Free work: the real value — Brand Ethos
17 May 2022

Free work: the real value

Why we support SMK’s national campaigner awards
There are perceived advantages in undertaking pro bono or free work for clients. Creative freedom is perhaps one. A chance, maybe, to get to work with a client whose cause or purpose reflects yours. Or the opportunity to prove yourself to get paid-for work. But we wanted to make our free work count.

There is a thin hardback called The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns. Most agency owners will have heard of it, even if they haven’t read it.

While a good number of the book’s twelve ‘proclamations’ are desirable – the very notion of getting work without pitching is appealing, after all – they are not always easily achievable. Especially if you work with clients in the charitable or public sector like we do.

However, one of Enns’ big ideas we absolutely do sign up to, is that it is good to do some focused work pro bono. To find one project to give your time free to, and then to give it your all to make it really count.

Making pro bono strategic

After several years of doing little bits of free work here and the odd favour there, we decided to get more strategic in our approach. We wanted to do two things. First, to help a charity whose work is aligned to our own, and secondly to support them over a period of years to make lasting change, rather than drop in for a few short weeks.

During the first lockdown in early 2020 we were introduced to the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK). The campaigners’ campaigner their work drives positive social change and makes a huge impact on ordinary lives and communities.

We immediately fell in love with them and what they do. And after helping them with their brand repositioning, leading to a new visual identity and website, we offered to continue our support as an in-kind sponsor for their annual National Campaigner Awards. Neither we nor they had done anything like this before.


No black tie required

Tell us what you need, we said. As the 2020 National Campaigner Awards were to be virtual for the first time, the reply was to bring the glamour and buzz to the online awards experience, making up for the distinct lack of red carpet.

The creative opportunity was fantastic. It was a chance to stretch our design legs and to have fun with the identity we had created and take on a streetstyle that reflected the grassroots work of many of the awards’ winners.

From award idents to animations, posters to certificates, we used vibrant colours, smart design and a warm, informal tone to bring the vibe to the awards the team at SMK wanted.


The benefits of taking part

One of the joys of our partnership – effectively an in-kind sponsorship – is not just having the chance to work on their premier event without having to look over our shoulders at the budget, but the opportunity to get involved in the judging, acknowledging and celebrating the work of some pretty amazing campaigners and campaigns. Its humbling and uplifting in equal measure.

Our takeaway? Read Blair Enns’ book and take a leaf. If you are thinking about undertaking free work, give yourself time to think about its real value. Make it not just about what you can do for them, but about what they can do for you in return.

And if that value is genuinely mutual, you’re onto a winner.

Thanks for having us, SMK.

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