February 21, 2019

AF CommunityLeadership

Pagona Stratoudakis on Advertising Liberty

By: Leah Nalepa

America’s Future Foundation had the wonderful opportunity to interview AF-Sacramento board member Pagona Stratoudakis this past week! Pagona is heartwarming, energetic, and a passionate advocate for liberty and has dedicated her career to advancing the principles of freedom throughout our country. Most recently, Pagona co-founded her own non-profit organization, American Media Council, where she “uses the tools of public broadcasting to promote freedom in all forms.” She currently resides as executive director at AMC. Check out Pagona’s story and how she’s used her strengths to elevate her career and life!

Leah Whetstone: Pagona, you’ve dedicated most of your career to advancing freedom in various capacities, can you tell us a little bit more about your career history and how you ended up where you are today?

Pagona Stratoudakis on Advertising Liberty 1Pagona Stratoudakis: My passion for freedom all started when I lived in Greece for college and I witnessed how political and social systems that favored cronyism, public unions, and burdensome regulations made everyday life so hard for people. Until then, government’s role in our lives was never something I had ever considered.

When I returned to California from Greece, I began my career at Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a nonprofit that defends the individual liberty and constitutional rights of Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse, which, full disclosure, I hadn’t heard of before. I was finishing a paralegal degree and thought I’d benefit from an entry level job in a larger legal foundation to gain experience. Starting my legal career at PLF was probably the best stroke of luck I’ve had in my life. When I spoke to colleagues (now dear friends) about my experience in Greece, they all rushed to introduce me to authors and books about the principles of liberty. That, coupled with working on the cases where citizens suffered horrible, life changing abuses by government, reinforced my purpose both professionally and personally — to advance free societies.

I spent 10 truly amazing years at PLF as a senior paralegal, and the work environment allowed me to apply myself and drive my career in directions I could continually add value. This meant managing some new, and reviving some old, programs like the Coastal Land Rights Project, the College of Public Interest Law, Attorney Fellowship, and the Program for Judicial Awareness. The thing I always loved the most was finding ways to communicate our cases, and the case for freedom, to new people.

I’m a huge advocate of continuing education and wanted to keep growing, so to build more leadership skills I got involved with some community nonprofits, entered public speaking competitions, and participated in the Charles Koch Institute’s Liberty@Work program (now Koch Associate Program).

At this point, I had resolved that my career would focus on connecting people to our ideas on a personal level. To follow my new mission, I moved to DC to help start a nonprofit, Stand Together, which supports and grows small nonprofits which provide ways people can pull themselves out of poverty and have huge impacts in their local communities. It was my first experience with nonprofit startups and set me on the path to my next role as executive director of Ladies of Liberty Alliance — an invaluable organization building a network of libertarian women around the world which offers training and support to help women become outspoken ambassadors for liberty.

In 2017, I returned to California having gained valuable experience running and starting nonprofits and was approached with an innovative idea to start an organization that would leverage the power and success of public service advertising (PSAs) to educate people about important issues affecting their freedom. I care so much about connecting with people unlikely to ever hear from the liberty movement (especially since I grew up as one of them in California) that there was no question that I wanted to be a part of a project that sought to leave the echo chamber and take liberty mainstream. That’s how I became the executive director and co-founder of the American Media Council, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization with the vision of reaching the hearts and minds of the American public with empowering messages that excite individuals to participate in the world around them, exercise their freedom, and effect positive change in their lives and in their communities.

LW: Tell us about the liberty landscape in Sacramento and why you chose to call it home?

PS: I could list many, many reasons Sacramento is an awesome city to live in, and they would go way beyond its location just 1.5 hours from both Lake Tahoe and San Francisco. But, more important than that, California is my home. I was born and raised in Vallejo, in the SF Bay Area, and I have a deep love for my community, my state, and all of the people that live in it. It seems like an odd place for a passionate libertarian to lay roots, but the fact is that I know that freedom will never increase in California if everyone who thinks like me moves away. I’m of the camp that believes that California is too populous and too powerful to ignore, and those of us who want to advance liberty throughout the nation, and to the 50+million people that live in the state, need to stay here, talk to people, and be a part of the fight for change in California.

LW: Tell us more about your new venture!

PS: American Media Council is about 1.5 years old, and our mission is to educate the public about issues affecting personal freedom by creating, producing, and distributing Public Service Announcements (PSAs) and delivering them via radio, internet, TV, and print media. I’m honored to be a part of an organization focused on sharing positive messages and using storytelling to paint a picture of what freedom looks like.

The current PSA market, which primarily relies on donated airtime on radio and TV, is saturated by ads from the AdCouncil which, admittedly, produces some high-quality and valuable content. But their message is focused heavily on government intervention and often patronizes and victimizes people instead of empowering them to improve their situation. The majority of AdCouncil partners are government agencies or incredibly large, government funded nonprofits. American Media Council was created to be a counter voice to the big government messages which we hear from the AdCouncil and others all of the time. Until now, there has never been a PSA content producer focused on advancing freedom, and we plan to co-brand our PSAs with messaging partners, other nonprofits within the liberty movement, to bring attention to their work and spread our ideas to a national audience.

Currently, we have our first two active campaigns running. Our radio campaign, in partnership with Young Voices, can be found at useyourspeech.com and encourages people to exercise their speech rights and support the freedom of the press. You can even download a guide on how to write an op-ed or letter to the editor. We also have a video campaign series we’ve tested out through social media called letschoosefreedom.com and have been really excited by how well the story of a young entrepreneur who started a Lego subscription box company, Brick Loot, has resonated with audiences. His story has been viewed over 700,000 times across social media platforms. We are ecstatic with how we’ve been able to reach so many people out of the gate in our first video campaign and will use what we’ve learned from its success to continue to create impactful content and target our PSAs moving forward. We have a lot more radio and video PSAs in the works that will be released throughout the beginning of this year, all promoting the ideas of freedom and showing liberty in action. There is an endless well of stories to share that exemplify and educate people about what it means to be free. We are going to look at all of them.

LW: What does a typical day in the life of a nonprofit entrepreneur, like yourself, look like?

PS: The most typical part of each day is the portion where I learn something totally new.

Although my career spans 15+ years, advocacy, particularly with an advertising bend, is a new field for me. This is also the first venture I’ve started almost entirely on my own. So, I’m constantly presented with ideas and concepts that I need to learn to have the competency required to run a successful nonprofit and lead what is essentially an advertising agency for liberty.

Along with the obligatory time each day figuring out what I’m doing and how to do it, the rest of the hours are filled working closely with our creative team on content and distribution, keeping in touch with supporters and stakeholders, and handling all the administrative tasks to keep us up and running.

LW: What’s your best piece of advice for someone thinking about launching a nonprofit?

PS: I highly recommend getting out there and talking about your idea with people. Having a new concept and an open road in front of you filled with different ways to achieve your mission is really freeing, but it can also be very stifling. The liberty movement is filled with kind, brilliant professionals willing to share their wisdom, and there is always room for another organization if it will help advance freedom. Leverage your network, ask for referrals to people about certain topics, and get as much feedback as possible from as many perspectives as you can. But know that ultimately there comes a point where you have to put all the advice aside and really muster up that burning passion inside telling you that this has to happen, and you have to be the one to do it. Then trust that you have what it takes to learn what you need to accomplish things, take the risk, and get started.