A Case for Pro Bono Work in Business Today

Just what the hell is pro bono publico and why should you care?

Simply put, it’s donating work that benefits the greater good – a seemingly selfless act that helps the recipient of the work or the community at large. In the legal field this may be something like representing a poor mother of 3 through foreclosure proceedings. In our world, it’s donating time and money to a local business that we’d like to help succeed. For us, that business is Lakeside Amusement park in Denver.

Where does this concept of free work come from? Historically, a segment of the legal profession felt responsible to ensure equal access to the legal system. The idea was to avoid the perception that justice is a concept reserved for only those that could afford it. Sort of a social contract between lawyers and society that benefits all parties. Our philosophy is to extend this concept to marketing. Because if only wealthy companies can afford access to great websites, social campaigns and killer community management, then the little guy has no chance – and that serves no one.

So why Lakeside? The park is owned by Rhoda Krasner who inherited it from her father Ben, who bought it in 1930. The park was originally built in the Exposition and White City architectural styles in 1908. Once Ben got his hands on it, the park underwent a period of major renovations and incorporated many new features in the Art Deco style. Architect Richard L. Crowther designed most of Lakeside’s Deco and Modern features and included a great deal of neon lighting – which is lovingly preserved and maintained at great cost to the park. It’s beautiful inside, especially at night. The park is now run by Rhoda’s daughter Brenda Fishman, a registered physician who’s put her practice on hold to run the park for Rhoda. Starting to see why we love this place? Read on.

To those that have never been inside the park, who judge it by the exterior, it could be considered dilapidated and run down. We like to say “The Outside doesn’t tell the story of the inside”. They do have a small following of families and older adults that come because it’s cheap. And, a very small percentage of visitors come for the décor – but it’s typically considered the poor man’s Eliches (the large corporate park here in Denver) and that’s a damn shame.

How does Akavit plan to help? Lakeside is comprised of about a dozen incredible examples of Art Deco style architecture. The plan is to profile one ride/sign/structure each week for six weeks. On Monday we start with a hero image and some history + background, on Wednesday we’ll have some more facts that people might not know about – specific to that structure – when it was built, the type of ride it is, it’s unique history at Lakeside etc – and on Friday we’ll sum up with a couple of new images and a pitch message asking people to visit using a coupon code (which is part of how we’ll analyze the campaign). The last week that the park is open we’ll do a full week of posts about the park itself as a way of rounding out the package. This should feature nuggets on the family, especially Rhoda (the owner) and her daughter Brenda (the heir apparent).

As mentioned above, this exercise is meant to put a bug in the ear of our target. Of course we hope for conversions but breaking down misconceptions about the park should be considered a secondary conversion – as we’ll be hitting them again next year with actual events and big reasons to visit.

A simple Facebook tab accompanies the promoted posts and act as a landing page for the campaign. This tab will house all 6 weeks of content on day one. We hope to wow every visitor to the tab and elicit a LIKE – building the audience for next year’s bigger initiatives. See the campaign tab HERE.

Because Altruism doesn’t exist in business, what’s the upside for Akavit? Here’s what we get out of the deal:

  • An interesting and heartwarming case study for our growing social practice.
  • Mighty fine press release fodder for blog posts et al. It is a great story.
  • Opportunity for more of our designers and developers to learn Facebook skills.
  • A boat load of park tickets – Akavit day at Lakeside!
  • The reaction I get from people around the agency when I talk about this project is positive and enthusiastic – this type of work is always a great shot in the arm for morale and agency pride.
  • 90% of the work for this campaign happened in one day. This approach pulls the team together and keeps us all scrappy and sharp.
  • Like any other client, ROI changes everything. We have a lot of great ideas for next year (events at the park tied into social campaigns etc) and if we’re successful at showing a bump this year, this could turn into a lucrative engagement long term.

Who’s your dream pro bono client? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Drop us a note.

Originally written while working at Akavit – used with their permission.

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