4A's Sustainability Summit: Creating an Effective Agency-Client Partnership

By 4A's InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: 4A's Sustainability Summit: Creating an Effective Agency-Client Partnership

The Arbor Day Foundation has done a lot of good over the last half-century, having planted nearly 500 million trees among 50 countries over the last half century. But it had a big challenge on its hands. The organization needed to "attract new audiences through new tactics, new platforms, new communication modes that bring them under the tent," explained Dan Lambe, the foundation's CEO.

It was able to do so through working with the agency One & All, which sees its job with nonprofit organizations as being threefold: get people to care, give their time and give their money. So said Denise Wong, One & All's CEO during a discussion with Lambe that was part of the 4A's Sustainability Summit, which took place last week. They discussed their work together with Mollie Rosen, the trade association's Executive Vice President, Strategy, Insight and Innovation.

One & All's roster of clients ranges from the American Red Cross to Habitat For Humanity. It has assisted clients in raising about $4 million a day from the public and institutions for community outreach projects.

As part of all that work planting trees, the Arbor Day Foundation is involved in neighborhood revitalization and transformation efforts. "We have a very simple mission: we inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees," Lambe explained. "We do that all kinds of different ways and all over the world. One of our biggest challenges is getting people to see the urgency in planting trees. They are not just nice to have. They are a must-have."

One & All considered its work for Lambe's organization to be a privilege, Wong said. She noted that the more a client can impact society, the more beneficial an ongoing relationship can be. "I like to say we're purpose-built," she noted. "Apart from raising money, we want to create advocacy and awareness."

So far, both Lambe and Wong are pleased with the results of this partnership and how it has evolved in the short run. (They did not reveal any awareness or revenue results during the session.) For Lambe, learning to reach out to different audience demographics leads to quicker completion of tree-planting projects and launching more community-wide efforts. "When you bring in outside help, it just brings in a new perspective," he explained. "One & All brings in extra expertise, experience and lessons learned [elsewhere] that helps accelerate what we do."

The value of the two companies' relationship highlights the value of campaigns that are prudent in spending but wide in scope -- running in a variety of linear and digital media. "Creative is very important," Wong asserted. "Here, if something doesn't work, there's real impact that affects people's lives. You learn to understand what's at stake and how critical the dollars are that are being spent. You have to provide empathy and trust."

The beauty of digital communication is its ability to track in real-time and course-correct, then reallocate funds much more quickly, she added. "We want to create an environment where we challenge each other to deliver on the goal. We're honest about what isn't working, or where we need to do better. That's critical."

There's another factor that's important for agency-client partnerships of this nature to work over the long term: Each side needs to complement what the other does. Advanced measurement techniques are one value proposition that One & All provided to Arbor Day Foundation. After all, "you can't manage what you don't measure," Lambe said.

Arbor Day received total commitment from One & All. It was able to do so because it provides a flexible workplace atmosphere that empowers employees to assist or volunteer for local outreach and gives them perks for doing their best collaborative work. That raises the commitment level, Wong said.

There are other ways that ad agencies can ignite more productive activity with clients associated with sustainable lifestyle products and outreach, she noted, such as establishing campaign priorities that are personal and relevant to everyone, having all-in backing from executive leadership and adopting a long-term (not quarter-by-quarter) approach to determine campaign effectiveness.

"Start by starting," encouraged Lambe. "Don't worry about perfection getting in the way of progress. Be authentic. Be honest. Wherever you are on your journey, just keep going and take those steps forward."

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