Hollywood changemaker Participant Media is here at SXSW to prove that storytelling can make money, drive social impact and be entertaining—all at the same time. The award-winning entertainment company is best known for producing films like Lincoln, An Inconvenient Truth and Food, Inc. But over the past decade, it has grown its reputation as a multimedia powerhouse at the intersection of storytelling, technology and social change. Its digital division, TakePart.com, provides news, commentary and calls-to-action for social change, and its new millennial-minded TV network, Pivot, broadcasts shows focused on social advocacy.
Beyond the entertainment world, Participant Media also supports academia. Last week, it announced a new tool, The Participant Index (TPI), developed in collaboration with the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project (MIP). The team will assess the social impact of a range of media, including film, television, online videos and branded entertainment, with the first wave of research rolling out the first quarter of this year.
As it commences a yearlong celebration of its 10th anniversary, Participant Media is hosting a six-part panel series at the SXSW Social Good Hub in Austin, Texas on Monday, March 10. The series, “Engage, Inspire, Ignite: Conversations About Unleashing Social Good,” reinforces Participant’s leadership role as a purveyor of meaningful media.
The day starts with a talk, “Social Innovation: People, Planet, Profit, Purpose,” led by Christopher Gebhardt , executive vice president of Participant Media’s latest endeavor, the TakePart Agency Group (TAG).
“One day, I’ll have a meeting with the Gates Foundation, and the next day, I’ll be meeting with Intel, and I’ll be hearing similar challenges about engaging consumers and citizens,” Gebhardt says. “Both of them will have a piece of the puzzle, but they won’t have actually connected with each other to figure out how to use each other’s pieces.”
Gebhardt and his team at Participant/TAG aim to connect the pieces between these for-profit and nonprofit sectors.
His new agency provides marketing services and consulting to both brands and foundations to help them drive social impact through the power of storytelling. The agency leverages Particiant Media’s unique expertise on things like social movement building and cause-related content to support socially relevant issues, like girls education and financial inclusion. One of its first big clients was American Express, with a consumer philanthropy project called the Members Project.
On Monday’s panel discussion, Gebhardt will be joined by speakers Lori McMahon, program manager at Intel for Change, and Tom Scott, director of Global Brand & Innovation at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Out here in Hollywood, we know that we need to entertain to get people to get a message. But if you get overly preachy, you might not get the audience that you want,” Gebhardt says. “We’re always trying to reconcile those two different poles.”
He adds: “We do believe, though, that there’s a lot of people that want meaningful media.”
In addition to curating discussions at the SXSW Social Good Hub, Participant Media will premiere the documentary films Cesar Chavez and The Great Invisible and host screenings of The Internet’s Own Boy and TEACH.
The complete schedule of events hosted by Participant Media can be found at http://www.participantmedia.com/sxsw2014/.