5 easy ways for any ad agency to become a B Corporation

The truth is there aren't any easy ways. But becoming a B Corporaton is one of the most rewarding exercises a company can do. Here's how to begin the journey.

5 easy ways for any ad agency to become a B Corporation

The truth is there aren't any easy ways. But becoming a B Corporaton is one of the most rewarding exercises a company can do. Here's how to begin the journey.

Ok, that’s the clickbait bit done. Because, in reality, it’s a tough task for any company to become a B Corporation, not just an ad agency (in our case, creative ventures firm). If you have supported a company in becoming a B Corporation, you will know it’s one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences, professionally and personally.

Assuming you’re reading this because you are up for the challenge, then per the headline promise, here are 5 simple steps that might help.

One: know the basics, here they are

The B Corporation movement is described as a companies ‘using business as a force for good’ — over-simplistic, perhaps, like all good endlines. Certifying as a B Corps means that your company considers its impact on all stakeholders (employees, clients, production companies, local communities and the environment) not just shareholders or profit. I emphasise ‘not just’. B Corporation is not anti-shareholder value or anti-profit. It simply challenges the concept that business is only there for profit alone. At the heart of B Corps is the concept of ‘interdependence’. In other words, we are responsible to one another and the planet to create the right kind of progress.

Ultimately, B Corporation assesses how a company is designed to function. It’s not merely a paid-for kitemark or a pledge. The team at B-Lab who create the criteria are possibly the most advanced in the world on the topic. And yes, the criteria changes as learning evolves, therefore so must we as B Corporations.

Two: lead from the top

There isn’t a creative agency that doesn’t believe it already behaves in this way. But when you go through the formal assessment, it’s very unlikely you will anyway near meet the standard first time around. Things you do ad-hoc will need to become on-going policies. Ways of working will be amended. Once you have the required standards in place, you’ll sign a final Declaration of Interdependence. Which is a pretty cool statement, by the way.

However, all of this directly impacts Directors of a company, the Board, investors and, if publicly traded, shareholders themselves. Despite Larry Fink (CEO of BlackRock, largest venture fund in the world and pro-social advocate), it’s not always an investor or Board friendly set of commitments. So the CEO needs to lead the charge and be involved in every step. An internal B Corporation champion is also necessary to help gather and disseminate information. You’ll need a guru team covering HR/Finance/Operations to change how things are done.

Three: it’s a business case, but not a business case

For creative agencies, the rational business case will be about differentiation, talent attraction/retention and of course, new business generation. With talent, you can expect an immediate set of dividends by being attractive to the very best. In our line of work, that’s everything. And if you have a B Corporation client (and most of you will soon), it’s about living the concept of ‘interdependence’ for real.

There’s endless evidence on the relationship between pursuing positive social impact and increased profit. Unilever has been absorbing B Corporations, beginning with Ben & Jerry’s and Pukka Herbs. Last year Danone and innocent drinks(Coca-Cola) joined the fold. Waitrose has just opened up a ‘B Corporation aisle’ online, where you can buy B Corps products, from Method cleaning products through to Propercorn snacks.

It also makes you part of a community of new and better ideas. And it’s a commitment to all of your clients about the type of relationships you insist on having (interdependent).

Four: here’s how you score over 80 points

You have five areas of assessment: Workers, Environment, Customers, Community and Governance. Your baseline will be established by getting all the normal good practices you do into one place across all of these.

As a creative agency, the “Workers” section is where you can make a real difference since we tend not to have fixed supply chains. At And Rising, we have 37 days holiday, a week’s unpaid volunteering, London Living Wage (including interns). And the salary of the CEO is regulated in line with that of the least paid person. No, you don’t have to do that to certify. But you get the idea.

Next, “Community” — will be about setting standards around diversity and inclusion, which most agencies are now actively engaged in. It will cover all your charitable contributions (n.b. if you pro bono work for a charity, you can calculate this time and have the client verify this as a donation made). You can also make your office spaces available for community and charity use. Also covered here are suppliers. So having regular checks and systems that verify environmental policies of production companies that you work with as one example.

“Governance” — we incorporated a legal amendment to our articles of association committing to the concept of interdependence — thereby making it a fiduciary duty of all company Directors. This required the sign off of our investors and gave us the necessary 5 points to finally qualify. It also was the right thing to do.

“Environment” — so much more we can all do beyond recycling. Tip: talk to Red Inc on the subject of stationery — they have all the answers. Follow best practice advice from APA AdGreen — production and shoots are big areas of waste, and they can be made sustainable.

“Customers” — how we pre-vet clients is a question we should all be tackling.

Five: it’s all about Patagonia

You’ll already be wearing their peaked caps even if you don’t go outdoors. We borrowed a policy from Patagonia to train people in peaceful protesting and to allow paid leave to anyone wishing to peacefully protest against a social environment injustice. We even pick up the legal bills in case of arrest. Thank you, Patagonia. This policy won’t contribute towards a higher score on your BIA. It’s an example of how certifying as a B Corporation isn’t an end, it’s a beginning. A beginning that invites deep employee, customer and community loyalty in working together for the better.

You’ll have realised by now that becoming a B Corporation is not just a feel-good way to tick boxes — it’s about a fundamental shift in company design.

Let’s consider that being a ‘professional’ is more than just skills, competency or having done your 10,000 hours. True professionals also use their skills in the service of others. B Corporation is not a CSR programme, giant purpose TV ad, or a bolt-on idea. It’s the idea that business is totally capable of serving itself whilst serving interests larger than itself.

With credit to Stephen Greene, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of talking about this stuff for some years. In the words of Stephen, “we’ve discovered the second best system — capitalism — and we’re busy reshaping it to create the first”.