Advertising can be a wonderfully self-aggrandizing business. We are all filled to the brim with big ideas and move at warp speed to execute them. Our industry is demanding and we throw quotes like “innovate or die” around meetings as casually as we do greetings. We move fast, we work lean, we sell hard. We sell sex, fun, love, hope, thinner waists, whiter teeth, things that make your life easier, products and services that make you more efficient – we sell everything and then some to make you better.
We sell “better” for our clients’ brands daily. But how often do we actually step out of the walls of our offices to stop sellingand start giving to make the world better? Volunteering can actually make us better at our jobs. Studies show that volunteering makes us feel like we have more time in our day, we feel healthier, less stressed, and more connected to others. Food for thought as April 23 – 29 is National Volunteer Week.
G. Michael Arnold, CEO of The Midnight Mission, recently came into Pitch as part of our Speaker Series to share his story. Mike, filled with humility and cold-hard facts, educated us on the current state of the homeless epidemic in Los Angeles. On any given night, approximately 82,000 men, women, and children are homeless in the city that is known for its glitz, glamour, and stardom. Although armed with unfortunate statistics, Mike was brimming with hope. He told us about The Midnight Mission, a homeless shelter in the heart of Skid Row that provides otherwise unattainable life services to individuals trying to get back on their feet. Like many other nonprofits, its success relies on volunteers pitching in to help the cause. Mike, of course, encouraged us to get involved.
In my planning mindset, I immediately began thinking big picture, conceptualizing all the solves and strategies our agency could offer this nonprofit. But, suddenly, I was struck by my own ad-land filter and the reality that none of the strategies and storyboards in the world could offer as much help to the homeless of LA as could our hands and our hearts. I’m a marketer sure, but I’m a person first. A path toward “better” for this organization and the people it serves could start with us leaving the office and donating our time, not selling our big ideas.
A week after Mike came in, I hopped into a van with six of my coworkers and headed toward Skid Row at 5 a.m. to serve breakfast at The Midnight Mission.
As we arrived, we weren’t divided up into departments or asked about our areas of expertise. We were asked to take off our marketing hats and put on hairnets. Instead of selling stories, we listened to many from people who lined up for eggs, sausage, and oatmeal. It didn’t matter that I was a strategist at Pitch. All that mattered was my ability to converse with and serve 500 people. No selling in sight.
While that morning went by quickly, its impact has stuck with all of us. It was a crash course in what we are supposed to be experts at in advertising: understanding the human condition, exercising empathy and compassion, reaching diverse groups of people, and creating better lives for our consumers and people who see our work and interact with our brands.
We practice these things daily in theory, but sometimes it takes experiencing the world outside our agency walls to become more attuned to what people need. Too often we stay within our “ivory towers of genius,” funneling through ideas in posh conference rooms stocked with snacks, forgetting what’s really going on in some people’s lives. It’s important to remember that good ideas don’t always have to come in rousing eureka moments. Sometimes they can be found by spending two hours doing something different than our daily tasks and then taking the time to reflect on those experiences. Those are the moments when something truly “better” can come about in our lives, in our ideas, and in our world.
Happy National Volunteer week. Go give.