What is a
Social Impact Agency (And How to Find the Right One)
Learn what a social impact agency is, the benefits of using one, and tips on how to find the right social impact agency for your needs.
Grounded is a multi-award winning social impact and brand activation agency. We work with brands, retailers and non-profits at the intersection of brand experience, commercial strategy and social impact.
What is Social Impact?
Even Wiki struggles with this one! Social Impact is the positive effect on people, planet and communities that results from a specific act or initiative. Take the example of building a pump for clean water in a remote community in Kenya. This single act can free up more girls to go to school, improve hygiene, and advance the community as a whole.
So What Does a Social Impact Agency Do?
A Social Impact Agency is a marketing firm possessing a specific kind of creativity and a deep understanding of how people behave. They then use these two things to motivate people to address a systematic social, environmental or cultural issue.
Can my traditional creative agency do social impact?
It depends. Traditional agencies specialize in making brands distinctive and culturally relevant. Social impact agencies, on the other hand, need to be able to also motivate people enough to take action and do something about it. It ultimately comes down to metrics.
Many agencies (along with their media counterparts) structure and incentivize based on their ability to deliver and measure salience. Salience is the degree by which a brand is thought of, noticed and then bought. This is measured through views, impressions, eyeballs, clicks, likes, and other metrics.
The problem is you can’t measure Social impact through such ‘single-event’ measures. Rather, you need to measure effect and influence over time. This is something that traditional agencies aren’t as interested in compared to sales, profit or brand health.
For these reasons, always work with a social impact agency if social impact is the goal. Prioritize social impact consultants or social impact consultancies with experience working across public and private sectors, aid agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They know how to design, implement, track and measure programs and campaigns that make a real and measurable difference.
What should I expect from a Social Impact Agency?
Expect a Social Impact Agency to put your purpose before profit. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make money, but that they direct the majority of funds to the cause itself. They should also be passionate about making a difference. You’ll find that many Social Impact Agencies consist of social enterprises and activists themselves —openly supporting or donating to the sustainable, social and environmental causes they care about.
Lastly, expect a Social Impact Agency to prioritize measurement and ‘return on involvement’. As a wise person once said, “what gets measured gets done.” And nothing needs to get done more than social good.
How do I choose the right Social Impact Agency ?
The world’s biggest problems are also the world’s biggest business opportunities. Because of this, Social Impact 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. The X-prize and MIT solve are great examples of what’s possible.
In our opinion, focus on a social impact agency that knows how to both innovate and activate. Choose one that articulates the problem and opportunity, activates the idea and then accelerates the impact. We fancy ourselves as a great first option, but will happily refer you if there is a partner better suited to your needs. Regardless, always ask the following questions to any social impact agency you’re considering.
Questions to ask when selecting a Social Impact Agency:
1) Who are their current clients? Hopefully, they are a combination of for-profit and nonprofit with proven case studies in facilitating and then activating partnerships between the two.
2) How digital/socially enabled are they? Most impact and activism is happening online these days so being well versed in all things digital, social, mobile, and eCommerce will be key to your success.
3) Who are their key partners, communities and affiliations: Being able to bring in the right partners is paramount. We leverage our connections within the UN, Sustainable Brands, Open EXo and the B-Corp community for example (Because there is so much rigor in these affiliations and certification processes, you know that we’re all vetted and are in it for the right reasons!)
4) How do they measure success? Any Social Impact Agency worth their salt should be focused on measurement. Period.
5) Trust your gut: If you have good chemistry with the agency then that will go a long way with keeping a dialogue going during the harder times — and there will be hard times! No one ever said doing the right thing was easy!
Regardless if you are just starting to promote your efforts or looking to pour a little clean-fuel to that solar fire, fitting the right tool to the job is always the smart way to go. And Social Impact Agencies ensure their marketing powers are being used to promote your mission. And never the other way around.