Brooklyn Firm Works for Free to Attract Top Talent


Today Brooklyn-based boutique firm Praytell Strategies announced the launch of its Passion Project, in which the company will offer up to $30,000 in varied services to non-profit applicants each quarter.

Of course all agencies are familiar with the benefits of pro-bono work in terms of building on reputation, expanding client rosters and scoring a few media mentions.

The Praytell project, though, is unique in a few ways — first being that it was inspired by the work of the MAC AIDS Fund (a Praytell client).

We spoke to founder/CEO Andy Pray to find out more.

How did this project come about?

The Food Bank of New York City was our first client, and we are very excited about working with non-profits. But we also had a lingering suspicion that we could do more on that front because, as a startup, you represent all kinds of different businesses.

We stepped back, said “Are we applying our creative talents to projects that don’t always get the kind of support they need?” and whiteboarded it. That’s how we came up with the idea for the Passion Project.

How does it fit with general agency practices in this field?

Agencies know that free work generally goes to the bottom of the pile while paying clients take precedent.

Some agencies do a great job of it. We’re still a startup, and this is our first chance to formalize that work.

Pray explains that his firm’s creative class “wants to do things that are meaningful to them” and that they are more than willing to put in extra hours to get it done.

Part of the project is about “optimizing unused resources” (the social media team may have a slightly lighter workload one month, for example) and “being a more responsible corporate citizen”, but a great deal of it is also about…attracting and retaining top-quality talent (and countering PR’s notoriously high turnover rates).

How so?

We helped launch the MAC AIDS fund, which raises money through grants, and we’ve been inspired by them and their product (the Viva Glam campaign and the 100% giving model).

They say that “doing good is good business.”

It’s less about standing out from a new business perspective than attracting and retaining talent and ensuring employee happiness: the MAC campaign made people stay with the company longer. Lots of very talented people want to work on programs like this one, and we want to attract others like them in the future.

We are lucky enough to work with big brands, but the Passion Project says “this is what we believe in, and we’ve put our money where our mouth is.”

Here’s the key: people we bring aboard will be expected to believe in it. I had a big “no PR for six months” plan because we didn’t want to raise awareness for something that hasn’t happened yet. But because it’s a grant program, it won’t survive unless people know about it.

It’s a little embarrassing, frankly. But there is a business need to have as many people as possible apply.

In terms of choosing clients, Pray tells us that the project site includes an application form with an “open-ended” questionnaire and that the firm has established an internal committee to review the applications.

It’s about finding a cultural fit and our ability to provide what this client needs. If someone says ‘we need a brand new enterprise website’, we probably won’t be able to do that at a pro bono rate. We want to be fair to every applicant.

In our previous conversations with Pray, he mentioned the appeal of starting his own firm after working with some of the industry’s biggest names (Ruder Finn and Waggener Edstrom).