When I was a kid we rescued a horse from the knackers yard. She was a thoroughbred with emphysema and she would wheeze and puff at the top of every hill, and she had a bad temper. I called her Pebbles. I still loved her and there was a real reward for our whole family in rescuing an animal that would have ended up as pet food because the racing industry had no more use for her.
Winston Churchill said “we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give”. What this used to mean for agencies was reaping revenue from big profitable clients so we could do some freebies for charity for the feel good factor and hopefully a clutch of awards. As the world grapples with significant problems like the wealth gap, climate refugees and war, there’s real pressure for business to deliver more than just profits. It’s now expected that business provides positive impacts for people and the planet and bake that into their purpose and strategy.
Advertising agencies have been slow adopters on many fronts. The fight for equality and inclusion has been woefully slow from an industry that was once at the forefront of radical thinking, boundary pushing and social change. And our track record with using our creative might to really solve the world’s big problems isn’t stellar. Maybe part of it is that we’re service providers for our clients business plans, but what would it look like if we took our creative genius and really applied to making the world a better place? What would our commitment to people and the planet look like?
At Augusto we recently made a call not to work with a big global oil company. There was a significant budget on offer that would have made them our second largest client, which made it tempting to believe that the environmental brief on the table was sincere rather than greenwashing. Our leadership team didn’t buy it and we made the decision not to work with them. And it definitely reaffirmed that your values aren’t tested until it costs you something. Because we’re an independent company it was easier for our founders and major shareholders to support this decision. But it made us realise that we need to get serious about how we want to show up in this world, and what we want to do with the talent we have.
Our team has framed this into our mission which is to use our storytelling superpowers to create positive change. We will measure it by percentage of revenue coming from projects that have positive impact, and sunsetting clients in industries that are not aligned. Our biggest commercial project this year was a global campaign to clean up the oceans with adidas. We’ve also invested our own resources and money, alongside other investors, into developing a coaching app to keep kids in sport, and we’ve made a powerful web series and feature film to increase awareness and action around mental health. Right now we are working on a project to help a group of incredibly courageous people rescue animals and pets from war torn Ukraine.
Rescuing Pebbles from the knackers gave our family a free horse, but more importantly it united us in a project with purpose and we’ve all gone on to make animal rescue a habit. It is my firm belief that all the worlds creative industry leaders should be striving to redirect their business purpose and creative talent to making a positive impact on life and culture, and change the business purpose so that creating good becomes habitual. This shift from profit, to profit plus good will become a north star for our people and the clients who choose to join us.
Aimee McCammon is the CEO of Augusto NZ and she still loves horses.