassroot effort, fundraiser or project has recently inspired you?
There are two very different ones — one quite recent and one from the last Presidential election cycle — that I absolutely love.
First, the recent decision by the Chouinard family to transfer their ownership of Patagonia into a specially designed trust — ensuring that their deep commitment to “saving our home planet” endures long after their time on our home planet expires. This is one of the most inspiring acts I’ve ever seen in capitalism, environmentalism, advocacy or in any domain. This is the new gold standard for “putting your money where your mouth is.”
Separately, and different in every way, I really love the Joy to the Polls initiative that grew organically in Philly -> https://popcollab.org/projects/joy-to-the-polls/. While the idea caught on and led to big name cultural influencers getting involved, the seeds of it came from super grassroots cultural organizers working to bring joy to a sacred civic act that some might view as work or an obligation. I think folks doing purpose/mission-driven work still too often rely on appeals that are rooted in guilt, fear and intellectual arguments, when we could be having way more impact by centering joy. Or as my grandma used to say, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, right? ;->
To get your work seen by trailblazers of the industry, such as Rzepka, submit your work to the 2nd Annual Anthem Awards! We’ve extended the entry deadline to October 21st––so make sure you don’t miss it! Click here to enter!