Brand-building often conjures up thoughts about great visual design. Beautifully kerned fonts, smooth graphics and cucumber-cool copy seem to be what it’s all about. While that might be true some of the time, when you’re trying to do what non-profit media company Grist has set out to do—that is, transform how the world understands the environment and its intersection with key issues like equity and racial justice—good design is not enough. Not by a long shot.
Over the past few years, Grist has morphed from a tightly focused, policy-minded environmental news outlet into a powerful media brand cultivating a rapidly growing, highly devoted audience. In other words, Grist is becoming the kind of brand that strives to bring with it that often-elusive feel of relevance mixed with serious urgency. It’s the kind of aura that brand managers dream about. So how did this media non-profit learn to punch well above its weight?
A founding that evolved
Grist launched in 1999 as a pioneering digital publication focused on covering the environment and climate. Over the next two decades, it hewed closely to its mission, building a loyal readership and (just as importantly to its non-profit model) nurturing a base of donors who believed that its mission of opening readers’ eyes to a looming environmental disaster was of critical importance.
But in 2017, as it became clear that the climate crisis could only be solved by recognizing its overlap with racial and gender justice movements, Grist knew it needed to up its game. The outlet tapped Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, a former Washington state legislator, as its CEO to lead the effort.
Energized by his mandate, Walkinshaw quickly set to work. What he understood from his days in politics was that a great cause-driven brand would be all about telling the right story to the right community. He felt this was less about buying eyeballs and more about doing the kind of gritty base-building he had helped pull off in the statehouse.