Agencies Pay It Forward

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Robin Robinson

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In an open letter to CEOs earlier this year, BlackRock CEO and financial wizard Larry Fink outlined the need for companies to start focusing on the world outside their walls and find a way to serve a larger societal purpose. His thought process is that while focusing on building revenue, companies also have the responsibility to contribute to making the world a better place for all to live in.

Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential, Mr. Fink says, and encourages others, as BlackRock plans to do, to recognize and embrace the responsibility to help drive this shift in thinking.

According to a report by Boston Consulting Group, more companies are beginning to take action on the opportunities to improve the common good. For decades, most companies oriented their strategies toward maximizing total shareholder return, and efforts to address societal challenges were left to government and NGOs. Now however, corporate leaders are rethinking the role of business in society, and there are three trends behind this shift, the report says.

One, stakeholders, including employees, customers, and governments, are pressuring companies to play a more prominent role in addressing critical challenges such as economic inclusion and climate change. Two, investors are increasingly focusing on companies’ social and environmental practices as evidence mounts that performance in those areas affects returns over the long term. And three, data on company performance in the areas of environmental, social, and governance are becoming more available and reliable, increasing transparency and drawing more scrutiny from investors and others.

Wendy Woods, leader of the Social Impact Practice of The Boston Consulting Group’s global health work presented a TED talk this year on the many benefits of doing good. In her presentation, she said corporate social responsibility is more the norm today, providing a roadmap for corporate generosity. In the case of biopharmaceutical companies, for example, the strongest performers on total societal impact scale experience a 12% premium on their valuation.

One field of business that has long adopted a culture of social responsibility is advertising agencies, particularly those supporting the life-sciences business.
Agencies measure their success through revenue, awards, number of clients, and recognition; however, another large part of evaluating their business success is by giving back.

Our agency experts say that instilling corporate social responsibility is invaluable to a company’s success and legacy and helps instill a sense of purpose with employees, garners respect from clients, and draws the right kind of talent to the agency. Many agencies have incorporated dedicated departments, leaders, and/or written policies that drive their course of action in paying it forward.

One of the main benefits of charitable works is the “feel good” factor. Being involved in a giving back program has demonstrated value in building morale and nurturing an environment of a purpose-driven company. According to a 2017 Deloitte survey, 89% of employees surveyed believe that companies that sponsor volunteer/giving-back activities offer a better overall working environment than those that do not. This especially applies to companies that are hiring a millennial workforce.

“In the new world of the millennial work group dominating today’s workforce, creating a company culture that includes benevolent works that impact and improve the lives and health of others is extremely important to millennial employees,” says Darlene Dobry, managing partner, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, a WPP Health & Wellness company. “As our workforce demographic continues to evolve, it’s also important to note that the millennial/gen Z generations feel a much stronger connection to companies with these types of programs in place. The benefits to corporate culture, employee satisfaction, and the community are indisputable, but the feel good factor and our passion for changing lives for the better is also our inspiration.”

A poll conducted by Morning Consult for Fortune in 2016 stated nearly two-thirds of millennials say they prefer companies that make cash contributions to charity or have other philanthropic programs.

Kristen McGirk, senior VP, account director, AbelsonTaylor, says giving back is strongly embedded in the agency’s culture. “It’s part of our DNA and one of the reasons that our employees like working here,” Ms. McGirk says, adding the company’s attention to community-based programs draws potential employees — especially millennials — to the agency. “As is the nature of an agency, we work crazy hours, so if employees have opportunities to be engaged in charity work while they’re at work that can be fit in during the day, it benefits everybody,” she says.

“I think it works out best if charity initiatives align with the goals and values of the agency, whether the program is big or small,” she continues. “At AbelsonTaylor, we realigned some of our charitable work so that as a health and wellness agency, most of the partners that we team up with from a charitable perspective also have goals of health and wellness.”

Another example is the partnership between a local nonprofit organization With Change In Mind and MicroMass, which sees the initiative as an extension of what it does as an agency. “MicroMass’s vision is to be an agency that promotes change in behavior; changing behavior is part of everything we do,” says Alyson Connor, president, MicroMass Communications. Through With Change in Mind, MicroMass helped educate a community in Malawi, Africa, about health and family planning issues.

“Whether we are working with a patient who doesn’t understand the benefit of using his or her maintenance inhaler or a person who doesn’t understand the benefit of understanding her menstrual cycle, behavior change is universal,” Ms. Connor says. “Building trust and rapport with any community is paramount, and information alone is not enough to change behavior.”

In addition to aligning initiatives with agency goals, companies need to plan on making a commitment to the cause for the long term, investing both money and talent and engaging as many staff members as possible in the initiative.

Last year, more than 60% of AbelsonTaylor employees volunteered by donating their time or talents to one of the company’s charities or to an employee cause.
Getting out of the normal work setting and working with others toward a common goal is not only rewarding, but helps form a sense of teamwork among people who may not work together on a daily basis.

“Volunteering allows people in cross-functional teams to get to know each other,” Ms. McGirk says. “Staff members often tell me that one of their favorite parts of volunteering is getting to know other people they have not met before who also work here.”

Alicia Case, director, experience and enablement at Publicis Health, says not only does her staff benefit from volunteering, but her own experience running and being a part of the company’s charitable initiatives has made her a better person.

“Publicis allows me to be a better version of myself on a regular basis through giving back efforts,” Ms. Case says. “On a monthly, if not weekly basis, there are things happening around the organization that allow me to be a better community citizen for the world.”

Ms. Case mentioned reading a letter from Mr. Fink that he had addressed to other CEOs. Ms. Case recalled his assertion that the workforce is changing and people are no longer just empowered by a paycheck.

“People’s motivations are shifting, demanding that companies do responsible work and are actually doing better by the world, so generationally things are definitely shifting,” she says.

Publicis Health ensures its recruiters are fully versed in the charitable opportunities available to future employees. It is important to not just do the activities, but it’s also critical to making it known that your company is involved in good works, Ms. Case adds. “It’s one thing to say you’re active in CSR; it’s another to actually show it. We are storytellers and want the world to know ours and how we give back,” she says.

She oversees large-scale CSR in the United States and the UK where nearly 5,000 employees are involved in the different programs organized at the Publicis Health or individual agency level.

Charity Benefits: Everyone Wins

Everyone benefits from contributing to the greater good: the agency, the staff, and the beneficiaries. It’s a scientific fact that having a purpose of giving back is good for our brains and our bodies. Several academic reports — one from Northwestern in particular — state that having a purpose outside yourself is good not only for mental health, it’s also good for physical health, longevity, and even your genes.

In working with the nonprofit organization Lifebox, agency precisioneffect experiences the benefits from staff and clients. On a larger scale, the work with Lifebox facilitates safer surgery to those who otherwise would not receive it.
“As an organization, this reflects what we aspire to do, changing the standards of care,” says Deborah Lotterman, chief creative officer, precisioneffect.

Another important benefit is that the work gives staff members different experiences and an opportunity to do work that they’re passionate about that offers exciting, creative challenges — things that give people a lot of “juice.”
“This is very important and we’re so fortunate to work in this industry, in this space, where a lot of the work that we do is truly novel and truly impacts people’s lives,” Ms. Lotterman adds. “We also gain awareness that makes us smarter about what’s happening in the other regions of the industry and in advancing medicine.”

At Dudnyk, the work with Simon’s Heart spreads multidimensional benefits, including a greater sense of purpose for all, even those at the company who cannot directly participate.

“The members who actively work on these accounts, hand-in-hand with the nonprofit organization leadership — even the founders — are able to speak to and meet survivors of cardiac arrest as it pertains to our Simon’s Heart initiative, and derive a greater sense of purpose for how their unique skill set can help save and enrich people’s lives,” says Laurie Bartolomeo, executive VP, creative director, Dudnyk. “For those in our organization who are not able to participate directly, they derive a strong sense of purpose to help others by recognizing the agency places a priority in not just giving back, but ensuring our philanthropic efforts are sustainable, robust, and broad reaching in our communities.”

Among all of the charitable initiatives that Publicis Health invests in, Ms. Case uses the recent project with NAMI to show how it drastically impacted employees’ awareness of mental health issues.

“Our employees benefit by having greater awareness, as well as training and opportunities for them to learn how they can be better mental health advocates and recognize the signs, symptoms, and develop better ways of talking about mental illness,” Ms. Case says. “The employee base is learning about the importance of mental health and why this is a subject we all need to take seriously.”

When MicroMass’ employees took a trip to Malawi, Africa, as part of its partnership with the nonprofit With Change In Mind to provide the small fishing community with education about family planning, the staff who didn’t make the journey to Africa were as excited and motivated about the cause as those who did, Ms. Connor says.

During the initiative, Ms. Connor and MicroMass’ senior behaviorist Margot Mahannah trained more than 150 women and 50 men on anatomy, reproductive health, and family planning methods. The women and men were very grateful for the training and the entire MicroMass staff was excited to hear about the trip and the positive work accomplished there.

“We had a lunch-and-learn celebration where we showed videos, talked about our experiences, and provided information for those inspired to help with upcoming initiatives,” Ms. Connor says. “As an agency, we’re looking forward to exploring new ways that we can continue to support With Change In Mind and the Malawi community.”

At Purohit Navigation, its charitable endeavors are focused on the ideas of inspiration, vision, and passion at the agency. “Our ongoing engagement in philanthropy supports these tenets — motivating our staff, driving their passion, and ultimately enhancing our everyday activities,” says Anshal Purohit, president, Purohit Navigation.

At Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, employees are eager to volunteer. “Our staff is rallying to add more organizations each year,” Ms. Dobry says. “We’ve seen increasing participation in our Annual Community Outreach Day each year and the community has responded in kind. Our team members continue to raise their hands to work on pro bono accounts, in addition to their for-profit clients, because they believe in the good work the nonprofit is doing, and want to lend their time and talent to support them. It clearly makes a significant difference when the team feels the work they are doing is meaningful and that the company they work for is committed to doing good.”(PV)

Agency Initiatives That Make a Difference
From local to global, life-sciences agency charitable works run the gamut.

AbelsonTaylor and HeartsATwork

AbelsonTaylor houses all its charitable initiatives under one umbrella —heartsATwork. The objective is to provide AbelsonTaylor employees with opportunities to participate in the giving-back program and remind them that what they do does make a difference to someone who is in need.

AT identifies charitable partners that share the same goals of promoting health and wellness and offers employees different ways to support these charities. Last year the agency offered employees more than 50 different opportunities to participate with 20 different charitable partners. These programs ranged from internal events, external events, AT employee-led causes, and pro-bono work.
The agency partners with 20+ nonprofit organizations on an annual basis, with the majority of them locally focused, such as Off the Street Club, Urban Initiatives, and Chicago Help Initiative. These smaller organizations often struggle to find larger corporate donors, but still provide a valuable service to the community, which is why AT collaborates with them. AT also partners with larger groups such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Ronald McDonald House, and Heifer International so employees are given different opportunities to participate.

“Because every initiative is different, our very creative staff is given creative freedom to design for each initiative,” says Kristen McGirk, senior VP, account director, AbelsonTaylor. “The results often are campaigns that are fun, colorful, and at times humorous. We pull these initiatives through a variety of communication channels and have had great response from our clients and peers.”

Dudnyk and Simon’s Heart

Dudnyk recently expanded its charitable works to include Simon’s Heart, a local organization dedicated to preventing sudden cardiac arrest in children. Simon’s Heart was founded by Philadelphia locals Darren and Phyllis Sudman in 2006 after their 3-month-old son, Simon, died in his sleep and Phyllis was subsequently diagnosed with a genetic heart condition. Their mission is to raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and make screening hearts in young people the standard of care.

After attending last year’s TedMed event, Dudnyk President Christopher Tobias, Ph.D., and Executive VP, Creative Director Laurie Bartolomeo were inspired to extend the company’s abilities to contribute on a greater level. “Leaving TedMed, we both felt in awe and personally inspired to contribute to this humanitarian movement,” Ms. Bartolomeo says. “Subsequently, we’ve implemented a major sustainable philanthropic initiative at Dudnyk that will allow employees to use their professional expertise and skills for the betterment of our society. Through this ongoing initiative, we plan to form lasting partnerships with charitable organizations that need our help with marketing and communication.”

In partnership with Simon’s Heart, Dudnyk created an emotional ad campaign designed to disrupt complacency among parents and urge them to attend a free heart screening to determine their child’s risk. Additionally, pro bono materials include booth panels, a website, published interviews with survivors, including the son of Mike Quick, a former Philadelphia Eagle. Impressions of the campaign should reach more than 1 million families in the region. Dudnyk employees are also planning a massive social media campaign to drive awareness and attendance at a Simon’s Heart free heart screening at a local high school in the fall.

The agency plans to continue these efforts with additional organizations.
“Currently, we are pursuing a campaign that will highlight the detrimental effects of social isolation on senior citizens,” Ms. Bartolomeo says. “Recent studies have noted that social isolation among seniors is comparable to smoking and obesity as a risk factor for early death. In fact, isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 30% and stroke by 32%. Our mission will be to raise awareness of this epidemic and encourage citizens to volunteer their time for regular visits to seniors.”

Last year, the company held massive fundraising efforts benefiting those impacted by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Staff participate annually in both The CoCo Foundation and Girls’ Night Out events that support women and children with cancer. Dudnyk also formed a new partnership with an organization called Helen’s Hope, a local charity that supports the emotional and financial needs of breast cancer patients.

Dudnyk staffers are awarded two “Volunteer Time Off” days a year to encourage them to spend time with charities of their choice. The majority of employees use the VTO days to help local organizations such as The Ronald McDonald House, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and March of Dimes.

MicroMass and With Change in Mind

With Change In Mind has a deep commitment to building skills and promoting wellness to ensure sustainability within communities. A small fishing community in Malawi, Africa, requested family planning training. MicroMass responded to the needs of this community by providing education and skill building for the men and women in the village. This training also corrected inaccurate illness perceptions and helped community members understand available family planning methods.

“We created a family planning curriculum that reviews anatomy, reproduction, and family planning methods for men and women in this community,” says Alyson Connor, president, MicroMass Communications. “Studies show that women who space their children are healthier, their families have better health outcomes, and there are more resources available to these women and their families.”

The women and men asked inquisitive, thoughtful questions. It was clear that they had wanted to understand this information for quite some time, and they were finally getting answers. The short-term impact was positive. The community members were excited to talk to each other about their experiences, their struggles, and how they can move forward with the information and skills they learned. “We hope the long-term impact will be visible as women make family planning choices that make sense to them and their families,” Ms. Connor says.

Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide and Dress for Success Northern New Jersey

Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, a WPP Health & Wellness company, has long supported a number of philanthropic initiatives to fulfill its mission of making the world a better and healthier place. Current pro bono work includes projects for Dress for Success Northern New Jersey (DFSNNJ) — 10 Counties, the JED Foundation, Darkness to Light, and CancerCare.

“We are proud of the work we have done for pro bono accounts over the years, and to support their visions,” says Darlene Dobry, managing partner, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, a WPP Health & Wellness company.

DFSNNJ works to empower women to achieve financial independence by providing professional attire, development tools and programs, and a network of community support. Last year, the organization served more than 1,500 women in New Jersey.

The JED Foundation exists to protect emotional health and prevent suicide in the nation’s teens and young adults. JED is the nation’s leading organization dedicated to young adult mental health.

Darkness to Light is committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse and creating a safer world for kids.

CancerCare is the leading national organization providing free, professional support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical and financial challenges of cancer.

Past pro bono work also includes Direct Relief, Charity Navigator, NJ Sharing Foundation, American Red Cross, and the American Heart Association. “All of this work allowed our teams to put their talents to a good purpose and help these organizations amplify their voice,” Ms. Dobry says. “The response each year is overwhelming, and our employees feel we are working together with a sense of purpose to do good.”

OCHWW also supports a number of organizations and causes that are important to its client partners through sponsorship of their fundraising events, participation in events, and volunteerism. Each year, OCHWW holds numerous drives to support the community, including winter coat drives, Thanksgiving meal donations, holiday toy drives, and hurricane/disaster relief support.

Lastly, the agency holds an annual Community Outreach Day each spring, facilitating an opportunity for staff to go out into the community and give back. OCHWW partners with almost 30 nonprofit organizations across all office geographies and enlists staff to volunteer their time and talents.

precisioneffect and Lifebox

Healthcare ad agency precisioneffect is dedicated to bringing about change through the agency’s philanthropic work with Lifebox, a nonprofit organization founded by Atul Gawande and three others and the only NGO devoted to providing safer surgery and anesthesia in low-resource countries. Over the past five years, Lifebox has provided more than 15,000 pulse oximeters to partners in 100 countries, making surgery safer for an estimated 10 million patients. The group provides a surgical safety checklist and focuses on a number of key areas within surgical safety: surgical teamwork, safe anesthesia provision, and prevention of surgical infections.

As a member of the board of trustees for the organization, Deborah Lotterman, chief creative officer, precisioneffect, has contributed her creative powers to spread the word about the critical work of Lifebox. As a result, precisioneffect recently developed a new campaign in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the World Health Organization’s safe surgery checklist that has helped transform safety in surgical care.

The agency has worked on a number of campaigns over the seven years of working with Lifebox. “It’s amazing to be able to have an impact in places where healthcare is not as ubiquitous or available and to help surgeons and clinical teams and anesthesiologists who are highly trained and very committed but who don’t have the tools they need,” Ms. Lotterman says. “Much of the work that our agency does with pharma is for treatments for patients in places of great privilege or areas where the health departments and systems are very good, so it’s gratifying to be involved with an organization that is serving millions of people in low-resource settings.”

The agency also promotes the work of the Kraft Precision Medicine Accelerator, a Harvard Business School initiative, to create a business framework that encourages open-access models for cancer research, harnessing the work of numerous organizations that together can make a real impact on advancing cancer treatments and cures. “The accelerator is a truly innovative organization that is aligned with the work that we’re doing with so many of our clients on precision medicine and in oncology,” Ms. Lotterman says. “They are bringing together people across the landscape to try to solve big problems.”

Publicis Health and NAMI

At Publicis Health, the corporate vision is to be the indispensable force for health and wellness business transformation through the alchemy of creativity and technology for good.

“For good” is steeped in the mission and vision of the organization and is at the heart of the company’s corporate social responsibility and giving back efforts.
“Most companies might not have something like ‘for good’ built into their vision statement, but it’s part of ours, making giving-back initiatives a priority for our organization,” says Alicia Case, director, experience and enablement, Publicis Health.

In 2018, Alex von Plato became Publicis Health’s CEO, and she brought her passion for doing good for mental health issues.

“This year, the interns worked on a project for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI),” Ms. Case says. “The interns created a campaign to help de-stigmatize mental illness in young adults. Given that 75% of all mental illness cases onset before the age of 24, the intern population is the target audience for this. It made sense to have them take on a subject so important to their age group.”

In August, Publicis Health was recognized by WayUp as one of the top 100 internship programs in the country, next to companies such as EY, Nike, Google, and Facebook.

“We were the only health and wellness advertising company to make that list,” Ms. Case says. “Our partnership with NAMI as well as our dedication really brought us to the top.”

Publicis Health and its agencies will create a new pro bono campaign for NAMI to use for young people in high schools and colleges to de-stigmatize mental illness for this population.

Last year, Publicis Health’s initiative for its annual summer intern class — 75 to 85 interns — was to create a campaign for the Skin Cancer Foundation, targeted toward informing young adults on the dangers of sun exposure and the benefits of better sun care behaviors to prevent skin cancer.

“The Skin Cancer Foundation was incredibly happy with the effort; it gave our interns a purposeful experience, and it raised the profile of skin cancer through our entire organization, making our people better advocates for skin cancer awareness.”

The interns were enthused to present to real-world clients; a representative of the Skin Care Foundation said the organization had never worked with such a proactive partner. Additionally, the Skin Cancer Foundation invited Bayer, Tropic Surf, and a behavioral scientist from MD Anderson Hospital to judge the work.

Aside from the internship programs, the agency has been fundraising with the American Heart Association (AHA) for the past seven years with Nick Colucci, chairman of Publicis Health, at the helm.

Mr. Colucci was named a “Superhero of Heart and Stroke” in 2013 and was the event chairman for the Wall Street Run and Heart Walk in 2015 and 2016.

The first Heart Walk Publicis Health participated in raised $400. Then four years later, the company raised $414,000, the most in the event’s history.

“Over seven years, we’ve raised more than $1 million for the American Heart Association,” Ms. Case says. “At Publicis Health we find it incredibly important to take on health and wellness causes to ensure that we’re giving back to causes that are part of our industry at large. The AHA initiative is just one example that had a snowball effect in the most positive way and really gave our employees a way of having purpose together — this play-together-stay-together approach is highly engaging.”

Publicis Health also teamed up with the AHA for its inaugural STEM mentoring event for young girls in the New York City school system.

Publicis Health sponsored the event and brought both employees and clients to speak with the girls about traditional and nontraditional careers in STEM.

Purohit and the American Cancer Society

Over the years, Purohit has engaged in many philanthropic initiatives, from partnering with the American Cancer Society to supporting AWASH (African Women’s Alliance in Support of Health), a charity that works to improve women’s health in West Africa, which is dear to those who work at the agency.
This year, the focus was on giving back locally, and included a partnership with Embarc, which matches underprivileged high school students with local businesses for ongoing mentorship and career input.

Anshal Purohit, president, Purohit Navigation says the Embarc initiative was life-changing for the local students who were able to look at a different way of life — less than a mile from their homes.

Several of the students have since been given internships at the advertising agency, with the goal of changing the trajectory of their life choices.


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