7 Creative Ways Agencies Are Supporting Local Businesses

These simple yet clever ideas are helping communities in need

a t-shirt for a local market
R/GA's Merch Aid program creates merchandise for shops that traditionally wouldn't make any. Merch Aid
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There are many ways to help individuals and small businesses struggling right now because of the global shutdown caused by Covid-19. A simple cash donation is perhaps easiest, but ad agencies—always on the lookout for ways to prove their creative chops—have come up with some lighthearted and, dare we say, fun ways to drum up money and support for the communities they work in.

If your agency is looking for inspiration, check out the seven we’ve rounded up below. Some are more elaborate than others, but each manages to help out those in need, whether it’s out-of-work bartenders or food banks experiencing skyrocketing demand.

Merch Aid

a t-shirt for a local market

Many small businesses are hurting right now due to lack of foot traffic. Restaurants have offered up gift cards, and some have continued serving guests via delivery and takeout, but that only provides so much. Nail salons, laundromats, tailors and the like are struggling to find ways to stay afloat.

To help these less marketing-savvy businesses, a group of creatives at R/GA recently came up with Merch Aid, a nonprofit that creates merchandise—think T-shirts and tote bags—for small companies that are in desperate need of cash right now. The creatives have been pairing participating businesses with artists and designers, giving each collaboration its own unique look and feel.

All merch sales go directly to the businesses themselves. More than $45,000 has been raised to date for 12 companies in New York City, and the plan is to bring the nonprofit to Austin and Los Angeles as well.

“A lot of places that we love don’t have a way of generating alternative revenue,” said Zack Roif, associate creative director at R/GA. “This was born out of, ‘How do we give back to the types of businesses that make our community special to us?’”

Roif said the initiative has been a success so far, noting that many of the businesses have worked out separate contracts with the artists to continue selling the merch even once the shutdown ends.

The Community Bar

Most agencies have a local watering hole where employees regularly go to celebrate a win, welcome a new hire or, let’s be honest, vent and blow off steam. Bartenders are often privy to these conversations, finding themselves plugged into the ups and downs of agency life.

With many bartenders now temporarily out of work, global agency The Community has come up with a way to help out the ones it knows best. The agency is inviting local bartenders to join happy hours via Zoom, encouraging employees to send them a tip via Venmo each time a fresh drink is poured.

The first one raised roughly $1,000 for a bartender at the New Yorker Bar in Miami. Subsequent happy hours, all of which have been open to the agency’s staffers across its five offices, have raised money for bartenders in Buenos Aires, New York and San Francisco.

The Community has created a microsite for the initiative and is encouraging other agencies to follow suit. Frank Cartagena, chief creative officer of The Community’s New York office, said interested agencies are welcome to use the “blueprint” it has created.

“The idea is really simple: If we can’t go to the bars, then we’re going to bring the bars to us,” he said. “It’s not solving their problems, but the bartenders really appreciate it. It puts them back to work for a night.”

Expense for Good

Team One, the Publicis shop that serves as agency of record for Lexus, recently came up with a simple way to support both local businesses and food banks across the U.S.

Agency employees were asked to “expense” a meal of $20 or less from one of their favorite local restaurants. But instead of reimbursing staffers who participated, the agency matched the amount of each meal and turned it into a donation that went to a food bank in one of the agency’s five locations: Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, New York and Chicago.

According to Ryan Durr, associate creative director at Team One, roughly 120 agency employees took part, raising $2,500.

“It was pretty incredible that Team One was not just open to doing this idea, but jumped on it and committed to donating a real chunk of money,” Durr said.

Wine Tasting

Left: Blast PR / Right: Barbarian

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@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.