Design for Good Spotlight: Carla Sandine
Interview with Carla Sandine
President + Founder Highway Twenty

AIGA Arizona is excited to present the second interview in our ongoing series of Design for Good Spotlight interviews. Each interview focuses on an Arizona-based creative professional whose work positively affects our communities, and embodies the goals of AIGA’s Design for Good Initiative: to ignite, accelerate and amplify design-driven social change.


Marketing with Purpose

Tell us about Highway Twenty and its Design for Good services.

I started Highway Twenty four years ago, specifically to bring savvy branding, strategy, and marketing to nonprofits. We’ve grown our niche and now work with foundations, startups, government agencies, and political campaigns. But there’s a common thread between all our clients: to improve lives and communities.

Why did you decide to launch Highway Twenty?

When I was the Public Affairs Officer at the International Rescue Committee here in Phoenix, we worked with several agencies and freelancers who wanted to help us with pro bono work because they cared about the cause, which was awesome. But it didn’t always feel like they understood our work, our clients, or our business. Nonprofits are corporations. They just operate under a different tax code because their entire purpose is to serve society. But they are just as complex and in need of quality marketing as businesses earning profits.

“There are so many crises in Arizona. We are at, or very close to, the bottom of so many lists.”
How has Highway Twenty’s Design for Good work grown?

Our business has grown quickly–we’ve doubled or tripled revenue each year–which means we’re helping more organizations. Most of our clients come to us as referrals and I’m really proud of our client list. We work with organizations doing some of the most important work in Arizona like the Arizona Humane Society, Child Crisis Arizona, First Things First, Southwest Human Development, Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS, Barrow Neurological Foundation, and Hance Park.

Give us an overview of how you work with nonprofits?

Our big differentiator is that we know nonprofit business. We understand nonprofit finance and funding, laws, board governance and–sometimes more importantly–we understand and care deeply about the nuances in communicating about sensitive issues that a lot of nonprofits are tackling. When our content interns start, we have them read GLAAD’s media guide for writing about LGBTQ people and issues. Whether we’re writing a blog post, pulling photos for a website, or running social ads, we work hard to treat our clients and their clients with integrity and respect.

What is your design for good process and what factors lead to success?

An obvious key to success is being a good fit, which we usually figure out before even writing a proposal. For us, a good client trusts us as marketing experts, works with us as partners, and understands that good work takes time and money. But once we decide it’s a good fit and start working with a client, I think making it great is, in a large part, on us. Mike Monteiro’s talk on what clients don’t understand really pushed me to see this differently. Everyone doing creative work for clients should watch it.

Tell us something unexpected/interesting that transpired in the course of your design for good work.

I’ve been surprised at how often we’ve reinvented ourselves as an agency. That’s probably the norm for all agencies, or all businesses that grow and change with trends and with the market in general. But this is the first business I’ve owned. Every time we add a person to the team or add a client, we grow and learn and expand what we’re capable of. We worked on our first political campaign this summer–we ran all the digital marketing for MovePHX. Everyone on the team became super focused on political marketing and what’s happening on the national level. We’re still constantly discussing how the presidential candidates are talking to people, what platforms they’re using, and how they’re spending marketing dollars.

What are Highway Twenty’s internal design for good values?

Our values at the agency are respect, positivity, integrity, and inclusivity. There’s a constant stream of stories about the lack of diversity and female representation in advertising and technology–instead of talking about it, we just hire inclusively. We also pay all of our interns, which means they get treated as real employees, learning while doing real work, and that means we aren’t perpetuating the class divide that unpaid internships create.

If you had unlimited funds, what design for good project would you want to work on?

There are so many crises in Arizona. We are at, or very close to, the bottom of so many lists: the worst place to be a teacher, worst place to be gay, worst place to be a kid, worst place to be a woman. We spend fewer dollars per student than any other state. As a woman, single mother, and business owner, I’d love to have unlimited money to work on issues that affect women and children, like reproductive rights, equity in education, gun violence, violence toward women and children in general. Marketing and technology can be used to educate people and create more informed voters and communities.

What are your future hopes for Highway Twenty?

I want to keep scaling the agency so that we can keep scaling our impact. I would love Highway Twenty to play a key role in making real change in our state. When we’re no longer at the bottom of all those lists – worst place to be a kid, be gay, be a teacher, be a person of color, be a woman – I’d like to say we had something to do with it.

By Lisa Altomare
Published October 31, 2015