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Taking Sides: Our Values

Recently, there has been a bit of a dust-up regarding the nonprofit software services firm Convio. Here at Mandate Media, we figure it's a good time to put our marker down, draw our line in the sand, and tell you about our values.

First, the Convio controversy

To recap briefly: Most of Convio's current and past clients are lefty organizations - including the ACLU, Dean for America, Planned Parenthood, etc. Recently, however, they added the Alliance for Marriage; an anti- gay-marriage organization. Some leading blogs, including AmericaBlog and DailyKos, have called for a boycott - suggesting that Convio is violating its own prohibition against serving hate groups.

There is, of course, a fundamental difference between a software services firm and a political consulting firm. As Convio CEO Gene Austin told the Personal Democracy Forum:

Austin takes great issue with the notion that Convio is involved with its client’s strategies. “The consulting we do is limited to best practices on the Internet,” he insists. “We don’t talk to organizations about their mission, strategy or policies. In the case of AFM, we’re strictly supporting whatever product issues as they may have.”

While there is, of course, a debate to be had about whether the Alliance for Marriage is a 'hate group' - we don't actually think that's the issue. After all, there are plenty of true hate groups - like neo-Nazis, skin-heads, KKK chapters - that buy Dell computers, Microsoft software, Harley motorcycles, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, etc.

Do you judge a company by its customers - when that company is simply selling a neutral product; and meaning is created by the customer? Probably not.

Admittedly, Convio's software empowers organizations to organize citizens and change the world - so perhaps there's a higher standard. But Convio's software is value-neutral and they don't advise their clients on their values - they just do tech support.

Again, Convio's Gene Austin:

“In markets that are emerging like ours these are the types of issues that are going to pop-up. It’s a grey area for our market right now.” Though he predicts that companies like his will more clearly define the client policies, Austin continues, “From Convio’s standpoint, we have made the decision that we aren’t the judge. Our zeal is for our market, not the side of the aisle.”

Second, our values

Of course, Mandate Media is a very different animal than Convio. (Besides being much smaller, that is.) While we're often lumped into the same category, our services are fundamentally distinct.

We are political consultants. Our area of expertise is internet strategy and website development. Just as media consultants, pollsters, or general strategists advise clients in their areas, we advise our clients on internet strategy.

Consequently, we only take clients that we believe in. Clients that we would vote for on a ballot. Clients that we're not embarrassed to tell our mothers about.

We also don't take opposing candidates for the same office. (Of course, someday two of our existing clients may decide to run against each other. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

To be sure, we can't possibly agree with every single position taken by every single client (especially when sometimes the advocacy groups take opposing positions on narrow issues) - but generally speaking, we're in line with their missions.

And that's critical, since our goal is help them change the world. To remake it in the ways that they believe are best. To be good consultants, we have to believe in them.

And that's that.

While we've never used the Convio software, we consider Vinay Bhagat - the founder of Convio - to be a friend. He's provided some great informal advice about growing our business. In particular, he's helped us understand how Mandate Media's business model can be a successful one, albeit fundamentally different than Convio's.

(And that's one more value of ours: we'll always tell you when we have relationships with people we're writing about. Full disclosure is a good thing. If we have to keep a relationship confidential, we won't talk about it publicly at all.)