Dirigo Collective are Responsible Rebels

Yarmouth’s Dirigo Collective is breaking rules and bringing a social conscience to the marketing game
Words By Brian Shuff
Photos By Michael D. Wilson

The team at Dirigo Collective doesn’t give too many specifics about what they do. Sitting in the hip, open-floor space of their new offices, a former rope factory on whose far wall now resides a bright Ryan Adams mural reading “Do Good Work,” partners Chris Marine and Kate Reilly (partner Matty Oates and content manager Kevin Oates join via Zoom) talk much more about large concepts like “media and channel strategy” than the particulars of any one project their marketing agency has completed in its prolific three-year tenure. This is not a dodge. Rather, it is a by-product of their world—the world of multimedia marketing—which changes fast, and changes often. Today’s example is often tomorrow’s remnant.

What the team does discuss with exacting precision—indeed the foundational X factor that has earned Dirigo Collective a burgeoning national reputation—is how they do what they do.

An open floor plan fosters connection within the collective and between Dirigo and clients.

An open floor plan fosters connection within the collective and between Dirigo and clients.

“Initially, a lot of clients were more aware of our values than our work,” says founder Chris Marine. (He’s quick to brush aside the founder title and stress the agency’s communal nature.) “Dirigo Collective came together first and foremost because we aligned on core principles: honesty, empathy, transparency, a rooting in data, creativity, collaboration. Brands and businesses have a huge amount of power, and we believe in wielding that power responsibly.”

To hear these four talk about media’s rapidly expanding reach (get ready for “pause ads”; they’re coming) and the need to temper that reach with ethical consideration is to hear a voice of reason one hopes becomes commonplace. Data, insists Dirigo Collective, must be met with empathy. “We want to go beyond the spots and dots,” says Kate. “We know that any time you’re putting a message inside of people’s homes, you’re having a much larger impact on a community than just selling them a truck or a piece of furniture.”

For instance—and again Matty clarifies that what he is about to say serves only as a broad example of how raw numbers require human finesse—“we all saw online ads well into April for things like hotels, trips, gatherings,” he says, products and services no longer in the interest of public safety during COVID-19. From a pure data standpoint, such ads were exactly where they should have been. Internet usage was spiking due to the lockdown. “But where the empathy factors in,” says Matty, “is in being able to stop and say, ‘Things have changed out in the world. Serious stuff is happening, and we need to reassess and figure out how to continue messaging in a way that’s appropriate for right now.’ We spoke to a lot of clients in those first few weeks of March, and we were able to pivot a lot of messages really quickly.”

Decor as branding. “The moment you walk in, you’re surrounded by what we’re all about,” says Chris.

Decor as branding. “The moment you walk in, you’re surrounded by what we’re all about,” says Chris.

Dirigo Collective’s new commercial space occupies the entire third floor of the old Sparhawk Mill in Yarmouth, and the office was designed to espouse the collective’s ideals. Designed by Kevin Oates (“at least 87 to 90 percent,” he says), the space has an 80s punk vibe with enough edgy splash—neon light, exposed infrastructure, a sofa that screams—to make clear that Dirigo Collective has no interest in doing things how they’ve always been done. Individuality is part of the ethos. Jon Novak, who handled Dirigo Collective’s brand identity, chose a near radioactive shade of pink for their cornerstone color. The tone is unique to the agency and can be spotted throughout (the upholstery of that amazing sofa, for one, an in the Adams mural as well). “Nothing less than subtle,” Kevin jokes.

“We also stand behind our transparency,” says Chris. “This is an open-air space. No one is at clumps of desks. It [the space] is not arranged by hierarchy. Everyone can access everyone. I’m not hidden away because I’m a partner. Clients can come in and see what each of us is doing at all times.”

A vein of electric pink plays through the space. The bold shade provides cohesion even in selective doses.

A vein of electric pink plays through the space. The bold shade provides cohesion even in selective doses.

In a way, these podcasts provide one of the clearest pictures of what Dirigo Collective attempts to do in all their work. Consider the Responsibly Different podcast, launched in early July. Each episode details Dirigo Collective’s experiences applying to become a Certified B Corporation. (B Corporations are “a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. B Corporations are legally required to consider the wider impact of their business decisions,” according to literature from B Lab, an organization for B Corporations.) The show goes out for free each week and achieves several goals at once. First, and undeniably, it is an ad for the collective. All the podcasts are heavily branded. But in contrast to TV and online spots, these ads also provide a lasting resource. They promote the collective’s values while offering useful content and information to other companies with similar goals. If you’re listening to a free podcast to learn how to turn your business into a B Corporation, it’s conceivable you might want a marketing agency that shares those values, maybe even the very same marketing agency that provided you the content to begin with. The podcast simultaneously rethinks what an ad can be and has a positive impact on the community that it enters. Perhaps now more than ever, this kind of responsibility seems like the only way to go.