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Why pro bono marketing is on the rise

Why pro bono marketing is on the rise

By Tristan Connell, Managing Director, The Bank.

It is an accepted adage that you can’t get something for nothing. But with more businesses gaining a social conscience and even wider CSR strategies, free charitable projects are gaining momentum.

Arguably the marketing industry is well positioned to make the most of this trend, which can benefit both the charity receiving the support and the company offering the free work.

To some it might seem counter intuitive that marketing agencies would be willing to donate their services for free, particularly given the latest figures from the IPA Bellwether predicting budgets are still declining.

But you only have to take a look through the press in recent months and you’ll see a whole host of marketing agencies working with and for charities in new and different ways.  

The basic business benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility are well reported, and companies across all industries have developed CSR policies. But pro bono work is a distinct form of social responsibility activity and can be very different to fundraising or community days.

Pro bono projects involve giving something back to communities by walking the walk and demonstrating your business is taking real action.  Put simply, it’s about helping others to help themselves -giving them the tools they need to succeed, with the benefit of credible experience.

Arguably marketing professionals are well positioned to really make a difference to the causes they support as they have the knowhow to pluck an issue from relative obscurity, get it out into the public domain and really generate vital support.  

Pro bono work can sometimes be seen as just another CSR box ticking exercise, but done well it doesn’t have to be. One thing that sets brilliant pro bono work apart from projects done for the sake of it is when staff members have a genuine passion for the subject.

We recently worked on a one off special campaign and donated a full page advertising space in the Times newspaper to environmental charity, the Save Our Seas Foundation . (See picture accompanying this article)

The Save Our Seas Foundation uses research and education programs to raise awareness of marine conservation issues. The campaign we produced focuses on the charity’s current research project examining the serious threat of shark fin hunting and its impact on their seriously endangered population.

Working on this project wasn’t just about showing the business has a softer, charitable, human side. It was a chance for all our staff to get involved in producing a piece of work that could really make a difference.

Don’t get me wrong, we love working on the well respected and big brands across all sectors, but I think challenging our agency to produce something unconventional that gets cut through for the highly emotive and often fatigued audience for charities gave us a completely different experience.   

On a personal level I think the fact that the practice of cutting off shark fins and leaving the animals to die a slow painful death is still going on in the world is awful.

But with limit funds and the focus on spending in efficient manners charities on this scale will never be able to create marketing campaigns on this scale for themselves. For a creative agency working with a charity often allows you to work with a lot more freedom.  

Pro bono work naturally has its down sides as well. Like it or not we are still in tough economic times so for most marketing agencies it will have to be limited how much pro bono work is taken on at any time.

There are also a lot of worthy causes and staff may feel particularly passionate about different areas so agency heads need to think carefully about how to manage the process of choosing which charity projects to take on.

But having had the experience of working on Save Our Seas, I can honestly say that whilst the work didn’t boost our P&L there and then, the exercise was hugely beneficial for the agency, on both a personal and a professional level, and I’d encourage the rest of the industry to take action and do the same.

Whilst pro bono work costs your agency at the time, as with all good work it can also open a lot of doors for future new business.

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