MONTGOMERY, AL: The Southern Poverty Law Center is searching for a chief communications officer as the civil rights group combats hate in an era of heightened divisions during the presidency of Donald Trump.
Based at the SPLC’s headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama, the comms head will oversee a department of about 30 staffers and play a senior role in developing strategy and implementing programmatic work, according to SPLC president Richard Cohen.
Public affairs firm Grossman Heinz is leading the search.
"Right now, it’s a difficult battle," Cohen said of SPLC’s efforts to mitigate the influence of hate groups. "Now, some of them are unfortunately in positions of power. We’ve seen Trump just energize the radical right in tremendous ways. Trump didn’t create underlying dynamics that brought him into power, but he certainly exploited them."
The last person to oversee comms at the organization was Kirsten Bokenkamp, who is now communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Montana. Cohen said her decision to move on was a "lifestyle choice." Bokenkamp wasn’t immediately available for comment.
SKDKnickerbocker is the only agency that SPLC works with. The lead on the account is SVP Josh Dorner.
SPLC was founded in 1971 as a small law firm fighting racial inequality, poverty, and the death penalty. It’s grown to an organization with more than 300 staff, five permanent offices, and four satellite offices. It tracks hate groups and disseminates content teaching tolerance and fighting bigotry, such as the documentary it produced with HBO, "Mighty Times: The Children’s March."
Communications for the group helps to garner public support for SPLC objectives and legislative work and informs the public about how hate groups have rebranded into what Cohen calls "bigots in business suits" or "wolves in sheep’s clothing."
SPLC has seen strong growth on social media in the past year. Last year, its Facebook followers grew by 62% to 1.2 million, and it more than doubled the number of its Twitter followers to 330,000, Cohen said. The group was mentioned 73 times in The New York Times and 207 times in The Washington Post.
This renewed interest from the public was likely driven in part by the Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 at which one counter-protester died. Over the past year, the organization has also weathered criticism that it is overly partisan and aggressive.
"While we think of ourselves as a mainstream, nonpartisan organization, as the radical right has grown and it’s got increasing power, we’re seen as partisan," Cohen said. "It’s important for our next comms person to continue our mission, which is to appeal to the values everyone in our country shares, [such as] rule of law and [those] embedded in our Constitution."