Agencies' passions projects must be motivated by inspiring staff and making change instead of winning awards or getting PR, agency executives said at Ad Age's Small Agency Conference in Miami on Wednesday.
David & Goliath's nonprofit Today I'm Brave, which celebrates bravery around the world, "comes from who we are as an agency," said David Angelo, founder and chairman, during a discussion themed "For the Greater Good: The Potential of All Agencies." Today I'm Brave has helped attract talent to the agency for reasons beyond just needing a job, any job, Mr. Angelo said.
The same goes for clients that want to "define their purpose, live their purpose and be more than just the product," Mr. Angelo added.
Badger & Winters Chief Creative Officer Madonna Badger said the agency's #WomenNotObjects initiative was inspired by noticing the objectification of women in advertising, as well as from the loss of Ms. Badger's three daughters and parents in a 2011 house fire. "Coming back from that has made me want to be of service to the world," said Ms. Badger. "Love and service is really all there is. My work gives me a sense of dignity and my creativity."
Ms. Badger said #WomenNotObjects, which began in January and has spread its message to 175 countries with help from the U.N. and the World Economic Forum, is "bigger than writing a check for charity -- it's stepping up and doing something different."
Baldwin& took on a more political issue when its Ponysaurus Brewing Co. helped create a beer called Don't Be Mean to People: A Golden Rule Saison as a way to fight North Carolina's HB2 law banning transsexuals from using bathrooms of their gender. "I think your cause finds you," said David Baldwin, founder of Baldwin&. "You don't fight it. For us, the mission for the company is to do great work for clients we believe in."
Keeping up with client work and a separate business is no easy task, which is why Mr. Baldwin said the agency views and structures the initiative as an account. He said staffers still volunteer to work on it, but it has its own team like any other account.
When public recognition does come, it can also create subtle challenges. Because "not everyone who works at your agency can work on your passion project, it can be hard for the people not involved when it starts to win awards," said Anthony Del Monte, founder and president at Squeaky Wheel Media.
The shop's I Had Cancer online platform, which has been honored in the Webby Awards, nonetheless helped "invigorate the agency," he said.
For agencies or companies considering a passion project, Mr. Angelo said executives and staff have to examine their motivation to ensure it's about inspiration or changing something for the better. "It's a great opportunity for us as entrepreneurs and creative people to help lead brands and lead a movement of authenticity and inspire people to make a difference in the world," he said.
Sometimes the decision to pursue a passion project, particularly if it's controversial or political, could deter staffers or clients from wanting to work with an agency -- or even render a potential client a bad fit.
Even though Badger & Winters had to turn away one client after #WomenNotObjects started, Ms. Badger said others came to the agency asking how to reach women in the right way. "It became a way for us to say, we're for women, the most powerful decision makers in the world," she said.