Spitfire Strategies

Spitfire Spotlight: Beth Kanter

Kristen Grimm

By Kristen Grimm
President

 

Beth Kanter comes by her dedication to social justice naturally, following in the footsteps of her mother, a teacher who was extremely active with her union.

One of Beth’s earliest political memories goes back to her childhood, when she stuffed envelopes for a neighbor who was running for county council. But when Beth found out the neighbor supported the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) co-founded by Tipper Gore, which lobbied to put “explicit lyrics” warnings on record albums — a move Beth opposed — she refused to help the neighbor stuff any more envelopes.

She stayed engaged, though, going on to help teachers fight for their contracts alongside her mother. Advocating for causes she believes in has driven Beth ever since.

“That was really what led me to all the social justice work I’ve done in my life, and particularly my work with the labor movement,” Beth says. “That’s what instilled in me the strong sense of wanting to make sure that everyone has an equitable opportunity, which happens both through policy and politics.”

 

Beth with her two sons at the March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018.

Beth and her sons at the March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018. 

Beth spent many years working with social justice and labor organizations before joining Spitfire, where she is Chief Strategy Officer. Her connections to social movements run deep and often bring her full circle.

Case in point: Center for Community Change — a client Beth has been working with for six years — just appointed a new president, Dorian Warren. As it happens, Beth first met him 15 years ago while working with the labor movement in Chicago, where she helped pass the Big Box Living Wage ordinance.

“Center for Community Change is near and dear to my heart because of all the work they do to fight for economic equity, social justice and racial justice,” Beth says. “I’m excited to help them introduce Dorian and celebrate their 50th anniversary this year.”

Beth values Center for Community Change’s commitment to putting people at the forefront of their work.

“The projects that get me most excited are those where I can help people understand their power, and the power their personal stories can have,” Beth says. “It’s my job to make sure their stories are heard.”

One of the issues Beth has been heavily involved in for the past several years is fighting for earned paid sick days with the Rockefeller Family Fund. Beth and her colleagues work with state and local campaigns on the ground to make sure communication strategies — effective messaging, compelling content and smart outreach — are aligned with their field efforts. Based on their successful track record, Spitfire has a deep understanding of the messaging that moves voters, focusing on the impact that earned paid sick days have on working families.

“We craft messages that talk about what it’s like being a parent who has to make the impossible choice of taking a day off work to care for her sick child or parent — or run the risk of getting fired,” Beth says. “We also know that small business owners favor the policy because it helps them retain great employees, so small business leaders are incredibly effective in countering the opposition’s unfounded claims about the policy.”

Savvy strategy applied to a popular policy with broad-based support has helped score many wins, including recent victories in Rhode Island and Maryland. The team is currently working in several other states, where the opposition typically uses the same playbook over and over, so Spitfire knows exactly how to refute their inaccurate attacks.

Advocating for economic and racial equity is also central to the work Spitfire just started doing with Demos as its agency of record. Spitfire is working with Demos to develop and execute a communication strategy centered on positioning the organization under its incoming president, Sabeel Rahman.  

With the midterm elections on the horizon, Beth says Spitfire’s clients are more optimistic than they were in the early days of the Trump administration. Not surprisingly, much of Beth’s client portfolio is focused on the upcoming elections. For example, Center for Community Change Action is going full steam ahead to turn out voters who otherwise might not vote in the midterms.

“There’s more of a proactive agenda lately, instead of the defensive agenda so many organizations were focused on last year,” Beth explains.  

Whether clients are playing offense or defense, messaging discipline remains central to everything Spitfire does. Spitfire carefully researches and plans the right frames, narratives and messaging for each client — and sticks with it. Of course, Spitfire tweaks messaging as needed to address new issues or incorporate cutting-edge communication approaches. But a solid messaging strategy that’s focused on an organization’s objectives keeps the conversation on track, no matter what happens.

These fundamentals are not only true about messaging but also crisis planning and communication, which is one of Beth’s many areas of expertise. She developed Spitfire’s Smart Plan, a crisis communication tool that helps nonprofits anticipate and plan for crises.

“We’re applying crisis communications strategies in more innovative ways lately, such as tracking digital channels and apps and making sure we’re encrypting communications,” Beth says. “And I think more organizations are getting a lot savvier about the need to have a crisis communication plan in place.”

What’s more, many of the organizations Spitfire works with are developing proactive initiatives to create systemic change. Beth is particularly enthused about the We Believe You Fund, which was established to transform workplaces to eliminate the dangerous, imbalanced power dynamic that is the root cause of sexual harassment and assault.

“We Believe You Fund will hold companies and organizations accountable for what happens inside their operations, and provide them with the tools and resources to address the systemic challenges that allow sexual harassment and assault to happen in the first place,” Beth says. “I’m very excited about the work we’re doing to support getting this fund off the ground.”

Fighting for women’s rights isn’t new to Beth, who served as the senior vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Illinois earlier in her career. What’s more, she walks the walk in her personal life — just as she has since that first campaign she worked on as a young girl.

Married with two young boys, Beth is intentional about achieving work-life alignment, even in her demanding role at Spitfire. She actively cultivates her leadership skills through training and personal development, while also prioritizing her family, including volunteering at her sons’ school.

“Too many people think you can’t actually do this job and have a family, and I’m trying hard to dispel that myth,” Beth says. “I want to be a model for younger women coming up and show them how they can be phenomenal consultants and even better moms, wives and partners.”

“This is a truly transformative program and there is no question that it is preparing leaders to be courageous communicators.”

- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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