Carl Stevens, home for the holidays, sent me a photo of an otherworldly landscape, the ocean edging against a snow-white beach. The winter storm had grounded his flight to warm and sunny Los Angeles, where he currently lives and works in creative marketing.
“I have two big fears,” he said. “Snakes and I do not get along. And then I have this huge fear that I’m going to die without really pushing it as far as it goes.”
“You’d be surprised at some people who have no clue who the band is,” Stevens said, but hum “Just Can’t Get Enough” and it comes immediately to mind. The Creative Agency, the small advertising company where he works, put him in charge of an innovative 365-day fan takeover of the band’s website. Each day since Depeche Mode released its new album, a new fan has gained access to the page to share nostalgic memories, concert stories and the like. Maybe it’s a mother listening to the band during chemotherapy. Maybe it’s a British astronaut who brought the music into space. As Stevens put it, “I’m seeing my work affect not only in the campaign as a whole, but touching individual lives.”
In the mid-2000s, Stevens was about to graduate from the reputable Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina without a clue as to his next move — though he knew the last thing he wanted was a hands-off office job. He got a call from a friend who worked for a nonprofit group with a powerful name. Invisible Children was showing a film on campus about a rebel group in Uganda abducting children to use as soldiers and displacing thousands of others.
“The video absolutely floored me,” Stevens said. It felt like an urgent invitation to fix a dire situation, and when his friend suggested he intern for the organization, he flew to San Diego for an interview.
Stevens has always been a fan of tangible results — unbeknownst to his parents, he used to enjoy the chores they’d punish him with as a kid. One spring break, his dad ordered him to paint the outside of the house. What Dad didn’t know was that Stevens actually enjoyed the fruits of such labor, relishing the way his paint roller produced visible results. A decade later, Stevens once again found purpose in his work, directly impacting the lives of children in Africa. Only a week after landing in San Diego, “the craziest thing happened,” he said: Invisible Children sent him on tour.
Stevens traveled across the country on a group tour showing the very films that had moved him to action. Along with the films, the group organized speakers and lectures, often the young children who’d escaped the devastation and lived to tell about it.
A couple years in, Stevens was back in San Diego, working on every aspects of the organization’s digital footprint. This work brought him his biggest results to date: Invisible Children released a short, sensational call to action, hoping for 500 views by the year’s end. Instead, the film, demanding the capture of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, broke internet history and reached 100 million views in six days.
“This was something that went beyond my wildest dreams,” he said. “But it also had consequences the organization wasn’t prepared for. I mean, how could we be?”
Newly hired as communications strategist, Stevens was swamped. The trial by fire quickly honed his creative abilities and sowed the seeds for his future.
When it came time to leave the nonprofit world behind in 2014, Stevens packed up for bustling L.A. He had no clear goals, only a desire to create impactful content.
“At Invisible Children, I really learned to use different mediums to get messages across — live streams, podcasts, you name it — so I asked, ‘Where else can I apply that?’” he said.
After finding a handful of freelance gigs, he landed his current job at The Creative Agency, where he took on roles from account managing to content strategy. Is Stevens really pushing it as far as it goes? Only he can answer that for himself. But I find it telling that Stevens is working behind the scenes to promote a band with the hit song “Just Can’t Get Enough.”