Not only did they recently join the team at Spitfire as Senior Account Executives, but they’re also both passionate about the environment. But for all they have in common, Michael and Haley each bring their own unique perspective and experience to their work.
To introduce two of our newest Spitfires, we asked them a few questions about what brought them here, the work they’re doing and what inspires them the most.
What was it about Spitfire that made you decide you wanted to work here?
Michael: The broad range of issues Spitfire works on — from social justice to racial equity to the environment to education — and the fact that the company is female-run, which is so much different than what you’d normally see at this type of firm. I thrive in diverse environments, too, like the one I worked in when I interned for Sen. Tammy Baldwin, so taken all together, I felt like Spitfire hit the nail on the head in regards to all those things.
Haley: I feel the same way about the breadth and depth of our client base — it’s just incredible. Spitfire has worked with many different organizations, both those I’ve worked with in the environmental field as well as organizations I care about and donate to. I saw they were doing work I really wanted to be part of, for issues I care deeply about.
Tell us what brought you to where you are today, particularly when it comes to your passion for environmental issues?
Haley: My journey as a communicator began because I realized I didn’t want to be a scientist. I was a biology major, but I always enjoyed talking about and teaching people about why something is important in the science, biology, conservation and ecology worlds. I didn’t want to be isolated working in a lab or on top of a mountain, although I do love mountains. I was interested in advocacy and education and bringing it to people’s attention. I had interned with a wildlife NGO called Defenders of Wildlife, as well as with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and learned I really liked being in communications, where I could make a difference on issues like wildlife and habitat conservation. When I saw Defenders had an opening I got in on the ground floor and worked my way up from there.
Michael: I’m a lifelong resident of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, so the environment is an issue area that affects me on a very, very personal level, which is why it’s so great that I’m working on issues at Spitfire like coastal restoration. When I went to grad school at Florida State University — which is also on the Gulf Coast — I had the opportunity to work on a project to help preserve the Florida Everglades and specifically, the Florida panther, which is endangered. That was my first hands-on foray into environmental work.
Haley: Florida panthers were my beat the whole time I was at Defenders!
Michael: You and I really do have so much in common. We did coexistence work, so we would help people make panther-safe enclosures for livestock and learn how to live in panther-land. We were very focused on land easements and we put together corridors for panthers, because their natural habitat is now dissected by people, personal property and ranches.
Haley: It’s really challenging when you’re trying to pursue a particular narrative — like the need to protect a landscape for a particular species — and you have to use language that’s not just about the place or the species, but you have to bring the human element into the equation, too. You have to show them that conservation in a particular area benefits future generations or the economy, to help them realize that protecting the environment is also making an investment in themselves.
Like everyone at Spitfire, you work on a wide range of issues, but what environmental projects are in your current portfolio?
Michael: I’m working with the Walton Family Foundation, which does a lot of work in Louisiana and on hurricane-related issues. In fact, I recently helped them place an op-ed in the Times-Picayune for the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I’m working with the Community Foundation for the Virgin Islands, which also recently commemorated the anniversaries of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Any time I can help with anything hurricane-related, I jump at the chance.
Haley: I’m working with the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership to create a narrative to protect these areas and the surrounding lands and waters. As Michael said, easements and land procurements really help protect the natural landscape for future generations, for the benefit of wildlife, plants and habitat as well as the community. But it can be challenging to tell people that protecting what they view as land that could be used to make money is in their best interest, so you have to be very strategic about your framing.
What are some of the communication strategies you use to reach the audiences you’ve targeted on these issues?
Haley: All environmental issues are really local issues, even when you’re advocating at the national level. Spitfire focuses on finding a small, specific audience to target, which is especially smart when you’re talking about the environment because someone in Colorado or California isn’t going to view water conservation the same way somebody in Maine or Vermont or Florida will. So you have to pursue a narrative that speaks to them and their local issues, as well as to their representatives in Congress.
Michael: It has a lot to do with changing and nudging people’s behaviors, too. You have to make it easy for people to incorporate changes in their everyday life about how they use water, how they dispose of waste, how they engage with transportation — it all adds up to a larger piece of the environmental puzzle. We can’t fight climate change in this broad, amorphous way. It has to be much more central to the way people live their everyday lives.
Looking into the future, what do you hope to accomplish?
Haley: I want to throw myself into this work to help our clients make real, positive progressive change. I’m envisioning a future at Spitfire where every year I’m looking back at the work we did and the positive changes that are being made in this country and beyond, and knowing I was part of helping make good things happen.
Michael: I have a brother and cousins who are in high school and college, and I think a lot about opening doors for people like them who might not have the same opportunities — who are thrust into a world that isn’t very welcoming. Fighting on behalf of people in diverse communities informs a lot of the work I do. I want to use all the opportunities at my disposal to continue learning. In fact, I’ve already decided that, for me, 2019 is “the year of new,” so I will be learning new things, having new experiences and using all of that to improve myself and the work I do.