Why charities need a long-term relationship

Charities can often be promiscuous with agencies. But, Frazer Gibney argues, entering a monogamous relationship with your creative partner will prove more beneficial in the long run.

Why charities need a long-term relationship

We have decided not to repitch for the NSPCC. It has been an agonising decision, but it raises important questions about charity/agency relationships.

For the past three years, the NSPCC has been our baby. We’ve thrown our heart and soul into the relationship. For me, the NSPCC is a brand I am passionate about as someone in my immediate family was abused as a child.

Hard work and passion produced award-winning work – and, more importantly, it delivered. The "Underwear Rule" campaign, created in the wake of "Savilegate", drove 2.4 million parents to have the difficult conversation with their child about the dangers of sexual abuse.

We’re just as proud of the long-term strategy we developed to follow on from "full stop" and take the charity forward for the next ten years.

Given all that, it was tough to walk away. But the review is on short notice and comes when we’re already working on a huge BMW pitch as well as existing client campaigns, which must always come first. Given this, and our mantra to "do the right thing", it was necessary to decline.

A better way of working

Which brings me to the bigger issue: is the typical charity/agency relationship in the best interest of charities? The impact of us walking away is of no importance compared with the charity achieving its objectives.

It strikes me that corporate clients work with agencies completely differently to the way charities do, and I believe to the detriment of the charity achieving its objectives.

The problem is that we have two rulebooks: one for charity and one for the rest of the economic world. This is something that has huge implications on the relationships between agencies and charities and may be standing in the way of truly changing the world around us.

Charity workers’ salaries exemplify the same problem. We allow the private sector to pay individuals competitive wages based on the value they produce but, for some reason, doing this for a charity causes controversy. A salary north of £1 million draws little criticism in the corporate world, but pay someone half-a-million to try to cure cancer and watch the Daily Mail headline writers go to work.

This same thinking puts pressure on charity advertising budgets – we want our money to go directly to those in need, even though money spent on advertising dramatically increases the money available to solve the problem.

Charities are increasingly judged on the way they manage overheads rather than the impact they have on the world around them. This pressure on overheads causes problems in the way agencies work with charities and threatens to stand in the way of long-term change for the better.

In it for the long haul

There are countless examples from the private sector of long-term strategic partnerships between agency and client that have led to outstanding creative work and business results. The power of knowing you are in it together for the long haul allows focus on what’s important, and creating consistency and long-term campaigns that build the world’s biggest brands.

This is the kind of dynamic needed to truly change the world – after all, the challenge of curing a disease or driving a shift in society isn’t easily met.

But charities tend not to work in this mutually beneficial long-term relationship, instead moving between agencies on a regular basis, pitching every project and often having multiple shops working at the same time.

The agency accepts this and works at reduced rates (rightly, in our view), often pro bono, for the chance to win awards. It’s no wonder. Last year at Cannes, 12 of the 17 Grand Prix winners had a social responsibility element to them.

This is a major problem, because the pressure to clean up on a particular brief becomes less about solving the problem and more about furthering careers. There is often no common narrative between campaigns, with agencies purely keen to make their mark creatively.

And while we all know that famous work is highly effective, it’s important to have an eye on the bigger picture.

To truly change the world, we need long-term relationships between charities and agencies built on trust and a shared vision. The highly successful "Think!" campaign, now entering its 15th year, has had only two agencies, with a clear strategic vision ensuring it stays on track.

We’re proud of our work for the NSPCC and wish it all the best going forward. We also wish the competing agencies the best of luck.

And we hope the NSPCC sticks with its chosen agency and builds a long-term relationship that effectively tackles the problem for many, many years to come.

Frazer Gibney is the chief executive of FCB Inferno


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