DOA, a new consultancy backed by Thinkerbell and Ebony Gaylor, launches

Thinkerbell’s Adam Ferrier and Margie Reid have partnered with Ebony Gaylor to launch a consultancy focused on social purpose.

DOA – or Decade of Action – was borne out of the idea that businesses must take action now, as consumers, and indeed the planet, run out of time to tackle the big issues.

Gaylor, a former client of Ferrier’s when she was head of mob and social change at the Australian Red Cross, said the industry is currently in a bit of a golden era where brands can get away with inauthentic purpose-led initiatives.

This, however, is about to change, she said, as the planet continues to “go backwards” as it grapples with climate change, COVID-19 and fracturing social dynamics. The agency’s name, DOA, will also be seen by some as a reference to ‘Dead on Arrival’ – “a reminder that if we don’t change the way we do business and brands soon, there’ll be no business model on a dead planet”, the agency said.

The business’ guiding principles

“Business is playing a role in those issues, whether they acknowledge it or not,” Gaylor told Mumbrella this morning. And, she said, they need to do more.

“So it won’t be enough, for example, for a brand to say ‘We’re all about gender equity, yet our board is made up of 80% white males’. It’s really looking deep to say ‘Well, as a business, what is it that you’re about?’

“If you are in mining, there’s no point in you doing initiatives that are about say sport or health and wellbeing. Actually what we need to look at is environment or Indigenous rights. It’s really figuring out the point of potency for a business model and a brand to have the most impact.”

The global issues to which Gaylor and DOA refer, however, have the compounding effect of shrinking budgets and causing many brands to bunker down. Throw cancel culture and accusations of virtue signalling into the mix, and leaders of businesses may be hesitant to give more money to a new consultancy offering to solve their problems by looking at corporate social responsibility initiatives.

The brutal reality, Gaylor said, is that many businesses won’t have any other option.

“They need to figure this out. Some of them will be able to do it internally, and I think we’ve got some really great leaders in the space globally who have invested heavily to try and figure out how they can be more purpose-led and lean into that. I think that whether you see it as a brand budget, a CSR budget, a people budget – there are multiple points that you can pull this across from.

“What DOA wants to figure out is that compass to guide business. So this isn’t about us being a massive added-on scaffolded infrastructure to all businesses. This is about getting really deeply engrained decisions made by businesses around how they will be more purpose-led and the practical actions they will be able to take day-in, day-out.”

She contended that purpose-led organisations get stronger engagement, better productivity from their teams, and better buy-in and network growth from their shareholders and stakeholders.

If this element of business positioning, purpose and communication is so important though, why isn’t it offered via Ferrier and Reid’s existing agency, Thinkerbell?

Gaylor describes the relationship between the two businesses as ‘Facebook official’. Gaylor is managing partner, while her, Reid and Ferrier are directors. DOA’s ownership is split between Gaylor and Thinkerbell.

DOA’s founders: Ferrier, Gaylor and Reid

“I think it’s important for it to stand alone, because it’s not a creative agency. We’re much more of a consulting agency. Because we want to work with businesses to figure out how they can disrupt their business models, their production lines, manufacturing – so it’s taking more of a business strategy lens on that.

“We also don’t want to be distracted by going with some of the more obvious routes of campaigning alone. I think there’s a tonne of businesses in that space. We really want to work with leaders so they move beyond surface-level purpose that can be easier to go with. We want to get decision making and doctrines in place for leaders, so that when the going gets tough, they know how they will prioritise purpose as they move through their business decision making.

“We’re trying to really work with business and leaders to unpack what it takes – I guess what I’d call it is the long-tail of action. It’s not just one intervention, it’s how do you work with business in a deeper and more sustainable way to affect change at a greater scale?”

In a press release, Ferrier noted that while brands have dabbled in this area, they really need experts to help them get it right.

“Eb was our client at Red Cross and is a brilliant social change and systems design thinker,” he said. “She’s hell bent on making a positive difference to the world, and gets the social change space better than anyone. Her understanding of the systems and processes actually required to make social change happen are formidable. As businesses step into a more pro-social, purpose-led space, they are going to need experts and specialists in the space who can work with them side by side to make these changes happen. DOA is there to assist businesses embracing this space.”

The agency said it was already working with some of Thinkerbell’s clients.


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