ELEANOR: A Culture Shift Agency Case Study
Culture Shift Agency (formerly BugHouse Media) was approached by Paradise Producers Productions (PPP) & 1Future who were partners on a project entitled ELEANOR, a TV series in development based on the life of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Their marketing concept included an idea for an educational non-profit arm of ELEANOR to generate wider awareness and momentum in anticipation of the TV series launch. This initiative included plans to pilot a one-day workshop in East Hampton to test the viability of the project and to launch a campaign to raise funding for the series and the educational arm.
The Problem | The Little Idea
The client had all the basics in place. They had secured the rights to THE Eleanor Roosevelt bio written by the leading historian and distinguished professor, Blanche Wiesen Cook. They had a screenplay circulating. 1Future had a working model for integrating live educational workshops with various non-profit and for-profit projects as a means of generating publicity and awareness. And they had the backing for this initial stage by the founder of PPP, a well-known local entrepreneur and founder of LTV, a Long Island-based public access studio.
CSA was charged with producing the live event with the goal of proving the viability of Eleanor Roosevelt as a cultural icon capable of capturing the public’s imagination, generating excitement and anticipation with regards to the series all in order to better position the partners to raise the necessary funding to get to the next phase of ELEANOR.
We at CSA fell in love with the project immediately.
Eleanor Roosevelt was an iconoclast way ahead of her time. She was a fighter, an activist, a writer, a fierce advocate around many issues including women’s rights, poverty, race relations, human rights, peace, and the environment. She was a big thinker who cast a giant shadow withnumerous organizations that have galvanized around her legacy and ideals.
We wanted to know what makes Eleanor Roosevelt relevant to our time? Why should Gen Y’ers, not to mention Gen Z’ers, care about Eleanor? In an era of social media, #metoo, polarized politics, fake news, climate change and the like, can the life and ideas of a mid-twentieth century icon resonate and hold relevance in our twenty-first century lives?
This is when we put on our ideation hats and went to task. LEARN -> LISTEN -> TALK -> RIFF -> REPEAT
Some of what we learned
Eleanor Roosevelt was so beloved that Thurgood Marshall nicknamed her “Lady Greatheart”.
Stories abound from all persuasions and all walks of life about Eleanor Roosevelt’s uncanny ability to light up any room she entered.
She was said to show up to dinner with whomever she chose on that given day, regardless of race, religion or class. She saw every individual as someone of value, even those in society who were considered vagrants or “low lifes,” counter to the common way of thinking during her time.
She made it a point to befriend politicians across the aisle even when her husband wouldn’t.
She felt togetherness was the antidote to many of our problems.
With the passage of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in jeopardy from an imminent Russian veto, legend has it the night before the vote Eleanor Roosevelt took the Russians to the opera and engaged and embraced them as friends. They voted YES the very next day.
We learned that what made Eleanor Roosevelt so special.
she embodied a disarmingly powerful style of leadership that was open-hearted and empathic with a fiery can-do attitude that incorporated a profound sense of community, equality and inclusion.
The Big Idea
We had found our way in
In an era of social media, #metoo, polarized politics, fake news, climate change and everything else, it is precisely this open-hearted leadership approach that seemed like the perfect radical organizing approach to ELEANOR.
It seemed to us that in this era of polarization and divisiveness, we have a crisis of leadership. The current leadership approach is not offering us, not to mention our younger generations, much in the way of a viable solutions to heal our country and our world.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s striking ability to receive and integrate varying (and often disparate) points of view was a reflection of her ability to balance the power of the feminine energy, or as we refer to as her more “yin” approach, with a mastery of her own integrated masculine (“yang”). In a world out of balance, a balanced in approach to life and leadership is desperately needed. And we felt that Eleanor’s unique light is a beacon to our divided times that can offer relevancy, healing and hope. The catalyst to opening minds, igniting awareness, and shifting culture could be in Eleanor’s fierce yet open-hearted style of leadership.
Strategy | Ideation Into Action
We presented to our client that Eleanor’s leadership style – her fierce open-heartedness – could be the central organizing principle for the workshop and in reenvisioning the non-profit and TV show at large.
The client loved it and Culture Shift Agency was green-lit to produce and direct the live event with the goal of building community around Eleanor Roosevelt’s message of open-hearted leadership and empathy and to inspire discourse, engagement, and a clear understanding of the power and relevance of her ideals.
So instead of teaching and preaching, the Culture Shift team felt it was important to provide an immersive, interactive experience which fit perfectly with our client’s methodology summarized in their process of “Learn! Create! Share! Act!”.
CSA collaborated with 1Future team to infuse every part of the live event with these qualities to see what would happen.
Directing and producing meant clarifying and simplifying messaging, creating cohesive visuals that were both rooted in Eleanor’s legacy as well as relatable to modern times, designing the space so it was interactive & immersive, and creating a program that would inspire participants to integrate learning into their own lives and to spread the good word of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Solution | Take It To the People
The workshop itself was interactive: conducted in the round, in the large black-box studio of LTV in East Hampton, NY. The space was theatrically lit and included a lush, on-going light projection of Eleanor through her life. A life-sized cut out of Eleanor graced the center of the circle. The day was filled with activities, discussion, group sharing and art-making.
Participants included a curated guest list of local and not-so-local influencers, content experts, activists and socially-minded movers-and-shakers in addition to an open invitation to the general public residing in East Hampton and surrounding towns.
We opened with a dramatic invocation led by the Shinnecock Indian Nation, as a tribute to the deep reverence Eleanor held toward the environment as well as her un-ending fight for equal rights.Food was provided by local vendors excited to participate in such a forward-looking community-based event.
The dynamic, feisty scholar and biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt, Blanche Cook, spun tales of Eleanor’s journey and how her sense of empathy, community and human rights for all was radical, impressive and far-reaching then AND now.
During the afternoon all participants were invited and encouraged to participate in intimate roundtable discussions to personally grapple with many of the same issues Eleanor loved and struggled over - all of which are still relevant today. Each roundtable discussion was led by renowned thought leaders encompassing topics that included:
Peace & The Military Complex
Environment, Sustainability and Regenerative Living
The roundtables broke and all participants moved into creative breakouts where the many themes of the day were explored through disciplines that included silkscreening, multimedia projection, podcast production, sound meditation, and t-shirt making.
The day wrapped back in the main studio where all the guests reconvened for a rolicking communal dance in which they learned some of the dance steps Eleanor loved. One of the tenets of open-heartedness includes play, and dance was the perfect catalyst for fun and laughter.
Results | Magnificent
Street teams that had been sent out the previous weekend had fliered local shops and establishments and created buzz throughout the general public and business community. The East Hampton Star, featured an article about the workshop and the story of the maverick LTV founder and his step-grandson returning home to realize a long-held dream by giving the gift of Eleanor.
The day of the event LTV Studios was at capacity as a diverse mixture of locals mingling with our invited guests filtering in and out. Everyone, young and old, from all walks of life contributed their insights, experience, talent and creativity to the event making the day a resounding success with rave reviews and a happy client:
“One of the best events I’ve attended since I’ve lived here.” - Ellen Frank, Cities of Peace
“It was a truly magical event. Thank you for sharing all your magnificent work and ideas! To be continued, I hope…” -Jennifer Brunetti, Producer
Some of the numerous takeaways from the CSA process along with the actual event include:
The proven relevance and viability of Eleanor Roosevelt’s open-hearted leadership style as a catalyst for change and a bridge across divides
Video footage from the event as the basis for a promotional tool for potential investors, donors and future event sponsors
The conceptualization and proposal to launch a second non-profit to campaign for Eleanor Roosevelt Day, the first-ever federal national holiday celebrating a woman in history, for the purpose of magnifying the power of women and their contribution to American History and the future of our country
The interest of at least one major Hollywood celebrity in taking on the role of Eleanor in the TV series
Interest on the part of the United Nations in possibly bringing Eleanor to the annual conference for the NGO - UN Committee on the Status of Women (CSW)
And lastly, a more sound footing from which to approach investors and donors for funding for the series as well as not one, but two non-profits built on the open-hearted legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt; one regarding a national educational program and the other campaigning for a national holiday in Eleanor Roosevelt’s name