In Defense of Agency Pro-Bono Work -- Send Me Some

By Published on .

I don't understand why elements in our industry are punishing agencies that try to better themselves by doing pro bono work. Except the work done for public service organizations, it seems
Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
pro bono is now deemed illegitimate. Why is it illegitimate to offer your agency's services to a company at no cost because you're trying to better your own business?

Let's review history. Every agency that grew to super stardom during the early modern era of advertising did so by flexing their creative muscles through pro bono work for pizza parlors, tattoo parlors, and the like. When they were small, agencies such as Fallon, Goodby and The Martin Agency all did it and were applauded for their effort. National award shows showered them with awards and the industry's news media featured the ads as exemplary thinking.

My how times have changed. I know of creative work that has been rejected from the forums of our industry media only after learning it was pro bono. I've literally heard people in our industry suggest that unless a client's minimal budget was in the seven figures, the work shouldn't be considered in our national award shows. Such suggestions smell like fear; the fear of being out-thought.

My staff works on pro bono to build better portfolios for themselves. They do it during their lunch hour, after work, on the weekends and in the middle of the night. They treat pro bono clients as real clients. They beg and borrow. They eat and sleep the work in the hope that they might someday work on an account that offers creative freedom with a paycheck. This type of work benefits our industry by allowing us to see what people are capable of.

What should be rewarded more: being good, or being paid? Love, or income? If getting paid is so important, what about making a profit? Many paying clients that garner the top creative awards for their agencies are their money losers. What's the difference in that and pro bono? Pro bono started a creative renaissance in our industry in the early '80s. Let's do it again. I appeal to the agencies that built their dreams and their agencies on this kind of work to champion its return. Help others have the fertile field you enjoyed. It will make our industry that much better.

I'm not going to rant any longer. I believe most of us appreciate great thinking regardless of the agency's compensation agreement with their client. So, I have an idea.

Here is a call for submissions. Send me your low budget, pro bono, bartered work. I'll feature it here from time to time; give credits, background, etc. The only thing I ask is that the work was really used by a client. If you want to give it away, more power to you.

E-mail submissions to
In this article:
Most Popular