Leaving goodmarks* – making our business a force for good

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26 years ago, the doors of mark-making* were opened for the very first time. And right from day one, Ali and I (Ali being my good friend and fellow mm* co-founder) had a vision for our shiny new agency.

We wanted to create a workplace that ticked every box; one that didn’t give anybody the dreaded Sunday night feeling: a place with great people, a great buzz and a great reputation – both for awesome work and for using our creative powers to make a difference.

Cue conversations about pinball machines, ergonomic chairs and a ‘wear what you want’ policy. All good stuff – but not the catalysts for positive change we were hoping for, it turned out.

Pushing water uphill

The reality of establishing and running a fledgling business was a very different ball game to the one we’d envisaged. As we juggled the management of people, operations, commercials, clients and the creation of award-winning work, our wider aspirations for the community were forced onto the backburner. And there they stayed, for a little while at least. 

Our good intentions remained, but our lack of experience meant that our view on the impact our business was having on the world was narrow. We weren’t causing any real harm, but we certainly weren’t making the positive contribution we’d aspired to. And in terms of our business standards, employee rights and such like, we were strongly led by governmental protocol, rather than our own wider knowledge of the world we operated in.

The winds of change begin to blow

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As the months continued to roll by, however, our experience grew and the business was becoming increasingly solid. Finally, we could come up for breath and look at mark-making* through the lens of how it sat in society.

We began doing pro-bono work for local charities. Small steps – but important ones. And by 2010, we were consistently serious about giving something back. We had students coming in for work experience. And we were making regular donations to worthy causes. Then, in 2012, we decided that rather than doing lots of little things in isolation, we’d wrap them all together as a single, ongoing initiative. Cue the beginning of Project:Pledge.

Making time to make a difference

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Project:Pledge is the brainchild of Nic, our then Senior Designer and now Creative Director. Nic had a vision of consistently putting our skills, time and money to use in help of those in need – and encouraging others to do the same. 

It’s taken us on quite a journey. 

We’ve provided table service at a communal lunch for pensioners who’d otherwise be alone at Christmas. We’ve created a visual identity for a Cotswolds attraction that’s accessible for kids with disabilities. We’ve helped develop a social media identity for The SMA Trust. We’ve gone from proud winners of the West Oxfordshire Business Awards (WOBA) to even prouder sponsors – rebranding it in the process. And we’ve stood alongside Chippy Larder to provide food for those struggling to make ends meet.

The truly game-changing moment for us, though, was when Project:Pledge led us to a man named Nick Parker, better known as The CancerJourneyMan. A true inspiration, Nick defiantly staved off terminal cancer for over five years by completely dedicating himself to holistic wellness routines. 

During this period, Nick and his wife, Susannah, decided that they wanted to make a difference to the people of Chipping Norton – by conceiving a festival of wellness for the town to embrace. We lent a hand by giving the event a clear focus and coming up with a brand identity. And so, ChippyWellFest was born – a unique day of talks to open minds and challenge understanding around lifestyle, health and wellbeing.

Our own brand of Welldoing

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Off the back of the festival’s unbridled success – and as a way of kindly giving something back, Nick and his team started running sessions for our guys in the office. Our agency ‘Welldoing’ initiative was spawned, and to this day, it continues to go from strength to strength. 

We base our Welldoing (a term we’ve borrowed from the book, Do Breathe), on the notion that our job as an employer is to support every mark-maker as a whole person – not just as an employee, but in their pursuit of a life well-lived. The happiness of our people has always been a key theme for Ali and me, but here in 2021, it’s the most important facet of our business. 

For us, Welldoing and Project:Pledge has been far more rewarding than we ever could have imagined. From our initial pro-bono focus in 2010 and five pledges to five local organisations in 2012, we’ve now supported 27 causes and counting, sharing more than 5,800 hours of our time in the process. This all equates to over £505,000 worth of help so far – something we’re truly proud of. We’ve met incredible people and heard inspirational stories; all of which has shaped our thinking: who we are as an agency, what we want to do and how we want to be known. 

Making more of a difference, all of the time

Doing what we’ve been doing in recent years has opened our eyes to much bigger and broader issues than mark-making*, our team and the local community. We genuinely believe that sustainability, the environment, waste management, human rights and the true cost of a throw-away society are topics that just can’t be ignored. So we’re not going to ignore them – and our quest for the holy grail of B Corp accreditation proves that we mean business.

The road to becoming a B Corp

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B Corp was founded back in 2006 with an aim of accelerating ‘a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy’. It’s a community for businesses that want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. Which means becoming a ‘member’ involves being officially recognised for hitting the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. 

With our minds already set on becoming a fully-fledged force for good, the B Corp movement really struck a chord with us. So we’re going for it with all our might.

On first tentative inspection, achieving accreditation seemed like a pretty herculean task. But as we found out when talking with Gareth Dinnage of Seacourt (an Oxford-based print business on a mission) – it could be done. 

For around 20 years, Gareth and Seacourt have been relentlessly working towards a triple bottom line of environment, society and profit to deliver what they refer to as ‘Planet Positive Printing™’. It’s a path that’s led them to unprecedented recognition. The EU acknowledged them as Europe’s most sustainable SME in 2017, and 2021 has seen them win the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development for a 4th time (the UK’s most prestigious business award).

To top off these frankly ridiculous feats, in 2020 Seacourt also managed to achieve B Corp accreditation in unparalleled style – receiving the highest score the world has ever seen in the print & media category. 

Sensibly, on learning all this we asked Gareth if we could meet the man who assisted him in masterminding their B Corp plan – a Mr Jake Backus (former Customer Sustainability Director for Coca-Cola Europe, and now Seacourt Head of Sustainability). To cut a long story (reasonably) short, Jake is now working alongside mark-making* as we hit the home straight in becoming a fully-fledged B Corp member ourselves. To say we’re excited would be an understatement.

Our promise to keep doing what’s right

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Whether 26 years ago or today; through Project:Pledge or our B Corp work, we’ve only ever been interested in mark-making* looking beyond profit to make a difference. 

Every time we’ve done something that’s achieved this goal, we’ve left a positive mark. We call these our goodmarks*. And we’ll never stop trying to make new ones.

More than ever before, we’re going out of our way to consider the impact of the decisions we make; to make sure that whatever we’re doing, we’re doing what’s right. And as long as there’s more to be done for our people, our community and the wider world, we’ll continue to focus on leaving these goodmarks*.

About Steve

Founder and Creative Director