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Tell It | Chapter Six

How Advertising Can Help Your Campaign


Advertising is an art. It can rise above the noise to convey a critical message to a particular group of people. An advertising agency is made up of experts in design and art, marketing and communications. An agency harnesses all of its talent and experience to create a compelling brand for a product, a campaign, a cause, using images and words - and to help spread that information to a specific audience through print, radio and television.

A freedom of expression campaign can benefit greatly from what an agency offers. An agency will produce a much more professional result - and possibly with cheaper production costs—than an organisation doing the work in-house. An agency can save you time and energy because it has already streamlined the process of creating ads from scratch - from writing copy to designing layouts and finding striking images. It has negotiated competitive prices with the film houses that produce the final products, and has the experience and reliable contacts to carry out best practices. The ads produced by the agency could be in video, print or online formats depending on the campaign strategy. See also How to Design a Campaign Strategy and Implementing Your Campaign Strategy.


To find the right agency, your organisation should:

  • Research an agency’s other accounts, which will reflect its values and the kind of creative work it has produced.

Check with other organisations to learn where they have had successful relationships with agencies. Look at a wide variety of advertising produced for charities and other organisations to identify the type of ad campaign and agency that suit your needs.

  • Identify and interview three or four agencies that are creatively the right fit.
  • Arrange for the agency to pitch the organisation: give them a project and ask them to submit their ideas.
  • Or, ask for a Request for Proposal (RFP) from different agencies. An RFP is a document that tells a potential client all about the agency and what it has to offer.


Working with an advertising agency can be costly, especially for human rights organisations with limited budgets.

Large agencies will take on pro bono work because they are committed to giving back to the community and will often identify a cause or causes to actively support as a company. Partnering with a human rights organisation offers them an opportunity to showcase their creative ability in a different way; it allows them to push the creative, compared to the work they would normally do for a corporate client. In fact, they could win awards for a campaign. It can also be an opportunity for the agency to be more daring without going off the brand message of the organisation, and to provide a new and exciting profile for the NGO.

A pro bono agreement is most possible if your organisation already has an agency contact who is interested in your cause. It is a good idea to involve this individual on a deeper level in the campaign and in the organisation, as a member of the campaign planning team, a committee, or as a participant on the Board of Directors. In some cases, this person could offer communications expertise to the campaign and assist in negotiating a reduced rate. The contact could also put the organisation in touch with other advertising agencies, guide the organisation through the process and help with connections within the field. Pro bono work may come in time if the organisation and the agency cultivate a good working relationship.


How to convince an agency that your organisation’s work is worth promoting:

  • Outline the impact your campaign is trying to make
  • Say what makes your organisation distinct and worth supporting
  • Explain why you think the agency's values align with the campaign
  • Mention how you would recognise the agency’s contribution and how they may benefit from collaborating.

If the work is pro bono, expect that your organisation's work might be put aside if there is a conflict with a lucrative, key client's deadline. It's important to be clear about the timing and expectations of both parties from the start.

If done right, these relationships can become long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships that go far in promoting the important work
of the NGO.


Since working with an advertising agency is a financial commitment, be absolutely clear about your budget and objectives before contacting an agency. The agency must understand what your organisation stands for and the goals of the campaign. The more you educate the agency about your needs, the more likely you will get what you want without wasting time and money.


Don't waste time developing ideas without knowing exactly what you want. To start, the campaigns team should be clear on its strategy; goals and objectives; target audience/stakeholders; analysis that links stakeholders to the achievement of the campaign objectives; and budget. Put all of these stipulations together in a set of “brand guidelines”—a reference document for the agency. This will provide the ad agency with a clearer picture of what you want to achieve, and create a more successful result. Use the Brand Guidelines Worksheet to help capture this information.


Once your organisation has selected an agency to work with, initial meetings serve as an orientation for both sides. The agency will begin by explaining what it does, walking the organisation through the different stages of the work, describing the production cycle, and outlining how long things take.

For any campaign to be successful, the NGO must also coordinate its own orientation for the agency if they expect the agency to properly reflect them and the work, and ensure that everyone shares the same vision.


Communicating with the agency is crucial: identify the decision-makers for the advertising campaign internally. Providing consolidated feedback to the agency is crucial. Too many last-minute requests for changes from different players will create more work for the agency, cost more, and perhaps jeopardize your long-term relationship. It is important to have a lead person in the organisation; know who is responsible for the final sign-off on a concept created by the agency.

On the agency side, the main contact person will be the account executive who has been assigned to the project. The account executive is responsible for coordinating information and meetings between your organisation and the agency team working on the account, which includes writers, art directors and production staff. The account executive is ultimately responsible for the day-to-day management of the work, by coordinating the workflow and ensuring that all client requests are met.

The process is a partnership between the account executive and your organisation's liaison.

Also, there must be enough lead time to develop the final communications pieces. Expect to allocate a minimum of 12 weeks from the first meeting with the agency to launching the advertising. The more time you allow, the better the results.


The creative brief is a document that sums up what you want to say and fleshes out your needs in the advertising campaign. It provides all the stipulations for the campaign. Everyone works from the creative brief to produce the right copy and layout for the ads. If you are working with an advertising agency, the accuracy of the brief is pivotal. Can you sum up in one line what you want to say in this campaign?

To help the agency write a solid brief to work from, bring in examples of what you think is good advertising, what has worked for you, what has not worked. This helps the agency understand the personalities within the organisation. It also helps clarify the difference between what an individual at the organisation likes and what works for a particular target audience. For example, if the target audience is not literate, then there must be greater emphasis on visual ideas or radio pieces. Providing the agency with an outline of the campaign strategy will help.


Once you decide on a particular focus/concept, the agency will begin its work. The agency will come back to the organisation with several creative concepts - known as “the creative” - in a face-to-face meeting. There
will be examples of ads that represent the stipulations both sides agreed to. There could also be a creative concept that pushes the boundaries or is a bit more daring.

Ultimately, the quality of the creative presentation tells the client whether or not the agency understands the goals and interests of the organisation. The organisation has a chance to provide frank feedback about whether the creative meets its campaign goals.

But the campaigns team must trust the agency, and not attempt to art direct or write copy. This can be difficult if you've been in the field and have expert knowledge about a particular issue, and are accustomed to writing. It is more important for your organisation to educate the agency and tell them what you want to communicate. The agency also needs to really listen to your organisation.


1. Request a detailed budget outline from the agency, explaining the costs involved for account management, creative development, studio time, strategy development (if required) and production. For example, the development of the creative brief, the development of creative concepts and the presentation of those concepts to the organisation will have a specific cost. After the concept is approved, the agency will launch into a full creative development by producing full copy, full layout and artwork, which has different costs. The agency will create a budget estimate for the project, which will be revised if the stipulations change or if additional hours are required, etc.

2. In some cases, there are separate budgets for creative done in different languages to account for translation and adaptation costs since the tone of the campaign could vary across different language audiences.

3. Working in black and white during production is less expensive than full colour.

4. Working from copy decks—drafts of the copy written for ads—until everyone has approved the final copy is more cost efficient than revising copy in layout. Once the copy has been placed into the layout by the graphic designer, it is more expensive to make changes.

5. Is the agency billing the organisation on an hourly basis for work done on the account? If so, meetings held at your organisation's premises can be expensive. An alternative is to agree to a set amount for the overall project. But time spent in meetings is no less of a concern if there is a negotiated discounted rate or if the work is pro bono, for both parties.

6. It is important that the NGO set realistic expectations around how much time is needed to provide feedback to the agency.

7. The agency must communicate clearly what a realistic timeline is to produce ads in order to keep the project on-track and on-budget.


Your organisation must have a plan to reach out to media outlets and cultivate its own relationship for the placement of ads. If campaigning around freedom of expression, the issue will likely be important to the media. If you have a good relationship with a media outlet, you might have a preferred rate, which is relevant for traditional print and online. Newspaper ads can be extremely expensive. National broadsheets are more expensive than community papers. In some cases, agencies will try to get free advertising or space for ads at a reduced cost as part of their pro bono work. Some media outlets also provide free space to NGOs, so it may be worth approaching key media directly to explore this option. Media placement depends on the objectives and target audience. See Building a Media Strategy for more on this topic.

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