One of the most difficult things about building a business is keeping everyone--including new hires--in tune with the greater purpose and vision of the company.
I knew from the start what I wanted Situation Interactive to be-- and why--but it took me more than 10 years to clearly articulate it. And after all these years, the one thing that I think best reinforces our "why" is the way we give back.
My agency has one core purpose: to deepen the world's connection with the live experience. I like to believe we do great marketing, great creative strategies, and great, well, a whole bunch of things. But, for us, the most powerful way to show why we exist was in a project we recently did with a middle school from the South Bronx.
Giving Kids a New Experience
The school, MS 343, is located in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country, yet it has received A's on its Department of Education report card every year for the past five years. It's one of only 32 schools in all of New York City to claim this achievement.
This year, instead of giving holiday gifts to clients, my agency spent the money to take the entire middle school to see what was for many of them, their first Broadway show: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. I knew the principal of the school wanted to reward his students for their hard work, and we felt compelled to help make it happen. I spoke quickly with the producers of the show, and they too agreed in the cause and helped us organized an amazing experience for the kids. (The producers' generosity, by the way, was another reminder of the value of giving: It's contagious.)
We let clients know that, rather than giving traditional gifts, we had donated the money toward the school's trip to Broadway; and we brought along 10 of our staffers to help out as extra chaperones. (The school also made a video about the trip; it's at the bottom of this page.)
Since then, we have expanded our efforts through our Situation Cares program, a nonprofit in which we focus our passion toward projects that fuel our inner drive. We arranged to have the Spider-Man cast visit the school to have an all-day workshop. And we're planning to repeat the whole project next year with another Broadway production.
Giving 'Back' Helps My Own Company
Giving feels good, but so do a lot of things--many of which aren't nearly as good for us. "Feeling good" wears off. Giving, on the other hand, makes sense for a lot of reasons.
- Give to educate your staff. There is no better way to articulate your company's why than through an effort that has no commercial ties to it. When your staff members are aligned and know the company's greater purpose, they are empowered to make decisions.
- Give to shape the future. The goal of giving to MS 343 was not only to reward the children, but also to invest in the future. These kids may very well be the Broadway talent pool of tomorrow, or they may be the patrons. Smart people drive prosperity. You have the opportunity to invest in improving either the people or the environment of gifted people that eventually will affect your business.
- Give to improve your own company culture. At Situation Interactive, we give in a variety of ways--and many of them come from team members' own ideas. Giving back to the community recharges the team, builds morale and results in more productivity. The staff members who joined the students for Spider-Man knew they were seeing something magical.
When you give back to something greater than yourself, you strip away politics and commercial interests and you get to the core of what you are trying to accomplish.