Cause Marketing for a Greener World: Interview with Incredible Places Founder


Awareness and creating stewardship are the environmental solutions being addressed by Incredible Places, which also serves as a San Francisco multimedia agency. Using media and technology to integrate environmental and community needs, Incredible Places’s focus is cause marketing programs, including creating original multiplatform media properties, and producing advertising and marketing collateral such as media and interactive interstitials. These include mobile, online, exhibit, immersive, entertainment and broadcast media.

We interviewed green entrepreneur Amy Seidman of Incredible Places to find out what it takes to start and run a cause marketing business.

What is Incredible Places all about?

Incredible Places is a brand focusing on nature and culture produced by parent media company Creative Entity. We use cause marketing to fund the development of programs around the environment, serving community partners and education, such as Made For the Media Interpretive Tools for the National Park System.

The Incredible Places mission is to provide new ways of experiencing the world’s natural and cultural resources in the form of multimedia explorations. Incredible Places’ approach is through story telling, weaving a media journey presented through convergent technology. Through the tools and experiences we create, we seek to inspire and educate others about our natural areas and world cultures.

Cause marketing is one method we use to fund these programs. It is a win-win for us to partner with companies who have authentic sustainability engagements. Our sponsorships enable us to tie-in relevant community engagements, produce the work, and provide documentation for scientific purposes. At the same time, we spin the assets into interesting interactive modules, serving education needs by expanding and enhancing curriculum, reaching larger audiences on and off site, and marrying the information with vehicles for action, such as volunteering, sharing, and safety.

The sponsors benefit through elegant brand placement and sponsor mention, as well as tax deductions when appropriate. They also have meaningful media to marry into their own ad campaigns as they relate the story, expanding the outreach of the program. If each sponsor has a media, advertising and PR campaign associated – the programs also benefit exponentially.

What process did you use to launch a cause-marketing agency like Incredible Places?

The process of creating Incredible Places was an organic one. I had a creative agency in LA, which was used to leverage systems and resources to develop a nature and culture brand. Incredible Places and the integration of cause marketing was a natural progression building on years of experience in advertising, entertainment, media and technology.

Creative Entity, the company and mother of the Incredible Places brand, began as an interactive design boutique in Los Angeles, developing some of the first new media and technology presentations for entertainment studios and corporate clients.  These clients included companies such as ValueClick Media, Lotus, PacBell, and Sun, as well as major entertainment studios such as MGM, Twentieth Century Fox Home Video, Warner Brothers, and Universal, developing Internet, virtual, CD, DVD, gaming, photography, video and music projects.

As an eco-activist, I was simultaneously inspired to apply the technology to education and the environment. In an “Aha!” moment, a vision crystallized of how to tell a story through multiple disciplines and deliverables in a very new way using photography, film and the written word. I saw a need for media around nature and culture, and how to marry the interactive experience taking environmental awareness to another level.

This journey into Incredible Places and developing the Made For the Media (M4M) platform began with a case study around Haleakala National Park in Maui, a subject I was intimately familiar with. I have been documenting Haleakala with photography, video and panoramas in cooperation with the National Park Service for over two decades, spending months at a time.

I had photographed for several magazine articles including the American Museum of Natural History on the endangered Dark Rumpled Petrel (a sea bird that nests 10,000 feet above sea level).  Sponsored by Nikon and Kodak, I extended the shoot and collected a substantial library around key subjects such as biology, geography, and anthropology. Using this material, knowledge, as well as a design for a multiplatform channel, I dove into the needs of NPS and fashioned the M4M system to accommodate their unique requirements. This led to advising on a NPS Technical Committee, PNW, as well as gaining a palpable understanding of the limitations and wall of bureaucracy within a government agency.

While exploring funding of the M4M platform for Haleakala, I implemented other programs using the content to demonstrate the power of media in education and outreach. This included several museum installations such as the United Nations World Environment Day with Natural World Museum and greenmuseum.org. I later evolved M4M to include mobile and immersive experiences, as well as gaming and social media.

Current projects include a film on sustainability in Costa Rica, a multiplatform museum installation featuring digital visualization of eco systems in Panama, and a mobile application for the National Park Service that interfaces with immersive domes, and M4M gaming and virtual experiences.

Incredible Places productions utilize the resources of Creative Entity Productions, while supporting non-profit programs with needed media, technology, partners and community engagement. Now, non-profit programs for museums, NPS, and similar endeavors are done through the company’s hybrid non-profit Creative Entity Org. These programs provide cause-marketing solutions for authentically sustainable companies while achieving the goals of serving the environment and the community.

The Cause Marketing Paradox: A Side Bar

It has been both discouraging and motivating to see partnerships with corporate entities as a path of least resistance. My academic artistic side would love to see IP programs funded purely through resource coming like manna from heaven. No having to apply for grants nor spending 20% of my resources or more to find corporate sponsors.

Why are these non-profits chronically under-funded? Why is poverty consciousness synonymous with doing good? The process of fundraising simply is more cumbersome than small organizations are able to manage, and many grass roots programs are the projects of people with full time jobs.

Funding goals when funds are needed requires a double output of energy, a double edge sword. To take so much time finding the funds to do a simple project is a paradox and often results in burn out and disillusionment of the once-doe-eyed volunteer. This results in fatigue with many amazing programs and oodles of good will swept under a greater rug of lack if there are tangible resources required aside from goodwill and the bare skills of volunteers.

The right project with the right corporate partner moved much more quickly with greater benefits to more people and areas, than the under-funded grass roots campaigns. Especially if the corporate branding is handled in a sophisticated and elegant fashion offering recognition of good will versus an advertisement. People really remember the company in a tangible and fond way.

This paradox led me to consider all the people I had met in the corporate world striving to achieve the same goals as I. Our movement toward sustainability, the shift in advertising and the use of cause marketing represents a powerful tool to achieve change.  And the channel is two ways. With the internet and social media, the public is in the greatest position to guide the market. By choosing organic products with sustainable packaging from local vendors can be a great catalyst for our economy and the environment.

By involving corporations, we can bridge those entities who truly want to shift and reach their communities. Corporations with sincere sustainability policies offer us the greatest chance of effecting positive change through shifting their processes and vast supply chains, by pushing themselves and vendors to provide sustainable solutions. Their value chain reaches, serves and provides for so many people. If we can harness the balance of sustainable business, shifting current methods toward environmentally friendly practices, the corporate structure has the power to help us do this rapidly.  Not to mention the power of piggy backing on their ad campaigns to reach more people.

It becomes a win-win for all, as the non-profit program gains the dollars being spent on the ad campaign, as well as the donation of the sponsor as part of their corporate philanthropy.

How do you find your clients and advertise the agency?

Sponsors are primarily the result of direct referrals from colleagues to their corporate communications departments. For licensing and services, we get most of our business through word of mouth, and prior clients.

We provide solutions to PR and advertising agencies in servicing the niche needs of their clients with programs and products.

A major thread of business comes from these firms who look to our programs and services as opportunities to satisfy client needs with cause marketing vehicles, as well as content for licensing and custom media development.

Some traditional business development tactics are used involving sales and marketing through events, exhibits, and conferences. We achieve only minor funding through grants making it our largest losing proposition when looking at what is effective and what is not.

In specific programs, we target and pitch a company we feel would make a good complimentary brand. These are generally vetted companies who have authentic sustainability engagements in place. In these cases, we use tools by SalesForce CRM to track the sponsors.

We license and the develop marketing and advertising collateral that compliments the program with the sponsor’s ad campaign, dovetailing assets into sophisticated interstitials. This not only serves the needs of the sponsor with beautiful imagery and relevance to the real world by promoting the sponsor in relationship to the program, we further the outreach through their ad placement and campaign outreach.

We include product demonstration and implement technology, showing proof of concept, and most importantly create UI that utilizes unique navigation combined with digital visualization, motion and touch offering context and the next level of interactive interfaces.  These software applications shall be available for bundling and OEM down the road.

Properties that are developed as vehicles for these concepts and are in continuity with the programming we create are licensed and syndicated, as is the case for Noble Profit, offering thought leadership and information on clean tech, sustainable business, energy and investment.

How do you track and measure the progress of your campaigns?

Within interactive environments, we can track through downloads, hits, and registration – as well as sophisticated tracking mechanisms to gather analytics depending on the level of information we are gathering. Interactive media provides the most solid measurements of digestion from any other format.

For example, I designed, with a technologist Jim Guiltinan, the original website www.EarthDayLA.org to help hundreds of different volunteer organizations sign up for coordinated actions under the umbrella of EarthDay in 1999. The site is still in use and has successfully registered millions of volunteers for community actions. This is technology facilitating change – and one of the first implementations. Since then we are seeing an explosion of cause related technology on the Internet. Organizations facilitating dialogue, volunteers, fundraising, and a myriad of important activities.

Other static projects, as well as the interactive connected ones, are often defined by the needs of the community, such as an exhibit at a National Park for millions of visitors. By providing an effective and exciting exhibit that fills the parameters in the design and planning in a dynamic new way, we achieve our goals.

People then reach out to buy products, join an online community, download and use apps, and visit social media are also indicators.

Specific products are measured in number of sales. Success is evaluated in terms of sales over time in relation to cost of production.

How do you monetize your products?

IP generates revenue through several ways. Programs are paid for through sponsorships, covering licensing and client services. Product lines are in development for specific programs, producing joint revenue. We offer licensing for photography, video and music. And content is syndicated through agents and managers in the entertainment paradigm.

Other business outside of the programs includes commercial production and services. We also offer OEM products, including fully packaged enhanced CDs, DVDs and other white label goodies such as clothing, water bottles, specialty books, calendars and so on.

Have you formed partnerships with any other organizations to increase the effectiveness of your cause marketing strategies?

Partnerships are key to success. My super power is creative direction, media, art and design.  I have many relationships with brilliant cutting edge providers of services and technology. One partner, Hear Planet is a mobile and software developer who is partnering on the application side.

I am also honored to collaborate with Visual Bandwidth for large planetarium and theatre installations, Elumenati makers of the GeoDome for smaller scale portable domes, as well as some incredible artists in this space.

Conexiones Institute works with us on cultural sensitivity, curriculum development, subtitles and programs, Inquiring Systems for fiscal sponsorship and business management.

The collective includes other creative partners, artists, programmers, conferences, publishers, networks, other photographers, agencies, educators and non-profits. Each play a role in the fabric of the programs being created, strengthening our ability to execute, or lead us to solutions.

Blessed with a rich community of friends and colleagues in the sustainable and green space, these circles are supportive of one another, providing the fabric of community. Through these channels I have been able to participate in worthwhile programs, and to connect with insightful leaders, change makers and visionaries accomplishing amazing goals.

Concurrently my background in the media and technology industries, brings another level of support from friends in the entertainment, distribution, and media/tech industries.

Bottom line, the world is a small place. We are a big family, and as the saying goes “sometimes it takes a village.”

How does art and design play a role in the adoption of more sustainable business and lifestyle practices?

Photography and video are immediate and ultimately evocative forms of creativity that can communicate emotions, textures, color and story in such a different way than any other medium. People are mesmerized by the singular image. It connects them in a visceral way to something beyond words. The fact is that “a picture is worth a thousand words” because it stimulates our memories, our subconscious and our primitive responses.

We are further stimulated by the combination of these medias in a multi-sensory fashion.  Mix that with sound, video, text and interactivity, and our retention increases.

Another quote, “monkey see monkey do” comes to mind as we often learn by watching others, and we are influenced by the behavior of others. We are social creatures, with infectious emotions. When we see other doing activities we are often inspired or deflated – with a myriad of responses. Using art and media to inspire people is powerful. Using images to connect an issue to their lives, which normally is a blank spot is invaluable to facilitate the adoption of new habits.

For example, showing an image of clear cutting with a graph of how many trees are used to make your disposable coffee cups each year can stimulate a person to use a portable reusable mug.

Through education, inspiration and empowerment, we can accomplish more than we dream possible. Media and convergent technology provides us with a unique tool to connect millions of people instantly. This includes the internet, social media, mobile, and traditional channels already in place and freely available, providing us with a unique opportunity to share information like never before.

Through media and technology we can rapidly shift an entire population’s attention, and inspire them into action. The immediacy of media and the multi sensory experience through convergent technologies provide a powerful platform for change.

What advice would you give others starting a green business?

It was only through the trials and tribulations of developing a meaningful program, facing the bureaucracies of governments and the vortex of the grant writing route, did cause marketing surface as a funding vehicle.

Corporate communications is also a more familiar road. The dreaded grant proposal process involves sitting for weeks behind a computer – often until 3am – writing a 30-90 page RFP to a blank wall. This frequently left me drained, exhausted and broke. I spent an unacceptable amount of time, years cumulatively – a real waste of time, other than forcing me to focus on the intricate logistics and getting very clear on the goals.

The grant process is cumbersome, competitive and often results in a vacuum where time and resources would be better served by just doing the project versus living in a proposal writing limbo. My greatest mistakes lie in spending to much time on writing proposals versus simply doing the work.

This is a double edge sword requiring perpetual balance until the program gains enough steam. As any company, I balance development with cash flow. The key is to step back and see the landscape, set a destination, then take the path of least resistance.

The other balance concerns skills. Know what you are good at and surround yourself with people who compliment and love the work. As a result of this lesson, I find myself seeking smart business people who understand the value of digital media and technology, and marketing people who love to raise sponsorships and write grant proposals. Letting others do what they are good at, and focusing on what you do well, frees you to do what you love.

You can connect with Amy and Incredible Places on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (launch coming soon), or check out some of her work below:

House of the Sun, a National Part Service M4M Project:

CCUSD Youth Environmental Education Program with Audubon, Heal The Bay, and other organizations:

Men Of Mamoni, part of multiplatform exhibit and experience called Interconnectivity:

This post was written by:

Maryruth Belsey Priebe

Maryruth has been seeking the keys to environmental justice - both at home and at work - for over a decade. Growing up adjacent to wild spaces, Maryruth developed a healthy respect (and whimsical appreciation) for things non-human, but her practical mind constantly draws her down to earth to ponder tangible solutions to complex eco-problems.

With interests that range from green living to green business, sustainable building designs to organic gardening practices, ecosystem restoration to environmental health, Maryruth has been exploring and writing about earth-matters for most of her life. Of special interest is the subject of ecopsychology and the role the natural world plays in the long-term health and well-being of humanity. You can learn more about Maryruth's work at www.JadeCreative.ca.


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