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Good&Proper’s storytelling challenges the status quo
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Good&Proper’s storytelling challenges the status quo
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I'm reading
Good&Proper’s storytelling challenges the status quo
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Pass it on
14 December 2022

Good&Proper’s storytelling challenges the status quo

Here at Dumbo Feather we love nothing more than connecting and working with epic storytellers who use their talents to shake up the status quo and support social change.

Oliver Pelling, founder of Good&Proper is one such storyteller on a mission to reimagine the way organisations communicate to their communities, and challenging traditional ways of running an agency. We sat down with Oliver to pick his brain about success, impact and meaningful storytelling.

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

Discussed in this Story

Photography by Damien Raggatt

We had the pleasure of working with you for our Esther Perel event, and have enjoyed working with you through Small Giants Academy – so we know how important storytelling and impact are to you now. Can you start off by telling us a bit about your journey and how it led to Good&Proper?

Yes! So it was never in my plans to start or own a business, much less an ‘agency’. I studied journalism at uni in the UK and wanted to become a journalist, but when I arrived in Australia over a decade ago, journalism jobs were thin on the ground. I worked in cafes and freelanced my tail off before landing a job at Intrepid Travel writing brochures. It was a long way from newspaper journalism but the Intrepid crew was (and remains) brilliant, and it was my first exposure to the idea of business being used as a force for good. I had been pretty suspicious of the corporate world up to that point. 

After a few years of shoehorning that more narrative-driven, journalism-style of storytelling into my Intrepid work, I went into advertising for a year, which was bad for the soul but good for sharpening my skills and seeing how an agency operated. Then I went freelance. 

After five or six years of freelancing, I’d built enough of a client base to start thinking about bringing in some help. This happened just before my second daughter was born, and right when the Black Summer bushfires were burning full-tilt. The idea for Good&Proper came out of those conditions: I wanted to offer my family more long-term stability than a freelance income could provide, I wanted to work solely with organisations that were focused on fixing climate and/or community issues, I wanted to use what little resources we had to try and do some good, and I wanted to build a workplace/agency that wasn’t shit and expensive and plagued by bureaucracy, ego and process. I just wanted to focus on building great relationships, doing great work and having a positive impact.

Can you tell us a little bit about the role you see high impact storytelling and campaigns playing for for-purpose businesses?

Obviously I think it can play a massive role. ‘Content marketing’ or ‘content’ isn’t a new thing by any stretch, but those words always felt so disposable to me. I still don’t like using them. For me it was more about trying to provide a journalism or editorial service for our partners, where we’d treat the work – whether written, photographic, design or video – with that same care and attention to detail.

The wonderful thing about working with purpose-led businesses, NGOs or social enterprises is that the stories are usually already there in the work they do. Our job is to help identify and distill them, then think about the most effective ways to get them into the world. In advertising, it felt like all we were trying to do was make things up so a brand or product would appear interesting or relevant. I kept thinking how much better the job would be if brands would just do interesting or relevant things, and then we could talk about those things. 

People don’t need or want advertising. We need better stories to tell ourselves and each other. We need better role models. We need to be able to see that there are better ways of being in and moving through the world. We need to reconnect to our communities and our sense of self. 

That’s the role I think storytelling can play. It’s about making sure we’re sharing the good that these organisations are doing – the good that already exists – and bringing that to the centre.

You’ve already got some wonderful impact initiatives running through Good&Proper, can you tell us about what you’re already doing, and what you would love to explore in the future?

As an immigrant to this country, I feel I have a huge responsibility to pay the rent and make meaningful contributions where I can. Right now our model is pretty simple: we’re intentionally small, we only work with purpose-driven, B Corp or climate-aligned clients and we donate a percentage of our revenue to a range of organisations working on fixing societal or environmental ills. Those organisations are currently Deadly Connections, SEED Mob, Common Ground, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, Story Factory, Climate Emergency Fund, Greening Australia, Extinction Rebellion (global and AU), For Change Co., Amnesty International and Sea Shepherd. To date we’ve donated over $40k to those organisations over a two-year period. 

Moving into 2023, I want to keep growing and refining our giving component – and probably shift towards supporting more grassroots orgs – as well as building out a more programs-based approach to how we work and where we can lend support or resources. I’m super inspired by the likes of HoMie and Free to Feed, and how those organisations offer really tangible and meaningful support to their communities. That’s the space our head is in. 

We spoke recently about the importance of connection in storytelling and creating change. What is your philosophy for building relationships with your partners and clients?

We’re a very relationship-based company and it goes both ways. I’ve learned so much – about life, work, parenting, philosophy, psychology, everything! – from our partners over the years that I sometimes feel like they should be invoicing us

A couple of our partners have been friends or colleagues for close to a decade now, and we’ve been able to watch each other grow and develop into different spaces and different people. There’s a level of trust and respect that comes with that, and that makes working together so much easier and more effective. We intentionally don’t have account managers because having that direct relationship is so important to us. I know there can be some practical benefits to that kind of setup, but I just feel like paying other people to manage your working relationships is a totally backwards concept. As a business owner, I want to manage those relationships myself, and I still want to do and deliver the work. Being small makes that all so much easier.

Outside of traditional success metrics, what does success look like for you and your team?

Being able to come into work, enjoy what we’re doing and have fun. Not having to miss any of our kids’ events or milestones. Working with organisations and individuals who we can learn from and grow with. Making sure our work is helping our partners achieve their goals, and that we’re being as useful as possible.

For me personally, it has absolutely nothing to do with business ‘growth’ and everything to do with stability and sustainability, in terms of the long-term sustainability of the company; our ability to maintain what we’re doing. As long as I know I can support my family, that we can pay our team well (and on time!), and look after everyone in a way that respects them as individuals and their personal or professional ambitions, I’m good with that. In 2023, success will also be about better managing my mental health – making sure I’m making more time to unplug and be with family and friends without constantly thinking about work.

In terms of actual numbers, probably the most exciting for me is that in our first year of business we gave $6,000 to our NGO partners, and by our second year that figure had grown to nearly $23,000. That’s a little over a 280% increase. We’re well into year three now, so I’m excited to see where we end up. 

Want to check out some of Good&Proper’s work? Oliver and his team recently captured a beautiful Dumbo Feather event and conversation with iconic psychotherapist Ester Perel, check it out here.

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