Get Grounded in Social Impact Agencies.

What is a social impact agency? Why do we need one? What are the benefits? How can we find the best agency to fit our needs?

Grounded is an award-winning social impact and brand activation agency. We work with brands, retailers and non-profit organizations at the intersection of brand experience, commercial strategy and social impact. Grounded is also a proud Certified B Corp.

What is social impact?

Social Impact (SI) can mean different things to different people and should really be defined as Positive Impact (who wants to be promoting a negative effect on society??). At Grounded, we define SI as the positive effects on people, planet and communities that result from a specific act or initiative. For example, building a pump for clean water in a remote community in Kenya can lead to improved hygiene, better health, more girls in school, and more prosperity for the whole community.

Purpose + Profit. Doing well by doing good. People, Planet, Profit.

These are some of the phrases that crop up when talking about social impact. There is an out-dated but persistent belief that conscious companies committed to positive social impact do so at the expense of their profit margins. But robust social impact strategies need not limit your business ambitions or your profitability. It is possible to make money and make a difference.

A good SI consultancy will help you develop a business strategy that balances the Purpose/Profit equation, turning advocacy into action and sustainably addressing those social issues that your business has committed to impact. It will also help you to monitor the impact your initiatives or campaigns have on different stakeholders, internally and externally, and against your brand purpose.

“What gets measured gets done. And nothing needs to get done more than social good.”

A woman from a social impact agency holding a sign reading "planet over profit".

What does a social impact agency do?

Social Impact Marketing Agencies are grounded in traditional marketing expertise and have a deep understanding of how people behave. They are also committed to helping brands that want to elevate CSR & Social Impact from the footnotes of their business strategy to the heart of their brand purpose and mission.

Rather than focusing solely on building their clients’ brands for profit, a Social Impact Agency can draw on a wide range of resources to help them to motivate their customers (and other stakeholders) to join them on the journey to addressing systematic social, environmental or cultural transformation. For example, we’re working with Junk Kouture right now to introduce their ground-breaking fashion show concept born out of local schools in Ireland to help inspire and identify the fashion designers and circular engineers of the future. Everything created and visible on the platform is fashioned and crafted by creatives between 13-18 years old, out of nothing but recycled materials

Why do we need a social impact agency, what are the benefits?

Let’s talk metrics. Traditional agencies (along with their media counterparts) are structured and incentivize based on their ability to deliver and measure “salience”, which means how much a brand is thought of, noticed and then purchased. Salience is measured through views, impressions, eyeballs, clicks, likes…and such like.

However, if social impact is the goal, then measuring salience isn’t enough. You also need to measure your contributions to society in terms of the outcomes and actual impact – i.e. the effect and influence of your impact over time. “What gets measured gets done. And nothing needs to get done more than social good.” For example, you can use a logic model (similar to a theory of change), which identifies the inputs, activities, and outputs that will lead to the desired short and long term outcomes and ultimate impact. Here is an example from Submittable.

sustainability marketing - a diagram of a donut explaining the business relationship between social, environmental and economic comittments

You can also look to the public sector, aid agencies and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for ways to measure your social impact efforts. They design, implement, track and measure programs and campaigns that make a real and measurable difference all the time. When selecting an SI consultancy to work with, make sure that the agency team has access to this expertise, so that you can effectively measure the success of your social impact campaigns and contribution to society in terms of the positive impact on people, planet and profit.

sSeven things to consider when choosing a social impact agency

1. Do they understand your brand’s purpose?

A good place to start is to make sure the team knows what your brand purpose isn’t. It isn’t your brand essence, mission, proposition or a marketing slogan. It doesn’t include words like “you”, “we” or “us” and won’t talk about the Brand specifically. Rather, brand purpose is “a higher-order reason for a brand’s existence that goes beyond making money and adds value to society.” Digging a little deeper, it is:

  • The brand’s reason for being (i.e. it’s unique function and what it exists to do)
  • A social ambition that’s bigger than the brand itself  (i.e. how it creates a better world) that can benefit humankind in some way
  • A motive that’s goes beyond simply making money

Some good examples:

Steve Jobs articulated Apple’s purpose like this… 
At Apple, we create tools for the mind that advance humankind

Lego’s purpose is: Inspiring the builders of tomorrow

Tesla’s purpose is: Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy

In short, make sure your agency understands what brand purpose actually is, as well as its role and application. Ideally they will help you define it.  You can find the tool that we use to define brand purpose – called the BPP – RIGHT HERE

2. How innovative is the Agency?

The world’s biggest problems are also the world’s biggest business opportunities. Because of this, SI Agencies are becoming experts in social innovation, as well as in social impact. After all, they are tasked with inventing and creating new products, platforms and solutions to some of humanity’s greatest challenges. XPRIZE, MIT Solve, and OPENIDEO are great examples of what’s possible.

3. Who are their clients?

Seek out an agency with social impact clients that include for-profits, nonprofits and startups, as well as venture capital groups and foundations. Don’t be afraid to ask the Agency to provide examples of the ways in which they have facilitated and activated partnerships across sectors, because cross-sector collaboration drives innovation. A good SI Agency will be willing to make introductions and connections among their clients to generate collaborative action and even greater authentic impact.

4. Does the Agency walk the talk?

The Agency’s team should be passionate about making a difference in the world and have a genuine commitment to impact society positively. In fact, many SI Agencies are made up of activists and social enterprises who openly support social and environmental causes they care about. Look for a fearlessly creative agency that operates with transparency, is willing to educate and freely share knowledge and has a network of like-minded partners. At Grounded, we’re very proud of our Certified B Corp status.

Certified B Corporations are a collective of purpose-driven companies that balance principle and profit. They are legally required to consider the effect of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.

5.What are their digital and social capabilities?

Impact and activism are happening online these days, so working with an Agency that is well-versed in all things digital, social, mobile, and eCommerce will be key to your success. From cutting edge digital content, omni channel customer service and water-tight security management services, your SI Agency needs to be familiar with all the online innovations that will facilitate the delivery of your brand purpose. 

6. Who are their partners?

Take a good look at the individuals and organizations with which the Agency is affiliated and with whom they regularly collaborate. They should have a list posted on their site and, if not, you can ask for it. Are they willing to leverage these relationships with you?  At Grounded, we are happy to call upon our connections at the UN, Sustainable Brands, Open ExO and within the B-Corp community, amongst others. The rigor around obtaining these affiliations and certifications lets you know that we’re vetted and are in this space for the right reasons.

7. What’s their process?

At Grounded, the process we go through with clients begins with a landscape assessment, articulating the problem and identifying the opportunities. Once we’re aligned and have a game plan, we move on to Purpose articulation which then drives internal and external activation, bringing a client’s story to life and measuring impact on relevant stakeholders. Using quantitative and qualitative research, we’ll then map out the desired consumer experience to identify the moments that matter, build the campaign and tactical plan and  then plug in partners, tech and digital to accelerate impact.

A woman from a social impact agency holding a sign reading "planet over profit".

It’s all about true values-based partnership

Finding the right partner to work with you on social impact comes down to a mixture of chemistry, confidence and trust. You want a person (or a team) with whom you feel comfortable, who can help you successfully navigate internal and external pitfalls and opportunities, and who you trust to help guide you on this amazing journey of learning and transformation. 

Expect and encourage your agency partner to be fearless, flexible and radically transparent and remember that they are putting their hearts and souls into the project. The best SI consultancies aren’t about greenwash, public relations stunts and tactical eco-content placement. They want to use their experience to provide strategic insight and help your business to deliver sustainable positive change. The responsibility on your side is to ensure that the engagement and deliverables don’t become commoditized and that the relationship is not reduced to a transactional one. If both parties keep their end of the bargain then you can balance purpose and profit, deliver social impact and use your business and brand as a force for good.

sustainability marketing - a diagram of a donut explaining the business relationship between social, environmental and economic comittments