Kids Help Phone picks Republic as lead agency

The national non-profit used a qualification-based search to find a partner to help with a brand transformation plan.
Kids Help Phone

As Kids Help Phone undergoes a brand transformation plan, the charity has picked a new lead and strategic agency following a six-week search informed by the guidelines of the Institute of Communication Agencies’s (ICA) Qualification-Based Search (QBS) methodology.

Republic, the Toronto-based agency – whose self-described speciality is “empathy marketing” – and its Gen Z-focused subsidiary Zed will lead “strategic consulting, brand repositioning and platform definition” for the organization, which offers professional counselling, information and referrals to young Canadians in need of support. As the parent agency, Republic will also lead the rollout of a fundraising campaign for the national non-profit.

It’s the first time Kids Help Phone has worked with the ICA on a QBS-based selection process, according to Mark Jordan, who was hired as VP of brand strategy and chief communications officer in April 2018. Jordan and his two marketing directors have all previously worked within agencies, where they have taken part in the traditional RFP process, “knowing that it is, at the end of the day, a flawed process,” he says. “You’re not really getting a clear indication of how a relationship between an agency and a client will actually work.” Jordan says having a more holistic and long-term view was especially important, given its ambitions for the next three to five years.

Kids Help Phone serves children between the ages of six and 26 (and sometimes older), according to Jordan, representing roughly 8.2 million people in Canada. And on average, one in five youth (or 1.6 million people) are going through a difficult time that could prompt them to “reach out,” he says. By 2022, the non-profit hopes to connect with youth around 3.5 million times through phone, live chat, text, social media or its website (a number based on the fact that each person tends to contact Kids Help Phone more than twice) – meaning it hopes to more than double the number of interactions over the next three years.

According to the ICA, a QBS search process entails using “performance-framed case studies,” making no requests for speculative insights, strategy or creative and clearly defining the client’s budget and requirements. It involves interviewing potential partners, conducting price negotiations with the most qualified candidates and scoring agencies according to a predetermined rubric. In the case of Kids Help Phone, the search focused on “a by-invitation [request for quotation] with process framed case studies from the agency to illustrate capabilities and cultural fit,” according to a press release.

Manifest Communications helped develop and launch a “Show Up for Youth” campaign and “Signals” spot in May this year (Kids Help Phone had worked with J. Walter Thompson prior to this). During the most recent search, 13 agencies were initially invited to hold discussions with the organization. That list was eventually narrowed down to five; of those, only three were invited to formally participate in the QBS process.

As the lead agency, Republic is overseeing all the client work. However, Zed, which launched in April with the goal of helping brands and businesses connect specifically with the Gen Z demographic, and which is run by members of the cohort, will work with its parent company on finding segment-specific insights and opportunities.

“We were able to zero in on we were looking for case studies that are specifically around the areas and challenges that we’re looking at,” Jordan says.

For Kids Help Phone, he says that included finding strong creative ideas that can scale – not necessarily large TV campaigns that wouldn’t reach its younger target – as well as a strategy to help reach its broad and complex audience consisting of supporters and youth.

The ICA has openly criticized the traditional RFP process over the last few years. To help address the issues it sees with price-based RFPs, it has put out a guide on how to implement the QBS-based methodology. The guide follows the introduction, two years ago, of a Pitch Watchdog program, through which agencies can flag RFPs deemed unfair with the ICA. The program has in some cases resulted in public calls for boycotts of RFPs. Others have criticized the industry group’s self-described “name and shame” approach.