Advertising largely exists to draw attention to products and services. But communications can also help foster social change, and DraftFCB, an agency with an undoubted strength in this area, is aiming to do just that by offering 1000 hours of comms expertise to an organisation that's focused on reducing child abuse in New Zealand.
As it says on the 1000 Hours Project website: "The people working at DraftFCB feel very strongly about the disturbing levels of child abuse in New Zealand. But strong feelings alone don’t create change, so we’ve decided to do something. It’s a very big and complex problem, and we know that one advertising agency won’t achieve much on its own. But if we can give a boost to an existing, dedicated, long-term organisation, and help that organisation act as an inspiring example to others, then we believe we can make a difference."
While most, if not all, big agencies offer pro-bono services to charities and not-for-profits (perhaps as an effort to assuage some commercial guilt and often because it offers them creative opportunities), managing director Brian van den Hurk says trying to use its creative powers for good rather than evil is a big part of DraftFCB's philosophy. And it's part of the reason staff are attracted there.
It does this with a range of paying government clients, with the Ministry of Heath's Depression Initiative starring John Kirwan one of the most memorable examples of success in that field. And it also continues to work with charity clients like SPCA, World Vision and Unicef, largely on a project-by-project basis. But he says it has decided to focus its energies on one issue.
"It's not about a creative opportunity. It's about using our skills to create behaviour change, which is what we're focused on ... It helps keep people interested in the business and passionate about advertising and the way you can use comms to help."
van den Hurk says the awards scene has changed markedly in recent years, with scam campaigns being targeted and the focus shifting to big integrated campaigns for commercial clients. So, in the case of DraftFCB, he says the desire to help is genuine and he says it's great for the agency's culture "for staff to put their time and expertise into helping out". That is evidenced by the fact that half of the work is being done on company time and the other half is being done on employee time at nights and weekends.
While he hasn't done the sums, he says 1000 hours is equivalent to about one full-time worker for six months. But the work will be shared between 15-20 people (DraftFCB now has 230 staff). So should agencies be doing more charity work? van den Hurk believes it's not just an agency issue and he thinks all New Zealand businesses should be doing more in this area. And not just for good PR, but for good business, a statement that Interbrand's James Bickford would no doubt agree with.
He says the Glenn Inquiry, which is aiming to reduce child abuse and has had its share of staff defections, is a large scale national programme. This scheme, however, could be quite niche (for example, working with a regional charity that works with teen mothers).
"We know we can't do it all. But there are a number of organisations in New Zealand that are focused on this issue. So what we're looking for is an existing organisation where the addition of comms skills could make a big difference."
So what will DraftFCB's 1000 hours look like at the end of it? He says it will depend on the specific needs of the organisation or organisations it chooses to work with.
"We're not predetermining anything, but we have done a lot of research into programmes that have worked around the world."
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