There is this magical thing called clarity and it only comes to me when I’m either half cut or in the shower. Sometimes it doesn’t come at all.

Without clarity people can make some daft decisions. One of my all time classics was to put on a rock festival for charity. It had a fairly good name too – Goodwill Rocks – the problem was, it didn’t have much else…

After two years of casual planning I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t got this gig off the ground. My colleague, Parry, then told me quite candidly “We just don’t do festivals, Jim”. At that point I laughed-out-loud with realisation and replied, “Of course we don’t do fucking festivals. We’re a media agency.” Instantly I made sense of the Virgin Unite message of profit and purpose – ‘You gotta do good in your day jobs’. 

Virgin Unite, Charity, Goodwill Rocks

You see I once joined Jean Oelwang, Richard Branson and the amazing Virgin Unite folks on a week long connection trip to South Africa (my qualification for attendance being the owner of a UK Fast Track one hundred company, plus a boozed up auction bid). It was an insane trip. The buzz of meeting Richard, and a whole raft of inspirational entrepreneurs doing business for good, was intense and incredible. It reminded me that it’s got to be authentic. And it all made perfect sense.

Forget the festival. And forget the corporate charity stuff too. From participating in the Ice bucket challenge, to cake baking, 130 of my staff had raised over £10K for charity last year. Now that’s no small beer, but I was conscious that we could be 100 times more impactful for charity by getting back to what we (as a media agency) were really good at – advertising.

With this fresh insight I vowed to raise (haggle) £1,000,000 of FREE advertising space from friendly media owners and give it all away to charity. This in turn would help charities place adverts (for free) to raise vital funds. The name ‘Goodwill Rocks’ was reborn with a new purpose.

Firstly, we needed some charities to help out, so I wrote to over 100 charities with my idea. I was concerned that they’d all assume that there’s no such thing as ‘free’ – I wondered how many of them would even bother following up my invitation. I received quite a few blanks and one quite rude response (jeez!), but then the lovely letters started rolling in and it seemed that I had struck a chord.

20 amazing charities – ranging from World Cancer Research Fund to Water Aid – jumped on board, excitedly expecting £50,000 of free advertising space. Okay, now for the hard bit, because you see, I hadn’t actually got any free advertising for them.

We started by telling everyone that everyone else was already in and before we knew it we had secured help from most of the national newspapers and major TV networks. 

Not being up there with Sir Martin Sorrell in the agency leagues, I had to take a deep breath and ponder just how I’d be getting my hands on some of that sweet free advertising.

We started by telling everyone that everyone else was already in and before we knew it we had secured help from most of the national newspapers and major TV networks. We then got agreement from three major supermarkets to distribute a new charity magazine – Goodwill Stories – and in doing so created a whole new media channel for charity.

Virgin Unite, Charity, Goodwill Rocks

In less than four weeks we’d managed to get over £1,100,000 of FREE advertising space. A really inspiring effort if you ask me and an incredible lift for the charity sector – a sector very much in need during these tough times. It didn’t stop there though. Through this process I discovered a new energy in my staff. They literally fell in love with their jobs and shed tears of pride when we shared the video of our story (see above).

We’ve now gained new friends and long-term business in the charity sector. A bit of DOING and a lot of GOODWILL really does ROCK. And this time next year (Parry!), we might just say screw it and put on that festival after all. 

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