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