The dawn of the purposeful agency

Posted: November 30, 2015

Andrew Welch & Graham LangBy Andrew Welch, CEO: Y&R South Africa and Graham Lang, CCO: Y&R South Africa and Africa

As 2015 draws to a close, the industry is cataloguing the state of its business affairs in terms of new business acquisitions, sales, staff turnover, revenues, BEE ratings and creative rankings. An important part of this audit is the reflection on creative purposefulness and sustainability – not because the awards circuits demand it, but because the local social landscape is crying out for us to apply creative solutions to societal problems on behalf of our clients.

According to Nicki Cuncliffe, Senior Director of Millward Brown Vermeer, in a recent presentation at the launch of the 2015 edition of Brands & Branding, a new age of consumerism has dawned. ‘Increased globalisation, new technologies and disrupted category norms have empowered people to be more informed, connected and united than ever before,” she explained. “Consumers are demanding accountability and transparency and are forcing the companies they work with, to answer the fundamental question: Why do you exist?”

This comprehensive ‘Marketing 2020’ study by Millward Brown Vermeer, defines ‘Purpose’ as a brand’s inspirational reason for being; why they exist, and the impact it seeks to make in the world. ‘It’s not what people buy, but what they buy into,’ Cuncliffe added.

The same is valid for agencies; but the question is: have we done deep introspection into why we exist as an industry? Are we doing all we can to address the unique social problems and issues that dominate the headlines against the bottom line?

Y&R South Africa has long housed the view that brands are inextricably linked to society, and feels that work should be of value in the community, whilst also meeting the needs of consumers. It was an initial partnership with Western Cape innovation hub, the Safety Lab, that had been catalyst to a process of innovation-led thinking and the development of creative solutions with the core objective of delivering societal impact. It was through this relationship that Y&R South Africa redefined the NGO partner/client relationship model in the spirit of co-ownership and co-parenting. Today, a few years down the line,

a collective body of work by the agency is testament to a continual process of introspection into our purpose and reason for being, and we have been fortunate with clients and agency partners who have shared this vision. A few highlights:

  • GIVA, South Africa’s first one-to-one giving platform, is the digital connection of charitable givers to individuals in need within the care of registered non-profit organisations. The project was originally conceived through a partnership between the Safety Lab and Y&R, and then executed through a three-way partnership with professional fundraiser, Community Chest. In the year that was, it has continued to live on, despite the defunding and consequent closure of The Safety Lab, it was awarded a Bronze in the Ubuntu Award for Sustainable Marketing at the Loeries, and to date more than R250 000 has been raised on the platform.
  • Y&R SA’s Cape Town office partnered with Operation Smile, a charity that provides free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities in children. Together, we are gearing up to execute a mammoth campaign in 2016, which will seek to combat the stigma attached to the condition and to connect children to this service.

A discussion around agency purpose is, however, more than just a recon of projects and the Rand value of PR accumulated per year. According to Cuncliffe, drivers of brand purpose are Meaning, Difference, Consistency and Empowerment – and if implemented correctly, these brands will outperform those without it on every single marketing KPI. Where agencies are concerned, we believe that these drivers culminate into real and tangible solutions to a wide scope of problems for the greater good of the nation and the industry as a whole, while simultaneously creating purpose for client brands.

We are looking forward with our industry counterparts to instill a deeper and more urgent sense of purpose into our creativity, work and client solutions in the year to come. After all, there can be no competition in purpose – regardless of whether we have large isolated long-term projects or a undercurrent of purposefulness across the board for client and pro bono accounts.

Here’s to moving beyond the buzzword and to driving Purpose as a non-negotiable KPI in 2016.