For-profit

Soze Agency

Website:

www.wearesoze.com

Type:

Social Media Campaign Strategy Firm

Co-Founders:

Michael Skolnik

Jamila El Sahili

Daniel Leon-Davis

Paola Mendoza

Michelle Minguez

Daveen Trentman

The Soze Agency is a left-of-center strategy firm that specializes in social media, awareness campaigns, and strategic communications that caters to left-of-center clients. Based in Brooklyn, New York, the organization operates on the worker owned cooperative model. The company was founded by liberal film producer and activist Michael Skolnik, among others. [1]

The Agency’s clients have included non-profit political organizations, such as March for Our Lives, Emily’s List, and Planned Parenthood, along with private companies, such as Uber, Tommy Hilfiger, and YouTube.

History

In the early 2010s, Michael Skolnik, a co-founder, founded a nonprofit to take theater into Los Angeles public schools to propel his career as a filmmaker using a social network he acquired through his family’s access to wealthy neighbors and friends and his undergraduate years at University of California at Los Angeles. As a result of this network, Skolnik was put in contact with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who was working on an open letter to then-Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. Skolnik would help Simmons write the letter and eventually be hired as his political director. The letter congratulated Steele on his election as chair of the Republican National Committee and reminded him of their past relationship including Simmons’s endorsement of Steele in previous races.  He served as his political director until launching the Soze Agency in the mid-2010s. [2] [3]

Business Model

The company operates as a “worker-owned cooperative” which essentially means that workers own a certain percentage of shares and have more influence in management, growth, and operations functions than in a usual company. This concept is popular among many left-wing start-up companies as a means of fulfilling the socialist ideal of workers owning the means of production. [4]

Soze Foundation

The Soze Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Soze Agency and aims to support left-progressive filmmakers. The foundation’s largest expense, however, is its contract with Soze Productions, which is over $200,000 annually. [5]

Eighteenx18 is a social media campaign focused on encouraging teens and first-time voters to register and vote in upcoming elections. The campaign was launched by actress Yara Shahidi to encourage first-time voters, mostly teenagers, to participate in voting during the 2018 midterm election cycle. The campaign held the #WeVoteNext summit in Los Angeles on September 29, 2018. [6]

Right of Return Fellowship provides funding for recently incarcerated artists to make art of all varieties from classic paintings to visual, digital, poetry, and performance art. The fellowship is supported by  Open Philanthropy Foundation and Soze Agency. [7]

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Soze Foundation organized an Artist + Activist Relief Fund to provide grant funding for artists and activists during the pandemic. The funding came from donations from Soze Agency, Michael Skolnik, and Paola Mendoza along with a $35,000 dollar grant from left-leaning Pop Culture Collaborative and a $100,000 grant from the Open Society Foundation. In 2017, an applicant complained that the selection process was biased as some of the artists announced that they had been awarded fellowships prior to the application deadline despite hundreds of submissions. [8] [9]

In 2019, Soze Foundation received a grant from the Pop Culture Collaborative to hold a “multi-day strategy session centered on building a narrative-based rapid response infrastructure.” [10]

Michael Skolnik

Michael Skolnik is principal of Soze Agency. Skolnik has built a career connecting left-wing activists with celebrities who use their platforms to support various left-progressive social causes. Skolnik grew up in affluent Westchester County, New York and spent a year in Mexico where his family were neighbors to a friend of musician Paul Simon. He later moved to New York City where he lived in an empty million-dollar apartment, worked as an intern for left-wing activist filmmaker Michael Moore, and made numerous left-leaning documentaries. [11]

He worked as political director for left-of-center entertainer Russell Simmons and was president of his site, GlobalGrind.com. Additionally, he was on the leadership council of the Democratic Party’s youth movement and was an official surrogate for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. He holds a B.A. in film from University of California at Los Angeles. [12]

He is married to actress Paola Mendoza who is a company founder and former artistic director of the Women’s March. Mendoza is also the vice president of the Soze Foundation. [13] [14] [15]

Other People

Jamila El- Sahili is a co-founder of the Soze Agency and filmmaker. She has collaborated on special projects with Google, Open Society Foundations, and Amnesty International. [16]

Michelle Minguez is a co-founder of the Soze Agency. Prior to joining Soze Agency, she was vice president of development and partnerships of Voto Latino, executive director of Latino Leaders Network, and vice president of Ibarra Strategy Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm. [17]

Daniel Leon Davis is the co-founder and senior creative director for Soze Agency and secretary/treasurer for the Soze Foundation. Prior to joining Soze, he worked alongside Skolnik as social media director for Russell Simmons and as Skolnik’s chief of staff. He was previously an intern at the Clinton Foundation and a teaching assistant for civil rights activist Julian Bond. [18] [19]

Daveen Trentman is a co-founder of the Soze Agency. Trentman has led productions of various pro-criminal justice reform productions and was the lead curator of the Museum of Broken Windows. [20]

Clients

For-profit clients of Soze Agency include AMC, Amazon Studies, American Eagle Outfitters, Ben & Jerry’s, Google, HBO, Politicon, Sony Pictures, Toms, Tommy Hilfiger, Uber, YouTube, Viral Strategies, and Spotify. [21]

The Soze Agency has worked for numerous advocacy groups, including American Civil Liberties Union, America’s Promise Alliance, Amnesty International, A Place At The Table, Center for American Progress, Change Fashion, Color of Change, Courage Champion, #cut50, Defend Our Future, Emily’s List, Families Belong Together, Ford Foundation, Forward Justice, FWD.us, Girls Who Code, Google Foundation, Head Count, Just Leadership USA, The Leadership Conference, March for Our Lives, March for Science, National Guestworker Alliance, NYC Criminal Justice, New York Civil Liberties Union, NYC Votes, Open Society Foundations, Planned Parenthood, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, The California Endowment, The United States Conference of Mayors, Voto Latino, Women’s March, Working Families Party, and Youth Speaks. [22]

References

  1. “Michael Skolnik.” About.Me. Accessed June 24, 2020. https://about.me/michaelskolnik ^
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/nyregion/michael-skolnik-political-director-for-russell-simmons-fights-for-civil-rights.html ^
  3. Simmons, Russell. “An Open Letter to My Friend Michael Steele”. Huffington Post. March 8, 2009. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/an-open-letter-to-my-frie_b_164490 ^
  4. “Our Team”. Soze Agency. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://www.wearesoze.com/#our-team ^
  5. Soze Foundation, Return of Organization Exempy from Income Tax (Form 990), 2018, Parts I, VII ^
  6. ”We Vote Next”. WeVoteNext.com. Accessed July 14, 2020. https://wevotenext.us/home ^
  7. ”Right of Return”. Rightofreturnusa.org. Accessed July 14, 2020. https://www.rightofreturnusa.com/ ^
  8. “Artist + Activist Relief Fund.” Soze Agency. Accessed July 14, 2020. https://www.wearesoze.com/relief-fund ^
  9. Nuevelle, Taylar. ”An Open Letter to Soze and the Open Philanthropy Project: The Right of Return Fellowship and Ethics in Funding.” Medium. April 27, 2017. Accessed July 14, 2020. https://medium.com/@taylarnuevelle/an-open-letter-to-soze-and-the-open-philanthropy-project-the-right-of-return-fellowship-and-9bd7dacd8df0 ^
  10. ”The Soze Foundation.” Pop Culture Collaborative. Accessed July 14, 2020. https://popcollab.org/grantee/the-soze-foundation/ ^
  11. Feur, Alan. “Michael Skolnik Taps His Social Network to Fight for Civil Rights”. New York Times. November 20, 2015. Accessed July 22, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/nyregion/michael-skolnik-political-director-for-russell-simmons-fights-for-civil-rights.html ^
  12. Feur, Alan. “Michael Skolnik Taps His Social Network to Fight for Civil Rights”. New York Times. November 20, 2015. Accessed July 22, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/nyregion/michael-skolnik-political-director-for-russell-simmons-fights-for-civil-rights.html ^
  13. Feur, Alan. “Michael Skolnik Taps His Social Network to Fight for Civil Rights”. New York Times. November 20, 2015. Accessed July 22, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/nyregion/michael-skolnik-political-director-for-russell-simmons-fights-for-civil-rights.html ^
  14. ”Michael Skolnik”. Off the Mat Into the World. Accessed July 30, 2020. https://www.offthematintotheworld.org/michael-skolnik ^
  15. ”Michael Skolnik”. The Tembo Group. Accessed July 30, 2020. http://www.tembogroup.org/michael-skolnik ^
  16. “Jamila El Sahili”. Jamila El-Sahili. Accessed July 25, 2020 http://www.jamilaelsahili.com/about ^
  17. ”Michelle Minguez”. LinkedIn. Accessed July 30, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelle-minguez-8a56697/ ^
  18. ”Daniel Alejandro Leon Davis”. LinkedIn. Accessed August 2, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danielalejandroleon/ ^
  19. Soze Foundation, Return of Organization Exempy from Income Tax (Form 990), 2018, Part VII ^
  20. “Daveen Trentman”. LinkedIn. Accessed July 30, 2020. https://theappeal.org/authors/daveen-trentman/ ^
  21. “Our Clients”. Soze Agency. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://www.wearesoze.com/#our-clients ^
  22. “Our Clients”. Soze Agency. Accessed August 13, 2020. https://www.wearesoze.com/#our-clients ^

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