Q + A

Q+A: Big Duck

A ‘duck crossing’ roadsign is all that can be seen on the office door of suite 524 at 20 Jay Street. It’s home to Big Duck, a strategic communications firm that helps nonprofit organizations communicate more effectively, founded by Sarah Durham. We sat down with Sarah to learn more about Big Duck and their experiences here in DUMBO.

Why did you choose to start a company that focuses on nonprofits?

When I started Big Duck in 1994, we had a mix of nonprofit and for-profit clients. We figured out pretty fast that nonprofits are really different than for-profits; the marketing concepts and practices have to be adapted and adjusted, and what works is often significantly different. From the start, the nonprofit work was much more meaningful, too so I made the decision to specialize in working with nonprofits in 1999, and we’ve been working exclusively with nonprofits for about many years now.

Since ’94, how has the nonprofit world in NYC changed? What’s the biggest difference?

Lately, you see nonprofits approaching communications topics like branding or online engagement a lot more the way for-profits might. That hasn’t always been the case. Also, for a nonprofit, the objectives are very different. Our clients aren’t trying to sell a product; they’re trying to raise money or raise visibility or get people to change their behavior. How you measure that–and how you reach those audiences is really different.

More generally, this is a really interesting time to work in communications because it’s a field that is radically changing in our lifetime due to the digital revolution. But you already knew that.

Has being in DUMBO changed the culture of the office in any way?

It definitely has affected the culture of our office, mostly because people love coming to work in this neighborhood. Lots of my staff are Brooklynites, and they love not having to work in Manhattan. Even the Manhattanites or folks from other places like commuting to a more mellow community like this.
Big Duck was in Manhattan for about 10 years before we moved to this neighborhood. Initially, I moved to DUMBO (about 10 years ago) because I could get a much nicer space more affordably here. It’s turned out to be great for the business, too. Brooklyn has developed this caché that it didn’t use to have: That’s been good for the image of my business.. although it’s certainly made rent go up, too.

When you’re not in the office helping nonprofits communicate more effectively, where is your favorite spot to be in DUMBO?

There are a lot of places I like in DUMBO but, I think my all-time favorite has to

be the park. New York is a water city, and in DUMBO you get to experience the water in this really lovely way. It’s exciting to see how the park has been expanded and made more multi-purpose over time, too.

Is there a story behind your name?

Of course! I started Big Duck in 1994. At that time, there weren’t a lot of agencies that had really creative names; there were a lot of agencies that had people’s names or pretentious names. I wanted a name that expressed that we would be fun,creative, and not your “run of the mill” thing. So, I came up with the name Big Duck and then figured I’d use a tagline to kind of do the heavy lifting to explain what we do.