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Thinking Bigger about Collaboration + Partnerships

When we say Bigmouth is a small agency, we mean really small. Right now, five full-timers, two part-timers and one summer contract person make all this magic happen. 

Well, a lot of the magic, anyway. Bigmouth also relies on an incredible network of creative partners, from photographers and videographers to printing and fulfillment to events and experiences. We literally couldn’t do what we do without them, and we’re so grateful to connect with folks who both produce great work and share our purpose-driven values. 

Crucial among those partners is myWHY, a small Chicago agency with a foundation in PR, media relations and social/influencer marketing. Their skill sets and experience complement our own, and our missions and passions couldn’t be more aligned. 

Founder/ringleader Emerald-Jane Hunter sits at the heart of myWHY. EJ was born and raised in Ghana, West Africa; her immigrant mindset inspires her dedication and tenacity of purpose. 

“Another day I get to do what I do is another day to keep thriving and striving for greatness,” she says. “That’s a big part of my career and my passion. We’re able to retell stories that matter.” 

As part of Bigmouth’s fifth anniversary celebration, we asked EJ and Jonathan Hart, our owner and design director, to share the secret sauce behind our collaborative partnership.

Another day I get to do what I do is another day to keep thriving and striving for greatness

Emerald-Jane Hunter, myWHY founder/ringleader, on what inspires her dedication and tenacity of purpose.

About the Agencies

EJ started myWHY in 2016, inspired by Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why. The agency works with purpose-driven brands, businesses, and game-changing leaders to tell strategic, impactful stories with a specialized focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

myWHY’s capabilities include: 

PR/media relations
Influencer, social media and content marketing
Brand strategy
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Corporate social responsibility

Jonathan co-founded Bigmouth in 2018 on a mission to do good — to create a culture of respect and inclusion, to work with brands that share our mission and values, to create the very best work we possibly can, and to make a difference to communities that could use our support.

Bigmouth’s capabilities include: 

Brand and creative strategy
Brand systems and design
Marketing and communications

(Conversation has been edited for clarity and length.)

Emerald-Jane Hunter
Combining our teams and skill sets allows us to go after bigger business and serve broader audiences. We’re doing big agency work with small nimble teams at affordable prices because we’re coming together to do the work. The truth for me is that when we combine our skillset, we check all the boxes.

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How the collaboration between Bigmouth and MyWHY started.
EJ met Karianne Michelle (myWHY’s former vice president of client strategy + chief wellness officer) during their undergrad years at Luther College. Karianne later played matchmaker between EJ and Jonathan via an introduction call in January 2021.

Jonathan Hart
EJ and I clicked immediately. Aside from the fact that each organization’s offerings and backgrounds mesh, we vibed in terms of what we care about, what we value and what we’re trying to accomplish with our businesses.

DEI and diversity is big for me, so knowing that Bigmouth was a Certified LGBT Business Enterprise was attractive. I’m very intentional with not just my client base but who I collaborate with.

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It was very clear from the beginning we were meant to work together. EJ and I share a birthday, which is unique in and of itself because we’re both Valentine’s babies. The more we work together, the more we realize what each of us bring to the table. Every time we’ve worked together it’s been great.
I love that Jonathan and I have the same birthday. Once I found that out it’s like, “OK, this is definitely meant to be.” How often do you have someone who you’re collaborating with who has the same birthday?
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Bigmouth and myWHY first collaborated on a rebrand project for Young, Black & Lit, a literacy nonprofit focused on Black children.

The collaboration was seamless. Karianne and the myWHY team were working on messaging and positioning, and Bigmouth created the look and feel, logo and roadmap. The project went so well, and it gave me a sneak peek into the quality of work Bigmouth produces. As an entrepreneur I believe in partnerships that align with quality, because myWHY churns out high-quality work. I thought this was a partnership that was worth holding onto for a long time.

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How the partnership has taken shape.
Since our first collaboration, the two agencies have taken on multiple projects for the American Medical Association, including a campaign for the organization’s 175th anniversary. We take every opportunity to pitch new clients together. And as we continue collaborating, we also continue defining and refining our roles in the partnership.
It’s easy from a marketing perspective because we don’t want to do PR, and the community management aspect of social. [Laughs.] They very much fit into extending our services, and vice versa. Our teams gel very well together; the company cultures and values we hold close to our hearts are very aligned. I think those values only get stronger with the more people who hold them dear, especially when it comes to communities we care about. The louder our voices are, the more effective we’ll be.
My intention is to perpetually partner with Bigmouth on big projects; combining our agencies and the work allows us to win. As I think about business growth and development, there’s strength in being able to say, “it’s not just what we do, but here’s how we combine our years of expertise and teams.” Entrepreneurship is lonely and a long climb, why not do it together?
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I really want to build the context of how we look as an intersectional agency duo. We’re not just coming to you from two matched marketing and communications backgrounds, like PR and influencer work paired with brand and creative services separately.

We want to define how that looks as two agencies trying to carve out a space for ourselves by bringing a DEI perspective to our work. Our approach to the work we want to do is Not About Us Without Us.

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Why the relationship is greater than the sum of its parts.
While both businesses have very small teams, Bigmouth and myWHY are comprised of experienced professionals from big agencies. Clients enjoy a high-touch small agency experience from teams with a big agency mindset and work ethic.
You can’t buy our combined skillset. The HR environment and finding talent is a real struggle, and it’s hard to get all the things we have, all under one roof. This relationship allows us to have diversity not only in our skill set, but also diversity in our expertise.
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One of the first things EJ said was that she wanted to build an intersectional team. But you can’t go out and ask people their sexuality or gender identity, so it’s tough to explicitly bring LGBT voices to the table. It’s a little easier to bring racial minorities or women because it’s easier to go into those spaces to find candidates.

We work together well from an established leadership position. EJ and I have identified as specific minority-owned businesses, so we come to the table with those no matter the team makeup. It’s an unfortunate reality in the business procurement world that the only way you can explicitly bring those voices to the table is through diverse business certification.

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Advice for small agencies considering a collaborative relationship.
Bigmouth and myWHY divide budgets and client work based on the scope of work, so it’s rarely a 50-50 split. Jonathan and EJ both recognize the benefits of collaborating go beyond a monetary bottom line.
It’s hard out there for small agencies, particularly in what we do. The last decade has solidified a big agency world. You don’t see the small to mid-size agency specialty work as much as 10-20 years ago. That alone is my proudest accomplishment. We’re not competing for clients; we’re here for each other to support each other. In the diverse supplier world, there’s a metaphor that we’re not clambering for slices of the pie, we’re making the pie bigger. Something I explicitly value about EJ is that she’s not about competing for the same dollar. She’s more about, “Let’s do this together; let’s go out and win together; let’s make both agencies super-successful.”
There’s a lot of power in collaboration, I think people shouldn’t think of collaboration as losing money, but a way to win. I want our collaboration and partnership to inspire others. If you’re struggling in certain areas, think, is there someone you can partner with? For more projects, Bigmouth gets most of the budget. If I’m able to open the door for Bigmouth, great! It’s not about the ratios; being purpose-driven is not just about what you say but how you show up for others. Two very different people from two very different corners of the Earth can come together and do great work — and it’s a win-win for all.
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Today, Bigmouth rarely submits an RFP response without including myWHY — their insight and skills are integral to our process. We’ve shifted our mindset to include myWHY when we talk about our future — growing together is part of how we show up for one another. I couldn’t be more excited to see where that collaborative road leads!
Follow Bigmouth and myWHY for behind-the-scenes content, weekly media wins and more!
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Bigmouth is on a mission to do good — and authentic relationships do good for our agency and our clients. We all carry traumas from bad working relationships (and class projects) with us. By choosing to be vulnerable and trust the potential of positive collaboration, we’re creating a world we want to work in.

We can’t do it all ourselves — join us! Bigmouth turns five in 2023. As part of our celebration, we’re publishing a five-part blog series on leadership in today’s creative world.

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