The annual Tumblr party at SXSW Interactive is always one of the premiere events at the festival. It happens before the music portion of SXSW kicks off, but it’s at the city’s best rock club, with headliners like Grouplove, Stephen Malkmus, Portugal The Man, and other top-tier indie rock acts. The party usually has a name like “Fuck Yeah” or “U Up” or something. If you’re looking for something cool to do on the first Sunday of SXSW in Austin, odds are that’s at the top of your list of destinations. And the 2017 edition of the party is packed with quality headliners–Sleigh Bells will close out the night after sets from Girlpool, Hoops, and PVRIS–but the name, and mission, are less cutesy. This time, Tumblr’s hosting “Never Going Back,” and instead of a “party,” the event on Sunday night at Mohawk is being billed as a “rally” for Planned Parenthood.
As a platform, Tumblr’s attracted a fairly progressive user base, and it’s through those users–who are unapologetic about talking about issues like abortion–that the brand found its leadership growing more political. That helped inspire the brand to look at a less controversial social justice issue at SXSW last year, when it invited progressive icon and former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis to speak about equal pay–and it helped them decide to go all-in on Planned Parenthood this year, one of the more lightning-rod organizations in the country.
“Where this really stems from is less us as a company saying ‘We really care about this, we want to do this.’ We’ve listened through the life of Tumblr to our community, and this is a consistent issue on Tumblr that people talk about,” explains Victoria McCullough, Tumblr’s Social impact and public policy manager. “We have women who’ve talked about how they were helped by Planned Parenthood, and we hear the sad stories about young women who’ve had abortions and the difficulty of getting access, and how health organizations like Planned Parenthood have helped. So we try to really listen to the community when we’re doing these offline activations.”
Tumblr’s relationship with Planned Parenthood goes deeper than just a party. The organization maintains an active profile on the platform, and the two work together to develop that presence. That’s been a fruitful relationship, too. David Karp, Tumblr’s founder and CEO, took a personal interest in the stories he saw on Tumblr–he joined the organization’s board of directors in 2014–and on the first day of SXSW, he joined Planned Parenthood executive director Cecile Richards on a panel about “Activism, Allyship, and Where We Go From Here” to discuss the way that the tech industry can support the organizations currently under threat.
“He’s as passionate as any of the women of Tumblr who are Planned Parenthood supporters,” McCullough says. “As soon as we started working with them on expanding their Tumblr presence, he became more and more engaged.”
It’s not a small thing for Tumblr users to impact how the company’s leadership invests its time (and money–Tumblr employees donated $80,000 to the organization in February), and it’s not a small thing for Planned Parenthood to have brands with the presence that Tumblr has at SXSW come out to declare that it’s worth their time and efforts to take a stand.
“Outright partnerships aren’t something we do very often. We’re pretty focused on delivering care to young people. Going out and developing big partnerships is something that’s just coming to the forefront,” says Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s Executive Vice President and Chief Experience Officer. “Tumblr has really been seeing Planned Parenthood’s work up close and personal, and out of that has come this relationship. And as others are hearing about it, they’re saying, ‘Okay, is there a way for us to step forward and be a part of this?’ We’ve always had a tremendous number of individuals and celebrities as supporters, but this idea of an entire corporation and its employees stepping forward, with its leadership–that’s the trifecta there, and it’s maybe setting the standard.”