How’s this for a culture clash: Silicon Valley, Madison Avenue and Washington politics. They aren’t exactly in perfect harmony, but the founders of SalientMG, a new Maryland-based marketing and consulting firm, say all three worlds have more in common than one might like to think.
Connecting them forms the core of the philosophy behind SalientMG—more collaboration breeds innovation and the development of smarter strategies. SalientMG is headed by Mack McKelvey, the firm’s CEO and managing partner. Alongside McKelvey is Shannon Chatlos, managing partner and Salient’s political practice lead, and Lisa First-Willis, managing partner and head of the firm’s human capital practice.
When it comes to clients, the firm is selective; currently SalientMG only takes clients via referral, and many of their clients are covered by NDAs. On the tech side, the firm is working with Rovio; on the political side, it counts GOProud founder Jimmy LaSalvia and Republican techie Andrew Hemingway as clients. Hemingway is in the process of launching a new online fundraising portal—Grassloot.
C&E sat down with the firm’s principals to talk about their approach to technology and whether Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. can peacefully coexist.
C&E: Coming from the technology side, is it tougher to speak the language of D.C. politics?
Mack McKelvey: For me, it helps because I don’t have any preconceived notions about political. So using my digital knowledge, I will point to something that large companies often think about and ask, “Have you guys thought about this?” Most of the time, the answer in the political space is no. In the tech space, people are very hesitant to bring ideas to the political community because they feel a little bit like I do—it’s not a world they live in. As a result, they don’t necessarily have an understanding of how a specific technology will work for campaigns. Shannon can see both sides of that; she can see how technologies can be applied.
Shannon Chatlos: People on the political side sometimes forget the bigger picture. They don’t have the time to learn about all the different technologies everyone else in the country is implementing to win consumer campaigns. So we can look at problems in the political space and ask, “Why haven’t you thought of using this technology?” Most of the time, the reason is that people didn’t even know it existed.
McKelvey: Madison Avenue and the whole tech community are really trying to engage with Silicon Valley right now. This is how you sell a product. You get to know an individual on an individual basis and you use technology to engage with them. So Madison Avenue is really trying to figure that out. I can’t speak for Silicon Valley, but just in conversations that I have, I don’t think that sense of inclusion and understanding and desire is felt from Silicon Valley to Washington. I don’t think they know how to engage with folks that are very well established in the machine that is Washington. Their concern is that if you send it to Washington, it’s going to get regulated. Anything you develop and send to Washington, you run the risk of that being exposed and regulated.
C&E: So how do you cut through that? Many folks on the political side also want their technology partisan.
Chatlos: Look at the Republican side—why did Voter Vault fail? It’s because Republicans don’t like to share data. The tech companies that we’ve spoken with really don’t want to be partisan. If that’s what the campaign or the organization wants; that’s their concern. Don’t bring that to the technology. I know that everybody wants things walled of, but tech people really don’t care that much about politics in general. They care about their technology and they want to see that technology succeed.
McKelvey: And so we’re connectors. We have a vested interest in the industries merging: brands and advertising technology, Washington, D.C. and Silicon Valley. They are disconnected geographically and mentally, but we come from all three areas, so we bring a little bit of a different perspective. We want those connections to happen.