Pollen, the Minneapolis media and events nonprofit organization known for its popular and creative website, has officially launched a creative agency called Pollen Studio.
The agency will serve as a social enterprise to fund Pollen and its mission of connecting people and ideas through storytelling.
The new agency will use Pollen’s freelancer network of more than 130 local writers, photographers and graphic designers to produce content, organize events and lead other marketing work for a range of clients, such as the Minnesota Department of Health, GiveMN and the McKnight Foundation.
“Oftentimes people get in this track where they think, ‘I need an annual report’ or ‘I need a brochure’ or ‘I need a flier,’ ” said Jamie Millard, executive director of Pollen who also oversees Pollen Studio. “We get stuck in the platform and we don’t spend enough time thinking about what’s the content.”
Pollen Studio’s client work, which Millard described as “compelling, visceral, human-centered stories,” resembles the work that readers can already find on Pollen’s media website. Many of Pollen Studio’s early clients have been other nonprofit organizations.
Pollen was formed in 2009 by Lars Leafblad, who later started the St. Paul-based executive search firm Ballinger Leafblad. Pollen was created “to take professional community building to a new level,” according to its website.
For its site, Pollen enlists contributors to write stories on local leaders in the nonprofit and creative communities. And it makes creative use of photography, animation and the latest techniques for portraying stories through websites and mobile devices.
Pollen, which has a network of more than 10,000 members subscribed to its newsletter, also regularly updates a robust listing of jobs and hosts networking events.
For years, Pollen was supported through a three-year, $1.5 million grant awarded by the Bush Foundation. That funding ended in 2016. Since then Pollen has explored ways to sustain itself. Pollen Studio is a big step for Pollen, which also generates funds through event ticket sales and smaller grants, to be self-sufficient.
Pollen has done some marketing work for companies the last three years, though not always in an official capacity. Organizations would contact Pollen, wondering if contributors could duplicate some of Pollen’s content for their companies.
Since 2015, it has completed work for about 45 clients. For example, Pollen created a social media campaign to promote a new season at the Mixed Blood Theatre and it designed the launch party for the Make It MSP regional recruitment and retainment initiative.
Already, 46 percent of all of Pollen’s annual revenue is generated by Pollen Studio. Its leaders would like to see that grow to the 60 percent to 70 percent range, Millard said.
“Nonprofits, and in fact all entities from small businesses to fortune 500s, need to continually test, experiment and revolutionize their business model,” Alfonso Wenker, Pollen board chairman and co-founder of Minneapolis consulting firm Team Dynamics LLC, said in an e-mail. “It’s impressive to see Pollen embrace a revenue model that both meets its financial needs and also supports other nonprofits in connecting with their own audiences.”
Pollen has seven employees who will also manage Pollen Studio. The organization’s reliance on freelancers aligns with a philosophy at Pollen that the more people involved, the more perspectives are imparted. This year, Pollen plans to spend at least $200,000 on freelancers.