What is a
Social Impact Agency?

Get an understanding of Social Impact Agencies, what they are, why they are different along with tips on how to find the right one.

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 an action has on people, planet and communities – often resulting from specific act or initiative. For example; if you build a pump for clean water in a remote community in Kenya, the whole neighborhood can send girls to school, practice proper hygiene and advance families, businesses and the community.

So What Does a Social Impact Agency Do?

A Social Impact Agency is a marketing firm that uses its creativity along with a deep understanding of how people behave to motivate individuals or a community to take action to address a systematic social, environmental or cultural issue.

Can my traditional creative agency do social impact?

It depends. Traditional agencies are masters of persuasion,  influencing perceptions and finding creative and engaging ways to make a brand distinctive and culturally relevant. A social impact agency needs to be able to ‘break through’ in the same way but 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) are structured and incentivised to deliver and measure salience ( the degree by which a brand is thought of, noticed and then bought) through views,  impressions, eyeballs, clicks, likes etc. Social impact however cannot be measured in the same way because it’s never a single ‘event’.  For impact to have occurred there needs to be marked effect and influence over time and due to the short-lived, tactical nature of many marketing campaigns, there is often no interest in creating or measuring  ‘ ‘impact’ beyond sales, profit or brand health.

We would always therefore recommend working hand-in-hand with social impact consultants or a social impact consultancy with proven 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 – that haven’t been fudged for award shows.

What should I expect from a Social Impact Agency?

You should expect a Social Impact Agency to put your mission first. In other words, purpose before profit.  This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make money! It just means they understand that they need to work far more efficiently and effectively—  and leverage their networks exponentially so that the majority of funds are directed to the cause itself. And they should also be passionate about making a difference (Social Impact Agencies are also usually social enterprises and activists themselves —openly supporting  or donating to the sustainable, social and environmental causes they care about.)

Lastly, you should expect a Social Impact Agency to talk a lot about 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. Therefore Social Impact Agencies are starting to become experts in social innovation as well as social impact – where they invent and create new products, platforms or solutions to some of humanity’s greatest challenges. The X-prize and MIT solve are great examples of what’s possible. The new standard for a social impact agency (at least in our opinion) is one that knows how to both innovate and activate. And that starts by articulating the problem and opportunity, activating the idea and then accelerating the impact. Obviously we would love to be your first stop (and will happily refer you if there is a partner better suited to your needs),  but if you want to explore a little further – we’ve included some questions to bear in mind.

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 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.

Some useful links:
Social Impact Agencies
Social Impact Communities