Scott Goodstein is the founder and CEO of Catalyst Campaigns, a boutique agency that develops compelling narratives that spur action and make a lasting impact. Goodstein and the Catalyst Campaigns team manage essential campaign resources while creating authentic messaging and innovative communications strategies.
Goodstein draws his inspiration from his background in both the arts community and the political world. He is widely known for building large-scale political efforts that illustrate voters’ passions in exceptional and unforgettable ways. Goodstein co-founded PunkVoter (2004), Rock Against Bush (2004), Artists for Obama (2008), Artists for Bernie (2016), and Artists United for Change (2020). These innovative campaigns encouraged audiences to reflect, think critically, and take action in ways that only come from authentic cultural experiences.
He gained valuable experience by first majoring in Communications, Economics, Legal Institutions, and Government at American University. Scott later returned to the university to earn a master’s degree in Public Administration. Goodstein’s knowledge in fundraising, organizing, and communication was gained from the ground up on hundreds of grassroots campaigns around the world.
In 2008, Scott Goodstein created Barack Obama’s groundbreaking social networking, mobile, and lifestyle marketing strategies that became the essential channels to reach young voters. This effort was seen as the biggest, most effective grassroots organizing campaign of modern history, and a historic moment for the use of digital technology in politics.
In 2009, Goodstein founded Revolution Messaging, which rapidly became one of America’s leading progressive digital agencies. The firm focused on evolving new technologies for grassroots fundraising, online organizing, and issue advocacy. The agency created both the infrastructure and new technology for a vast array of grassroots movements, becoming well-known for its digital and mobile communications tools to organize. Under Goodstein’s leadership, the company was awarded Digital Agency of the Year in 2016 by the American Association of Political Consultants and Best Global Presidential Campaign by the European Association of Political Consultants.
Our Interview With Scott Goodstein
Question: What’s the most important thing we should know about you?
Scott Goodstein: I am a passionate fighter for those in need, an innovator of technology for better organizing, and a creative strategist that loves mixing music, art, and politics. I believe in evolving communications plans to meet people where they are at. I use art, music, and culture to develop strong narratives that spur actions and make lasting impacts.
Question: Name the most impactful lesson you learned from failure.
Scott Goodstein: Humility and Determination. Failure is part of the learning process. Everyone needs to try a number of times in order to evolve and succeed. It’s part of life. Nonetheless, after you were unsuccessful, did you take different actions? What did you do next? Determination to do better is the key to growing.
Question: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Scott Goodstein: I had the honor to be part of the team that elected Barack Obama President of the United States of America. It was an enormous effort and changed the way our country thinks about politics. It was one of a few moments in my life where I started on a project that everyone said was impossible. Nonetheless, we stuck together, put in the long hours, and kept believing that we could build momentum and change the world. I will never forget moving to Chicago in December of 2006, both excited and nervous as to how the campaign would evolve. Several of the social media platforms that are common today didn’t even exist when I started this journey. We all knew that our nation’s politics needed to evolve as rapidly as our technology. It was truly a magical point in my life that was full of both “hope” and “change” that I will remember forever.
Question: What did you waste the most time on when you were first starting your career?
Scott Goodstein: Door Knocking! I spent way too much time working as a field organizer for political campaigns. I hated talking to strangers, invading their space, and being chased off people’s porches by their dogs. I spent years doing these activities… thousands of hours knocking on voters’ doors. I learned from these experiences that the open rate of people willing to answer their door to total strangers was declining year after year. I knew that there had to be different ways to campaign and I was determined to make digital organizing become a more effective alternative, instead of wasting time pursuing very few contacts in inefficient use of volunteer hours.
Question: Name a tool you use for work that you can’t live without.
Scott Goodstein: From an early age, I knew that I needed to communicate ideas clearly and quickly. However, I suffer from dyslexia and have always had concerns about quickly writing memos, public statements, or press releases with mistakes in them. These typos could be costly missteps so I have always hired proofreaders for spelling, punctuation, and proper grammar. Today there are dozens of online applications for auto-correcting simple typos. My favorite tool for proofreading is Grammarly.
Question: What is your favorite hobby and why?
Scott Goodstein: Cooking. It’s something that I recently learned how to do during the pandemic. It’s a new form of creative expression for me. I enjoy learning about different histories, cultures, and traditions. I also love engaging the senses of smell, look, texture, and taste. Additionally, I love that cooking has specific instructions, specific ingredients, specific temperatures, and time requirements. These are different variables than time, people, and money that I use for managing political campaigns. It’s fun to play with different variables and learn a new (and tasty) skillset.
Question: What concerns you most about your industry right now?
Scott Goodstein: The lack of experimentation in the political digital marketing space. Too many political campaigns and non-profit organizations are sending out the exact same tried and true communications that worked a few years ago. But these older forms of communications become stagnant and in-box clutter if they no longer feel timely, authentic, or relevant.
It saddens me on how little creativity there is from candidates and campaigns today. Unfortunately, once a communication method worked for one candidate, dozens more repeat this communication pattern for years ahead. We have now seen emails for four election cycles in a row with subject lines “Let me explain to you.” Maybe this was a shocking subject years ago? Nonetheless, I hope political campaigns break this “Group Think” culture and, once again, push the boundaries with fresh ideas and more creative narratives that cut through the digital clutter.
Question: What’s the greatest risk you’ve ever taken?
Scott Goodstein: Leaving college to start my career was the scariest risk I have ever taken. In 1994, I was studying campaign management at American University, when US Senator Packwood resigned and there was going to be a special election held in a few short months. It was during the end-of-year holiday season, so not many experienced campaign workers were excited to drop everything and fly to Oregon. I saw this as an opportunity to work on a political campaign and see if I truly liked this type of work. It was very scary to put my education on hold, put my belongings into storage, and take a leap of faith in starting my career. It was the best transition and decision I made and boosted my career and skills set more than any class studying elections would have ever accomplished. I eventually finished my undergrad and master’s degrees, pausing college each election cycle to work on campaigns.
Question: What tips do you have for getting a seat at the table?
Scott Goodstein: Bring something of value. I remember being the youngest person on a campaign knowing how to operate the fax machine… that became my seat at the table! If you are the youngest person on a political campaign and know how to run Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok… that may be your seat at the table. Lots of young people don’t realize how great they are at communicating online. While young leaders need to learn political messaging, they have a lot to offer around rapid response communications in new channels that were not used last election cycle.
Question: What book has made the biggest impact on your life?
Scott Goodstein: I have always loved the classic tale of “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper. Even as I age, this timeless classic still speaks to me. I was always the shortest kid in class, I was not the strongest or the most athletic, but I never gave up. For whatever reason, I always channeled this spirit of “”I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can” to try new things. Constantly evolve and be brave no matter your size or strength. I hope this book motivates kids like me for generations to come.
Question: What would you consider to be the perfect day?
Scott Goodstein: I enjoy learning, growing, and interacting with people followed by good food and a little laughter. Anytime I am able to creatively make people think in new ways and engage in the world around them, I feel accomplished. Whether this inflection point was from introducing friends to a new song, poem, or simply sharing a funny tweet to start a more serious conversation. I like learning and discussing new ways to think about the problems of the world. Art, humor, and song can all lead to great conversations that can make us think a little differently than we did the day before!