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Serving Purpose

Becoming a socially conscious agency in a growing world of socially conscious brands

On the topic of Millennials, you’ll get an earful of opinions. As consumers, they are a generation with $200B purchasing power, they have sizeable social influence, and due to their disruptive behavior they are the targets of every brand today. According to studies published in the Journal of Business Ethics and International Journal of Marketing Studies, Millennials are attracted to the ability to engage with brands and co-create with them, value brand authenticity as a definition of their own lifestyle, and are conscious of the ethical practices, philanthropic partnerships, and for-purpose ventures of the brands they intend to invest in.  

Moreover, you can bet brands are aware of this trend. Many that had once made social responsibility a back-burner effort are bringing their social partnerships to the forefront, focusing on their campaign endeavors, and sidelining their products in the messaging. Companies like Patagonia, for example, are investing millions of dollars in campaigns that don’t even mention their merchandise.  Patagonia just announced it is giving away the $10 million in unplanned cash it saw as a result of 2018 corporate tax cuts- which also advanced the oil and gas industry- to support environmental groups defending our air, water, and land. Patagonia’s press announcement communicates nothing outside of its campaign goals, yet the effort will most certainly advance the brand as an ethical company that stands behind its commitment to the environment.

Other companies, such as Wanderer Bracelets, Rareform, and Raw Elements, put their efforts at the forefront, connecting their commitment to sustainability with each sale. Toms, Warby Parker, and Hope Water have built their brands around the fact that every purchase equals a product donated to someone in need. 

The rise of such brands was a major aspect of my inspiration to launch Access Collective, a creative content agency I co-founded with National Geographic photographer Ben Horton as a means to inspire the spirit of adventure and get people outdoors. I grew up in Hawaii- 2,000 miles from the mainland- where there’s great respect for nature and the life that it provides. I knew I needed to be a part of the “good” story in consumerism, and our innovative business model made that possible. Since launching the company 2015, we have produced adventure marketing content for more than 50 brands, including Eagle CreekSneakz OrganicOlukai, and Arc’teryx, while simultaneously supporting for-purposes initiatives.

As an organization with an equally strong desire to connect socially conscious brands to for-purpose initiatives, how do you ensure your services are the right fit? There are a number of things you should keep in mind before soliciting your support to prospective clients:

1.     What causes does their brand support? Social conscious branding should be case-specific. Research the advocacies each prospective client stands behind. Do your diligence to understand their associations. Do they donate funds annually to any nonprofits or political campaigns? What sort of lifestyle are they selling to consumers and what for-purpose causes would make for a seamless integration into that messaging? In Patagonia’s case, it is very clear that they are in the business to save the planet.

2.     How do they historically support causes?  Do they make monetary or product donations? Do they use their marketing and merchandising power to build awareness of their advocacy’s message, like TOMS’ #endgunviolencetogether campaign?

3.    Do their stakeholders’ values align with your efforts?  If your goal is to advance for-purposes initiatives, then understanding the causes and advocacies you wish to promote is paramount. Hypothetically speaking, alignment with a brand for the sake of dollars and cents could do more harm than good if the brand’s stakeholders’ motivations aren’t authentically aligned.  

4.    Is the brand equipped to manage the workload?  Many brands maintain an internal team that develops and manages philanthropic partnerships and programs and ensures the adherence to ethical practices. However, what if that system is not in place?  Where do your services end and begin? Be clear on this, or you may find yourself and your team responsible for delivering services that are way outside of your scope or offerings.

5.    What value does the partnership aim to create? What are you bringing to the table that will enhance the brand experience? I operate under the premise that the value of a brand’s product is tied to the experiences it provides. At Access Collective, we create visual content by way of adventure stories. The visuals we capture while on an adventure are used by brands for marketing and advertising campaigns, trade shows, and point of purchase displays. Our co-op sponsorship model allows the Access Collective to simultaneously capture content for our clients while producing the story. In our case, we are creating a tremendous value that would be otherwise far too expensive for a single brand to capture on its own. 

6.    Does the brand HAVE to be socially conscious?  You have a vision for your company to work in support of like-minded socially conscious clients, but what if you come across clients that desire your services but don’t necessarily want to focus on social good? Are you betraying your mission if you work with them? The answer here is entirely personal. However, in most b2b service industries, it is possible to ensure that every for-profit venture still meets a for-purpose objective. For example, Access Chile, and adventure science docu-series we are producing at Access Collective, we understand that not every brand sponsoring the campaign wants to be a part of the science education aspect of the nature-content we are capturing. Some just want the images without the educational message.

The clearer your own objectives are, the more you will begin to create a niche for yourself that will organically attract the type of clients you desire to work with. For us, that niche is adventure content and supporting science literacy.  

I’m 33, barely a millennial, but I have a burning desire to be informed and get this whole life thing right. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that if you stay connected to your vision and strategize around your ability to do so, you will find success as a socially-conscious brand, agency, organization, human…

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