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A silver lining to the pandemic

18 August 2021 at 4:34 pm
Nikki Stefanoff
“It’s so much more rewarding to realise what you can do with your end product, rather than just selling shit to people that they don’t want.” 

Nikki Stefanoff | 18 August 2021 at 4:34 pm


A silver lining to the pandemic
18 August 2021 at 4:34 pm

“It’s so much more rewarding to realise what you can do with your end product, rather than just selling shit to people that they don’t want.” 

With the launch of Silver Lining, a for-purpose creative ad agency, experienced ad-men Jonny Clow and Alex Wadelton want to bring big agency experience to the sector. But without the hefty price tag. 

Clow and Wadelton have both worked in the ad industry for over 20 years. Clow as managing director of a number of large agencies both in the UK and Australia, and Wadelton as a high profile creative director. 

After both losing work due to the pandemic, they started to meet up for daily walks and found themselves talking about life, work and plans for what would come next. 

The more they walked the more the idea to do something together formed. In short, they found a silver lining in the situation — hence the agency’s name. 

“Jonny and I started walking during the lockdown and were talking about how great it would be to have an agency that just did work that was good for the world,” Wadelton says. 

“We started thinking about how we didn’t even have to make a massive profit. Could we, in fact, give the profits back to the charity [or NFP] we were working with? It takes the risk out of it. Do a campaign with us, we’ll help you raise a lot of money and you’ll also get money back from us.”  

Using creativity to make a difference

While the conversation may have started because of redundancies and lockdown, Wadelton is no stranger to thinking creatively to raise money and awareness for causes he’s passionate about. 

His campaign against Woolies plastic Ooshies garnered heaps of national press, as did his one-man Melbourne Shuffle marathon which saw him dance 42km in his lounge room to raise money for The Lighthouse Foundation. And then there was the much-hyped social media campaign with comedian Tommy Little and HoMie for World Youth Homelessness Day that ended up on The Project. 

“I started doing all this stuff after hours, not making any money, but I got so much out of doing it knowing I was doing great things for the world,” Wadelton says. 

Small budgets, big difference 

Clow and Wadelton talk about wanting to do things differently with Silver Lining. For them, having their own agency is less about working with the big budgets and big egos of the traditional ad agency and more about finding individuals and charities that are values-aligned. 

And after considering becoming a social enterprise and writing a business plan, Clow realised that the goal for Silver Lining was to work with as many charities and NFPs as possible rather than having just one focused cause. 

“We ended up speaking to Nick Pearce the CEO and co-founder of HoMie who just said ‘carve your own path’, no one has really done this before so why don’t you just do what you want to do,” Clow says. 

“That’s when we made the decision that any profit we make over the course of a year would be reinvested into either our client’s initiatives or [be given back] as a straight donation.”

As well as putting 100 per cent of profits back into charitable causes, Clow and Wadelton want to keep budgets small and client costs manageable. They’ve also got a couple of little black books packed with experienced and creative contacts who are keen to help.  

“When you look at the industry average it might be $350 an hour. We’ve taken out all the operational costs and all profit and so we can charge about $180 an hour,” Clow says. 

“When it comes to finding production partners like photographers, coders, filmmakers and content producers we’ve got amazing people who want to work on projects like ours. We lean on them to give us reduced, or pro bono, rates and we don’t mark up those costs.” 

Clow says that being so transparent is a breath of fresh air to both him and Wadelton and the charities themselves. 

“What we’ve found in dealing with charities as our clients is that there isn’t that weird thing where they think we might be ripping them off. We’re not a big agency, there aren’t 15 people coming to a meeting, it’s just me and Alex,” he says. 

“The relationship starts from a real place of positivity, we both want to get something out of it and that just happens to be coming from a place of emotion and passion rather than money.” 

Choosing purpose over profit 

Launching a new business in the middle of a pandemic isn’t for the fainthearted and while neither Wadelton nor Clow is sure if Silver Lining is a business concept that will work — they’re 100 per cent committed to giving it a shot. 

“When I left my last role I thought ‘do I want to go into another agency?’ but I realised that I didn’t want to try and sell a new kind of chocolate bar,” says Clow. “I knew I couldn’t do it anymore.” 

Wadelton agrees and says that the last 18 months have shown that everyone needs to think about how we can help other people a bit more.  

“People want to get out there and try and do something good because the news is so depressing and people’s mental health is suffering,” he says. 

“When we’re out talking to charities and NFPs I think they can really see that we’re out there doing this kind of work anyway. For the last five years, I’ve been doing this work on my own. I’m not just suddenly realising that I need to do some good for the world. It’s coming from the heart.”

Corporate social responsibility plans and the potential for growth 

At the moment, Silver Lining has five clients on the books with the potential to take on up to 12.  

“We obviously want to work with, and support, charities and not for profits but we’re also hoping to eventually attract those bigger brands and big businesses that have corporate social responsibility plans,” Wadelton says. 

After years spent working with huge teams, being able to go one-on-one with a client is proving to be rewarding for both of them. 

“We’ve been working with Vision Australia and recently had a great creative session with them. We worked alongside Chris, who is blind, and he was sharing all the nuances of what they actually needed,” Clow says. 

“It was incredible. What you usually get in agencies is a room of hierarchical brand managers who tell you what they want you to do with their brand. It’s so much more rewarding to realise what you can do with your end product rather than just selling shit to people that they don’t want!” 

Find out more about Silver Lining, here. 

Nikki Stefanoff  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Nikki Stefanoff is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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