If you buy Simon Sinek’s mantra that ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’, it’s surprising that we’re still the only creative agency that’s a social enterprise in the UK. Creative organisations want to work with like-minded clients that complement their ethos. So why are so many scared of genuinely putting skin in the game – and applying a code of ethical conduct that gives them a powerful advantage?
The third sector used to be seen as uncool. But with the more commercial brands pushing social agendas, and more social organisations realising the need to be more commercial, the lines of definition are disappearing fast. We find ourselves pitching against more big name agencies of late who can clearly see value in the sector; some have even developed ‘for good’ departments. But still they remain beholden to ‘opposite of good’ corporate structures.
There’s no doubt that being a social enterprise is more effort than not being one, but we accepted that from the start. The key question is, is that extra effort is worth it? We’ve amassed a collection of positive impact numbers to show that we’ve genuinely delivered powerful change for our clients. We’ve employed 65 young creatives, on a 51% female to 49% male split, made up of 48% BAME and 42% NEETS. We’ve given away countless hours to causes we believe in – hours we could have spent playing agency politics or pontificating about new agency models at the Cannes advertising festival. Measuring effort and value is extremely subjective, but one thing’s for sure: we all go to sleep happy knowing we’ve created positive impact that day.
Ethics are always more expensive, but in recent years the buyer has started to actively look for integrity as an integral part of the purchase. The limited financial scope of the third sector used to be a problem. But with many multinationals now pledging to chose social enterprises over purely commercial organisations, the potential for growth on a big scale is there.
Having said that, every social enterprise agrees to reinvest a least 50% of profits back into the business, meaning investors will only be entitled to half of the total dividend. And finally, the exit strategy is far more complex, essentially because principles don’t sell well on the stock market.
As with any meaningful working relationship, it’s mutually beneficial to work peer-to-peer with clients, so all parties feel equal. We proudly sit on two of our client’s boards; it’s a symbiotic relationship that affords us privileges, trust and an understanding that few agencies can boast. The close nature of our working relationships informs the creative outcomes. It also diminishes the traditional fight between agency and client, as well as the self-indulgence of the agency. It makes for a much more efficient and beneficial partnership for both parties, built on integrity.
There’s no escaping that the honest answer to the question is that being a social enterprise is a hard route to take. And by writing this, we’ve reminded ourselves of the challenge, but we still proudly believe in our social mission, that continues to drive our work to greater creative levels.
By Scott Leonard