Most people can think of a film, event, or image that has not only stayed with them but also informed and shaped their values. That lasting impact is what sets social impact media apart from the rest of the world’s content, says investor Brendan Doherty.
“It doesn’t feel like you’re taking your medicine—it’s compelling storytelling with a deeper purpose, one that you can relate to,” he tells Impactivate. “It’s content that is reaching people through their rational mind and their humanity.”
Social Impact Media and the Creative Economy
Doherty would know: his career touches multiple elements of the creative economy. He was the founder of the Forbes Impact division of Forbes Media, which he still writes for, and an executive producer of the docuseries One City One Block. He is also partner at KNGDM Group, a real estate developer investing in the creative economy alongside other community impact and equity areas.
This wide-ranging résumé hints at what “social impact media” can encompass: news media, film, literature, video games, and more. Because we engage with media everyday—online, on television, while walking down the street—it has an outsize impact. Creative economy nonprofit Upstart Co-Lab points to the potential of media produced with social impact in mind not only to “shift social norms and spur legislative change on issues of significance” but also to “promote diversity, equity, and inclusion by featuring the work of creatives who reflect the diversity of society.”
The Opportunity for Impact Investors
What is the draw for investors? With technology rapidly accelerating distribution models and more diverse audiences clamoring for representative content, the US entertainment industry may reach more than $800 billion by 2022. That creates openings for impact investors eager to tell more stories with social impact. For example, Reese Witherspoon’s media brand Hello Sunshine is behind several critically and commercially successful TV series that center women and highlight key issues affecting women such as domestic violence (Big Little Lies) and socioeconomic divides (Little Fires Everywhere).
Ongoing consolidation of mainstream news media is another driver for investments in independent media companies with a focus on specific social or environmental issues. Though the societal value of stories can be difficult to quantify, Doherty points to ImpactAlpha‘s pioneering niche coverage of impact investing. Investments in news media can also fill a clear market gap. For example, the Media Development Investment Fund provides debt and equity financing to independent media in countries where the free press is threatened.
Social impact media is not limited to new ventures. In fact, integrating impact into existing brands can be especially effective because doing so engages a new and sometimes more skeptical audience. Doherty cites his work with Forbes as an example: “[Forbes] is a 100-year-old media company with extensive clout and reach in the global C suite. A media platform like that meant we could bring ‘impact’ out of the niche and to a business leader with the power to really shift economics at a macro level.”