Why agencies are getting B Corp certified

Colle McVoy and Wieden+Kennedy are some of the latest to join the trend.
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Hannah Minn

· 5 min read

To B, or not to B (Corp)? That is the question that advertising agencies seem to be asking themselves these days.

In recent months, Minneapolis agency Colle McVoy and global network Wieden+Kennedy both became certified B Corps. Other agencies that have joined the B Corp movement in the last couple years include Dutch agency Dept, UK agency Manifest, and Havas New York.

The B Corp certification was created by the nonprofit network B Lab as a way to progress toward an “inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy.” To qualify for the designation, businesses must prove they meet a certain threshold for policies in governance, workers, community, environment, and customers.

According to agency executives who have gone through the process, it’s no small feat and requires constantly thinking about recertification, which happens every three years, as well as paying an annual fee. So what’s driving them to do it?

Imma B

Colle McVoy announced its B Corp status earlier this month, making it one of the latest agencies to join the club. Christine Fruechte, CEO of Colle McVoy, told Marketing Brew that she first heard of B Corp certification from a client, Vermont Creamery, and was inspired to pursue it given how similar many of their programs were.

“This is not something that is a simple check mark or seal of approval,” she said. “It’s something that you really need to make sure is core to your DNA as an organization…and it takes everybody in your organization to make a difference every single day.”

To apply, companies must complete B Lab’s “B Impact Assessment,” which asks more than 100 questions related to their governance, workers, customers, the community, and the environment. Questions cover topics like leadership diversity, energy usage, and civic engagement. While some are broad, others can get pretty granular; for instance, one question asks, “What percentage above the legal minimum wage does your lowest-paid hourly employee earn?”

Fruechte said Colle McVoy provided more than 300 pieces of documentation to back up the  answers it provided in the assessment process. She said the agency waited about eight months before it heard back from B Lab, after which it was prompted to answer follow-up questions and provide additional documentation before getting certified in March.

Colle McVoy received a B Impact Score of 80.8, which put it above the score of 80 required to become a certified B Corp. Fruechte said the agency is “shooting for 90” on recertification, with a specific focus on the community, having pledged $1 million to help nonprofits that are “working to create a more inclusive and sustainable economy” on a pro bono basis.

Costs, meet benefits

Companies that become B Corps pay an annual certification fee to B Lab that ranges from $2,000 to $50,000, depending on their annual sales. Companies that make more than $1 billion per year could end up paying even more.

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Even though it comes with a literal cost, Fruechte said having that stamp “validates what we hold near and dear” and adds an extra layer of verification to the commitments the agency has made.

Another benefit, according to Fruechte, is encouraging the agency to better track and measure the impact of things like volunteer hours and set goals for the next year. “It’s provided much more rigor and formality into how we operate, which I think is a good thing,” she said.

Luke Purdy, director of social impact and group account director at Wieden+Kennedy, told us that the B Corp assessment process inspired the network to get more serious about its environmental impact and reduce its emissions by 16% since becoming certified. “Because of that, the environment now is one of our highest-scoring sections for the W+K Inc. submission,” he said.

As far as attracting new clients, Purdy said he thinks having the B Corp stamp helps. “I think nowadays, sustainability is becoming a central topic,” he said. “So if you show up to a conversation and don’t know anything about it or have no credentials, I think that can maybe damage your reputation or qualifications.”

Havas New York became B Corp certified in 2021. According to Lindsey Bagg, senior director of talent at the agency, it’s impacted things ranging from where the agency sources swag (from other B Corp companies) to how often it hosts volunteer events for new hires (each quarter) to whether its website has autoplay videos (it doesn’t).

“It’s just a continuous improvement process,” she said. “It’s not like a stamp that we get and we’re done.”

For Bagg, one of the biggest payoffs in the year and a half since Havas New York became certified has been attracting talent. Tim Maleeny, president and chief strategy officer of Havas New York, said being a B Corp is also “another point of connection” when looking for brands to work with, though companies do not have to be a fellow B Corp to work with Havas.

Given increased attention to things like sustainability in recent years, Purdy said he thinks “any brand or agency that’s not paying attention” to the B Corp trend “is doing themselves a disservice.”

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