OPINION: WALSH ON ... CHARITY ADVERTISING

Following news of the review called by the NSPCC on Saatchi & Saatchi, I have watched the debate on the relationship between agencies and charities from an interested dual perspective: as well as running Ogilvy in Europe, I am also a vice-chairman and trustee of the British Red Cross.

Following news of the review called by the NSPCC on Saatchi &

Saatchi, I have watched the debate on the relationship between agencies

and charities from an interested dual perspective: as well as running

Ogilvy in Europe, I am also a vice-chairman and trustee of the British

Red Cross.



The responsibilities of a trustee are onerous and complex but, in simple

terms, we are accountable for the finances of the charity under the

close scrutiny of the Charity Commissioners. We operate in a highly

competitive environment.



There are some 180,000 registered charities in England and Wales

alone.



It may surprise some agencies but a direct appeal through advertising is

not what brings in most of a charity’s income. Legacy marketing

(encouraging people to donate money in their wills), corporate funding

and direct marketing are far more important. It’s very rare that a

conventional ad campaign can provide solutions to many of the issues

charities face. The challenge is way beyond the bounds of simple

selling.



How do agencies and charities get into these difficult situations? The

Saatchis/NSPCC situation is far from unique.



Quite simply, the relationship between charity and agency often comes to

resemble a somewhat Faustian pact which starts with the charity wanting

some communications as cheaply as possible - the pro bono contract.

Because the agency is doing the charity a favour, or so it believes, the

quid pro quo - though rarely stated as such - is that it is allowed to

produce work that will win creative awards.



In turn, the agency involves photographers and directors who are

prepared to produce work on the cheap in order to have showcase work for

their books and reels. In other words, the motivation for involvement is

not especially pure or altruistic.



The second misapprehension among agencies is the belief that the more an

ad shocks readers or viewers, the greater the response. This can spur

agencies on to ever greater excesses. I am afraid that research and

response levels show that people are becoming increasingly immune to

charities trying to outshock one another. It is a tactic that can

backfire easily.



Problems can also arise from the high turnover of communications

employees in charities - and from the fact that while many of them are

extremely bright, hardworking and committed, they can often be

inexperienced and are probably earning only half the salary of an agency

senior account manager.



My view, therefore, is that the charities should hire agencies on a

professional basis. This means paying a market price; ensuring that the

agency has the ability to provide a discipline-neutral response to the

charity’s brief; giving the agency clear objectives and evaluating these

and holding the agencies accountable.



The agency, for its part, should combine professionalism and a high

degree of sensitivity in recognising that every penny received from the

charity is a penny diverted away from the charity’s true beneficiaries.



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