In a real David-and-Goliath moment, Smith & Smith beat campaigns for Sony PlayStation, Bushmills Whisky and Paddy Power in London last week to win ‘PR Strategy of the Year’ for our pro bono client Manchester Dogs’ Home in the Drum Marketing Awards.
We’re obviously delighted, and very proud. But what are the lessons we can draw from this win and share with others in our industry? Here are just three:
- Pro Bono Campaigns Have to be Judged alongside Commercial Campaigns
Just because we work one day a month for free for our client doesn’t mean that our work is any less important than paid work. Internally and externally, pro bono work needs to be valued and measured in exactly the same way as paid work. Winning ‘PR Strategy of the Year’ against such massive commercial campaigns just proves the value and effectiveness of great pro bono work … if proof were needed.
- Great Client Relationships Matter during Crises …
After eight years of pro bono work with Manchester Dogs’ Home, we were proud of our great working relationship with the manager, Lisa. She knew when to call us, and when to call us first. On the night of the terrible fire on site last September, she called us first, on her way to the scene. This was important, because it allowed us to immediately start managing online comms, with some very practical urgent considerations such as getting the message out to the public that the roads needed to be kept clear for emergency services and for vans taking the surviving dogs to medical treatment and to safety.
But it wasn’t only our relationship with the client in question that came into play. Very quickly, we were receiving calls from other clients, offering assistance where they could, whether that was IT support, manning phone lines or organizing industrial storage for dog food donations.
Twenty-four hours after the fire, a client of ours, Jo Lee from Meridian, had stepped in to manage Twitter traffic while Smith & Smith staff were dealing with international media interest (the story had trended #1 on Twitter worldwide at one point, being knocked off only by the Oscar Pistorius trial). That our other clients rallied around us and the Dogs’ Home in our hour of need – bringing other great working relationships into play - was incredibly touching.
- If We Can Do It, Bigger Agencies Can
Let’s face it: Smith & Smith is a small team. Close-knit and totally punching above our weight in terms of dynamism, yes – but small. And if an agency like ours can consistently offer a comprehensive pro bono programme to local charities and not-for-profit organisations, then bigger agencies definitely can.
Pro bono work doesn’t just help the clients in question. It helps staff (through raising morale, giving a ‘feel good’ factor and even assisting in management training), and done properly it creates an incredible ripple-effect of comms-savvy voluntary sector workers, who let’s face it are having a tougher time now than ever before. In short, it brings communications best practice and expertise into the beating heart of the community.
Awards or no awards, pro bono work represents the best of PR. If you haven’t already, go and do some!