What charities should learn from Whitewater’s demise
The news this week that Whitewater, the specialist charity agency, is going into liquidation is good news for no-one. The industry needs all its agencies to thrive.
It is VERY hard to run and manage and agency profitably these days. That applies to big and small. Whitewater fished in a single pool – charities – which made it vulnerable to a downturn in the sector. And if you are operating with a long lease and a number of senior staff on commensurate benefits, it can be very hard to reduce your cost base quickly enough once income falls (I’ve no idea if that was the case with Whitewater).
A single sector focus delivers expertise but I’ve never been convinced that it is healthy. Or that it actually delivers the best results. Charity clients can benefit from learnings gained on commercial brands as B2B clients can learn from consumer brands (an exception to this is probably pharmaceuticals with its specific technical demands and regulations).
I’ve always thought expertise in a discipline makes sense, be it customer acquisition or retention, direct marketing, PR, brand advertising as these are requirements demanded by all types of clients. I can understand why charity clients are seduced by a proposition of “we only do charities” but then they are more likely to get a formulaic ‘charity’ answer. That may well be what they’re after, but these days the old formula and traditional media don’t work as they did.
Furthermore, if you are a smaller charity client amongst some big ones you are unlikely to get the service or attention of those bigger names. On the other hand, if you are a small charity at an agency that perhaps has only one other charity client, you are more likely to receive disproportionately good service, if nothing else than for the creative opportunities you provide.
In the meantime, I send my best wishes to the staff and founders of Whitewater and hope they all find suitable employment very soon.