August 2021 Student Spotlight
Executive MPA student and Creative Director and Founder at Hansen Creative Services, Niels Hansen tells us about his LGTBQ+ activism, his Danish heritage, marketing psychology, and more.
You have your own studio that provides branding and communications strategy and creative pieces for nonprofits. Can you tell us about a particularly interesting client and any notables jobs you’ve done for them?
Columbus, Ohio is a very LGBTQ+ friendly city and my family is a part of that community. For several years my company served as the outside agency for Stonewall Columbus, which is the largest LGBTQ+ organization in the city. They organize the annual Columbus Pride Festival and Pride Parade. Our agency created and executed the communications strategy for both events where we were fortunate to host Jim Obergefell and George Takei as grand marshals.
Marketing typically relies to some degree on psychology; how do you get people to care about a nonprofit’s mission?
One of the best ways to connect the mission to your audience is through story telling. Audiences relate much better to the human stories of struggle and success that happen every day in the non-profit world, as opposed the the cold, hard numbers of funds raised and quotas met. Working with non-profits that provide services to those at the margins of society makes it paramount to treat the clients with dignity and respect. As such you don’t want to exploit their stories, but instead give voice and visibility to the issues they face. Anytime you can connect the issue and the mission to the audience’s own lived experiences that makes the connection even more powerful.
Tell us about where you’re from. How has it informed your approach to food insecurity, homelessness, and education?
I first came to the US as an exchange student from Denmark in high school. I had a wonderful time and it made me want to come back to the US for college and to marry my high school sweetheart. I attended Ohio State University where I received my Visual Communications degree. After that we settled in the Southeastern part of the city and had success with our design studio. The area around us was hurting and I got involved in community action to try to change things for the better. I co-founded a non-profit to help lift the community. We started programs to provide for families in need around the holidays with food, clothing and toys, and stood up the free summer lunch program for kids. After the great recession in 2007-2009 our own family had a period where we experienced food insecurity and trouble paying the bills. It deepened my empathy for those who struggle with those issues. My father and grandfather were both teachers. I saw the value education has in lifting people out of poverty as well, and I give back to our career center and school district by serving on advisory boards for marketing, multimedia, and graphic design programs there.
Being originally from Denmark but living in Columbus, Ohio can you comment on any chief differences in the way the Danish government approaches these issues versus your local or state government?
Denmark is one of the Scandinavian social democratic countries. Baseline for Danes is that everyone is entitled to food, shelter, education, and healthcare. No question. That means that education is free for Danes. You can go as far in the education system as you want for free as long as you can do the work. Students also receive a stipend from the state to study. Similarly, healthcare is largely free. Hospitals and doctor’s offices don’t have a way to receive payment directly from the patient. They are contracted with the state and get paid that way instead. The social safety net also ensures that no-one has to live on the street or go hungry. Homelessness exist but it is illegal to live on the street, so the homeless are offered help finding temporary and then permanent housing with subsidies and social services help to ensure they can continue to live off the streets.
What have you learned thus far in the Executive MPA program?
The cohort model of the EMPA program is is a great way to do an MPA. The support and resources we able to give each other is one of the most valuable parts of the program. We are able to force-multiply our collective wisdom and drive to create far better work product than would be possible individually. As a communications professional I have found the public speaking and strategic communications courses particularly relevant to my work, teaching me additional frameworks for campaigns, what works and what doesn’t. I have been able to take work created in the classroom back to my non-profits that I support and we are implementing a model I developed in communications class. The process for idea generation and refinement was instrumental in allowing that to happen.