Why Brands Are Tapping DoSomething's In-House Agency

Nonprofit's Expertise Helps Marketers Connect With Millennials

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After marketers began noticing that DoSomething.org had a knack for connecting with young people, the organization created an in-house agency in the hopes of sharing its talents with them and making some extra cash. Nearly two years in, the resulting small shop is growing and attracting clients across a broad spectrum of industries aimed at millennials.

Called TMI, the agency has drawn on the legacy and lessons of its nonprofit parent to help clients like the AARP Foundation reach young people, as well as clients like the Foot Locker Foundation that are already immersed in youth culture.

"There were a lot of companies in the marketplace asking about our special sauce," said Aria Finger, president of TMI and chief operating officer at DoSomething. "We saw this huge opportunity to do more good, help companies reach and activate millennials … and provide an earned-revenue strategy for DoSomething.

"The agency is mostly made up of 20- and 30-somethings and fosters a work culture much like the one it's trying to reach while working closely with its nonprofit parent.

Employees at TMI are mixed in with DoSomething's staff in an open Manhattan office space designed to promote transparency between the two organizations.

A "reaping" is held every six months in which names are selected at random and employees are given 15 seconds to claim their spot -- deals are made, alliances are formed and, in the end, everyone gets a new desk. It allows employees to meet people on other teams like technology or research and hear about their projects. There are also weekly meetings with both staffs, which are held in conference rooms named after superhero lairs like the Fortress of Solitude.

TMI's earnings go directly to DoSomething, which manages the agency's expenses and keeps the profit. The shared space keeps the agency's overhead down. "We're cheap and efficient," said Ms. Finger. "I have an Ikea chair that I put together myself."

DoSomething uses TMI's profit as "risk funding" to explore areas like its expansion into eight countries last year, said Ms. Finger. TMI also donated $525,000 in profits to the organization in 2014 and it aims to contribute more this year.

TMI draws on DoSomething's more than 20 years of experience working with young people, which helped it establish a strong network and gain insight into youth culture.

TMI President Aria Finger
TMI President Aria Finger

"Ideas are always floating around the office," said Ms. Finger, who said the agency's relationship with DoSomething gives it access to resources the seven-person team wouldn't have otherwise. "We get to box above our weight class."

The agency provides research, strategy and digital support, among other services, to clients like Keds, Foot Locker and H&R Block, in line withits cause-related roots.

"We essentially have two rules for the work that we do: One, it has to involve young people, and two, it has to have an impact," said Ms. Finger.

For example, TMI leveraged DoSomething's database of millennials and social profiles to spread the word about Foot Locker Scholar Athletes, a grant program run by the Foot Locker Foundation and administered by TMI. It helped the company reach a broad range of young people and draw attention to the program, which TMI also built a website for.

While access to DoSomething's members gives the agency an edge, its main driver is exploring new ways to get the message out, whether it's overhauling a client's mobile outreach strategy; launching a grant or scholarship program; or tapping YouTube influencers like it did for Microsoft's "Hour of Code."

"They're aggressively innovative in their approach," said Mary Signorino, director-public relations and communications at Foot Locker. "They make things fun. Even the way they word things, their communication is real and youthful."

TMI also launched Keds Brave Life Project in 2014, a grant program that helps girls pursue their dream careers or causes. After a successful first year, TMI is deepening its relationship with the project. It's helping Keds develop a strategy for the campaign's next iteration, which launches in February.

"We just felt like they got these young people," said Kristie Rogers, director-consumer marketing at Keds. "They're such a fickle audience."

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