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Ben Hagon is the CEO and Co-founder of For Good Intent, an award-winning creative communications agency that exclusively serves nonprofit organizations across Canada. With a background in graphic design from a prestigious school in London, he is acclaimed for his work in healthcare, public health, and community service disciplines. Over the years, Ben has earned nearly every major North American creative award, published works, served on boards, and spearheaded his agency’s rapid ascent as Canada’s leading full-service firm for nonprofits. He is renowned for integrating strategic consulting with creative execution, helping organizations articulate their narratives and craft visually compelling campaigns.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [3:11] For Good Intent’s unique approach to branding and communications in the nonprofit sector
  • [6:57] How Ben Hagon evolved his services from graphic design to a full-service communications agency
  • [11:09] The process behind For Good Intent’s successful campaign for the Women’s College Hospital Foundation
  • [14:58] Insights into the development of authentic, mission-critical nonprofit campaigns
  • [18:29] Challenges faced while handling a big client
  • [24:07] The significance of systems, processes, and tech stacks within an agency
  • [27:10] The philosophy behind team building and hiring for character
  • [36:27] Strategies for developing leaders within a company
  • [42:30] Tips for maintaining a casual yet structured approach to internal communication

In this episode…

What does it take to transition from a generalist agency to one with a concentrated focus? What could prompt such a strategic shift, and how might this decision impact not only the agency’s trajectory, but also the clients it serves? Is it possible to align core values with market success?

Ben Hagon, a successful entrepreneur, faced these very challenges. After realizing his agency’s broad scope wasn’t resonating with their values and goals, he and his team embarked on a journey to specialize in nonprofit communications. This pivot aligned with their passion and catapulted the agency into becoming Canada’s premier full-service agency for nonprofits. Through strategic consulting, deep listening, and a knack for weaving cohesive brand narratives, Ben and his team have successfully produced innovative and impactful campaigns, such as the vibrant initiative for the Women’s College Hospital Foundation.

In this episode of Inspired Insider Podcast, Dr. Jeremy Weisz interviews Ben Hagon, Co-founder and CEO of For Good Intent, about transforming agency services to meet the evolving needs of nonprofits. Ben delves into the story of For Good Intent’s strategic evolution, insights on creating compelling narratives, the importance of genuine stakeholder engagement, and the steps taken to focus exclusively on nonprofit clientele.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Special Mention(s):

Related episode(s):

Quotable Moments:

  • “What you put out you get back.”
  • “You can teach a chimp to use a Mac, but character can’t be taught.”
  • “The word ‘company’ simply means a collection of people.”
  • “Hire slow, fire fast.”
  • “Nobody benefits when you dilly-dally around getting rid of folks.”
  • “Every leader is a reader, but not every reader is a leader.”
  • “You cannot lead if you don’t read.”

Sponsor for this episode

At Rise25, we’re committed to helping you connect with your Dream 100 referral partners, clients, and strategic partners through our done-for-you podcast solution.

We’re a professional podcast production agency that makes creating a podcast effortless. Since 2009, our proven system has helped thousands of B2B businesses build strong relationships with referral partners, clients, and audiences without doing the hard work.

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We’ll distribute each episode across more than 11 unique channels, including iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. We’ll also create copy for each episode and promote your show across social media.

Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPOEOLending TreeFreshdesk, and many more.

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

Podcast production has a lot of moving parts and is a big commitment on our end; we only want to work with people who are committed to their business and to cultivating amazing relationships.

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01 

You are listening to Inspired Insider with your host, Dr. Jeremy Weisz.

Jeremy Weisz  0:22 

Dr. Jeremy Weisz here founder of inspiredinsider.com I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders today is no different. I’ve been Hagan who is the founder of For Good Intent. And then before I formally introduce you, I always like to point out other episodes people should check out. Since this is part of the top agency series, I had Jason Swenk on. Jason Swenk had a really interesting journey, he built his agency up to over eight figures and sold it and then recently has been buying up agencies, he also has an agency group. So he has kind of shared his journey, the landscape and everything like that.

And also Todd Taskey. He has the Second Bite Podcast, so he actually pairs agencies of private equity, and help sell agencies, he calls it the Second Bite because sometimes when they’re working with private equity, they make more off the second bite than they do on the first so he also talks about the valuation landscape of agencies and many more, so you can check out other episodes on inspiredinsider.com This episode is brought to you by Rise25.

At Rise25 we help businesses give to and connect to their dream 100 relationships. And how do we do that we do that to helping you run your podcast, we’re an easy button for a company to launch and run a podcast we do the strategy, the accountability and the full execution. Ben, we call ourselves the magic elves that work in the background to make it look easy for the host in the company. So they can create great relationships, great content and run their business. So for me, the number one thing in my life is relationships. I’m always looking at ways to give to my best relationships.

I found no better way over the past decade to profile the people and companies I most admire in this planet and share with the world what they’re working on. So if you thought about podcasting, you should you have questions you can go to rise25.com, I have lots of free content actually on Inspired Insider as well. So I’m excited to introduce Ben Hagen. He’s founder of For Good Intent, you can check it out forgoodintent.com. It’s an award-winning branding, communications design, digital design, they perform integrated campaigns for the top nonprofits, and Ben has won almost every major North American creative award as writing published, served on board started his own agency, which he talked about, which has fast grown into Canada’s premier full-service agency for nonprofit organizations. And Ben, I’m excited to have you thanks for joining me.

Ben Hagon  2:43 

Thank you, Jeremy, pleasure to be here.

Jeremy Weisz  2:45 

Just talk for a second about what you do at For Good Intent. And we have a bunch of cool topics that we’ve brainstormed from, this is going to be especially relevant, because we’ll talk about building leadership team, the path to empower staff, and also the story of when you got a million-dollar client. And is that good or bad, but talk about For Good Intent and what you do.

Ben Hagon  3:11 

Absolutely. So For Good Intent is a creative agency creative communications agency that only works with nonprofit organizations. We work across Canada from coast to coast, helping clients solve problems. So the nonprofit world is a little different from your traditional agency working with businesses and corporations, in terms of the problems that they bring to us and how we can help them solve them. So the types of work that we do can range from helping them with their strategic planning, right through to graphic design, advertising campaigns, website development, and branding projects and everything else in between. We specialize in health care, public health and community services, but work in a wide range of nonprofit sectors as well.

Jeremy Weisz  3:56 

I think Ben within the agency world, churn and keeping clients is top of mind for a lot of agencies. I’d love for you to talk about this one, which is I think, is a perfect example, which is, if you’re lucky, by the way, if you’re listening the audio, there is a video portion we can see we’re at the For Good Intent, and you can see Intent help the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Talk about what you do with them, because that I think highlights a lot of, how do you evolve with a company and continue to serve them over years?

Ben Hagon  4:32 

Yeah, very, very interesting story on this one, we participated in a public procurement process back in 2014. So 10 years ago now to become one of their vendors of records so that we could provide graphic design services to them specifically at that time. And I have to say, back then, when we were still relatively new as Intent when we refocused on nonprofits, this one was a lofty goal working with Canada’s steward for cancer control across the country is a big client. We’re very fortunate in that we were selected as one of their agencies and quickly became their go to agency for their large strategic reports. So what you can see on the screen here, for those that are watching, is their tenure strategy, which we worked on in 2019.

But between 2014 and 2020, for the type of work, we call them CPAC, or the partnership brings to us these large mission-critical reports that they are responsible to Health Canada, as well as the various cancer agencies across the country for producing. So they can be a compendium of various programs and activities that the agent the organization is putting together, or they can be about a specific program, say, tobacco cessation, HPV prevention. And they come to us because they know that they can depend upon us, they know that we’re specialists that our design department does this work and has done this work for many, many years. And we’ve been able to over the years, actually create a brand for the partnership through the application of the work, which is quite interesting. We’ve never been hired to do their brand guidelines or develop their brand.

But through the consistent application of high-quality work, we’ve actually created their brand language, which now they use across all of their digital and input properties. So an interesting evolution of the relationship that was reinforced not through fancy dinners, or corporate gifts, but through the consistent application of excellent work. And now we are their go to group for whenever they have a large, important reporting project.

Jeremy Weisz  6:50 

Talk about the services, how has your services evolved, from when you first started till now.

Ben Hagon  6:57 

Very much, our services evolve very much. So when we started out, first of all, we started out not doing nonprofit, we started out as a generalist, Graphic Design Studio. So two evolutions one, we’ve evolved to specialize in nonprofit communications, and two, we’ve broadened to become a full-service communications agency. So going from just graphic design projects, to communications projects of all scopes, and definitions. And that is the biggest change. So our clients come to us when they have a large scope of work with multiple components and give it to us to manage from the beginning to the end. The offshoot of that, which has been very interesting specifically for my work on the business is the amount of strategic work that we’re now asked to do. So I am now brought in almost as a consultant by nonprofits to help them work on operational or communications strategic challenges, which is a radical change from laying out a brochure like we did in 2013.

Jeremy Weisz  7:59 

How do you come to because I’m sure the first time you got that request, I’m wondering how you decide to package that service? Which is that strategic work, because I get okay. We’re going to produce this website. When approves this design. We’re going to do this for you. And I’m sure someone’s like, “Ben, we just want you to consult.” Yeah, how did you decide to package that service? Which essentially is you in that respect? And did you I’m wondering if you turned it down at all? Are you just like went full force with it?

Ben Hagon  8:34 

As with anything in my life is not a clear-cut answer. So what I found in this particular iteration, is that we were already doing a lot of the strategic consulting activities as a part of our discovery work on a brand or a campaign. And when a client came to us and said we need some help on some strategy work. And these are the challenges we’re facing, I sat down and thought about the challenges and thought, well, we’re already deploying some of these activities and exercises, why not do it in isolation, as opposed to part of the project process? So that’s part one, and it sort of evolved organically to the point where I think this is going to be the year of strategic consultation for me specifically, I would say hopefully without coming across as hubristic, I was always related in that.

So I trained as a graphic designer in London, England at one of their esteemed graphic design schools. But I was always more interested in the woods and the visuals. I got a far better mark on my dissertation than I did on my portfolio. And so I think it was a natural evolution that I’m interested in communicating. I’m interested in ideas and I’m interested in people far more than just design aesthetics. So I think it was a natural evolution for myself something I was interested in something I was able to do and something that clients required.

Jeremy Weisz  10:00 

What are some of the important questions you ask in the beginning of that relationship to start the strategy, right? People come to you like, what do we do? Where do we go? I’m sure you have some exploratory conversations.

Ben Hagon  10:17 

Absolutely do. And I actually just, I always start with the journalistic model, the who, what, where, why, when, and how. And so I sort of applied those questions to the challenge. And I always start with why. Why are we doing this? What are you hoping to achieve? What are the problems that you were finding now? And then what’s really important is the who so who are we talking to? Who is this for? What did they care about? Where are they? How can we reach them? So I’m very inquisitive in that way. That’s just a conversation, Jeremy. But then, once the conversation happens, and we facilitate some of the answers, then we move into actual specific exercises that I walk people through to have them come up with a lot of their own answers, or at least generate some really good discussions around the challenges and how we can solve them.

Jeremy Weisz  11:09 

We’ll talk about specifically the Women’s College Hospital Foundation, and how that went as far as exploratory process goes, because you took them through this process. And so how would it work with the Women’s College Hospital Foundation?

Ben Hagon  11:34 

That work is, it might be the work that I’m most proud of. And I must insist that it be clear that my team did the bulk of this work. This does not fall on Ben’s shoulders. It was certainly a team effort. And many creative and talented people were involved in that work. With that one specifically, it was or it is a client that is doing something that is remarkable. They are changing the way that healthcare is considered designed and executed in Canada, and nobody else is doing it like they do. And so the challenge was aligning all of the various stakeholders they have. So comms team, doctors themselves. hospital administration, you have to remember that in Canada, hospitals and foundations are two separate entities.

The foundation raises money for the hospital, the hospital is publicly funded in Canada, for operating expenses, but not capital expenses. So the foundation has to raise money for investments in equipment, new programs, research studies, etc. This client also has a research institute that we had to interface with. So understanding all of these different facets, all of the different programs and bringing them back to the central idea of we see things differently, was the challenge. And the way that I did that the way that I designed that process was to go right to the horse’s mouth and talk to the leaders of the specific activities and programs themselves to understand how each one of them sees things differently, and how we can pull this threads together into one unified message. So you can see on the screen here you have someone like this Dr. Rashid, who runs their refugee health clinic.

Above that was Dr. Loftus, who runs the black women’s health and women’s cancer centers, so completely different fields. But trying to find those threads that I can pull together to tell a coherent story was the challenge with this particular project and making authentic and making it real. So it’s not just the same old healthcare messaging of basically give us money, because we’re helping people. It was trying to create that narrative. And then once we have the narrative, once we knew the strategy of the campaign going forward, how do we express that in a way that’s visually striking, that is going to stand out. And in Toronto, nobody’s ever seen 40 foot wide, massive pink walls on a subway before, it was very, very impactful. You can see there.

And again, we had to pull in the right photographer, the right media-buying company, it was really a combined effort to create this remarkable campaign. And I should say, Women’s College Hospital Foundation has never done a campaign of this nature before they’ve never done transit advertising. This is another level for them. And they’re seeing tremendous results from the campaign. So it was a lot of different work that was involved. But I would say that the most important work that was done was listening to the subject matter experts and translating what they were telling us into the campaign to achieve the objective of educating the public about what makes Women’s College Hospital so special.

Jeremy Weisz  14:58 

Yeah, it sounds like you really are doing a lot of listening. You’re interviewing the stakeholders, and you’re figuring out that common thread and then kind of tying that to a compelling design, right? And obviously, this pops out, right? I mean, again, if you listen to the audio, you can see, it’s just a striking pink background with the kind of the greenish over the eyes, and then the highlighted green throughout. So it really seems to highlight and stick out the key pieces to this. So it’s really cool. In your process, the who, what, where, when, why how I’m wondering, at one point, you were a generalist agency, and you apply that to yourself, as far as, who do we go after? So what point do you decide? And how did you go about it to specialize? Because I’m sure, you could have gone down a couple different paths.

Ben Hagon  16:00 

Yes. And we had those paths mapped. So we started in 2009, as a generalist agency called Hagen Design Inc., when I was a little bit more big on myself than I am today using my last name. And we went really well. And that’s where maybe in a little bit, we can get into the million-dollar story. And after a few years of doing great work and winning awards and growing the team. We knew something was off, we knew that this aiming for every target and not specializing and not being experts was a problem. And some of the clients that we were picking up we didn’t necessarily align with in terms of our core values. So we actually employed a consultant to lead us through a process.

And again, I would highly encourage folks who are starting out with agencies to work with these different specialists, because part of my strategic consulting work now comes from that consultant that I learned from when he deployed his process upon us. And after a long process where he spoke to all of our team, he spoke to some of our clients, he gave us a choice. He said, “You can become Canada’s nonprofit company agency, or you can become Canada’s construction marketing agency.” And he said, “I’m not telling you which one is correct, but you guys have to pick construction marketing.” So we did a lot of work with large construction companies. So one, very lucrative, and then the other very emotionally rewarding. And we went back to the team and my partner and I, we sat down and reviewed the options, and it was unanimous.

Everybody wanted to do the nonprofit thing. And so we started off with the two companies with the two brands, we have Hayden Design Inc., and we had Intent running. Now it was fall 2013. And we gave it a year. And we said you know what we’re going to do is we’re going to promote the dickens out of intent. And we’re just going to let Hagen Design run and see how it goes. And within a year Intent had swallowed up all of the business. And that was a real testament to the idea that what you put out you get back, we stopped putting out about hanging Design Inc., and we didn’t get anything back. Whereas intent, we promoted it hard. And all of a sudden we’re picking up all of these fascinating nonprofit clients.

Jeremy Weisz  16:19 

Yeah, no, I love it. You put it to the test, the split test to sell the million-dollar client, you know, yeah, people would think. Amazing, right? But talk about what happened.

Ben Hagon  18:29 

So it is amazing. At the time. So what happened was I started the business and had a few clients. I don’t know if you guys remember Blackberry, they were my first client. Back in 2009.

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