Three years ago, Dan Mannix committed his company, LeadDog Marketing Group, to giving away $20,000 a year for ten years—but today, with the company having nearly doubled its revenue, he says it’s nowhere near enough. “A lot of bad things happen in the world, and the best way to deal with them is to take action and make an impact,” he says.
Although Mannix has always been inspired to contribute—he says it’s part of his value system—he didn’t realize how great of an impact LeadDog could make when he first founded the company. “I was twenty-five years old, three years into a job in sports, working with a marketing agency with some really big clients,” Mannix says. “But I wasn’t very impressed with their work, and I looked at the owner and thought, ‘If this guy can have his own business, I can have my own business.’”
It would be years before Mannix accomplished that vision, but during the next decade, much of which he spent working for the National Basketball Association, Mannix continued to think about his business, scribbling ideas for missions and names. Inspiration ultimately came from a workout T-shirt that said, “Unless you’re the lead dog, the scenery never changes.” “I like the idea of being in front of the pack, overcoming fear, being innovative, and inspiring change,” says Mannix.
When he incorporated in 1999, Mannix had never worked at an agency and admits he didn’t have a clue where to begin. The vision was there, however. “I wanted to do great work with great people and figured the rest would take care of itself, because if you follow your passion and work on things that you love, you do your best work.”
It’s not a coincidence, then, that the firm is heavily involved in cause marketing. By way of an example, Mannix points to LeadDog’s work with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to produce Cycle for Survival for the past seven years. “It’s an incredible environment of positive energy,” says Mannix, whose firm handles the production that brings the event to life. The event raised $20 million in 2014, making it one of the fastest-growing athletic fundraising events in the country. LeadDog also developed the rebranding strategy and the print and TV advertising for 4-H, the largest youth-development organization in world. “It’s an amazing organization that reaches seven million kids in so many ways, but people tend to only know it for its focus on agriculture. We wanted to showcase 4-H’s many other strengths, from healthy-living efforts to programs for students interested in the science, engineering, technology, and applied math fields,” Mannix says.
LeadDog’s involvement in causes extends beyond its project roster; the firm also supports dozens of charitable causes annually. “From the beginning, I wanted to be able to give back in unprecedented ways, and to me that meant that as we grew and became more profitable, we would do things that set an example for other companies,” Mannix says. “I want them to say, ‘Wow, you can give away this percentage of your profits? You can free up this much time for your staff to be actively engaged in the community? Maybe we can do that too.’”
Each year, for example, LeadDog staff spend a full day out of the office doing something to give back. Employees have bowled with autistic children, organized a field day for a school without summer activities, and partnered with Harlem RBI program to improve the lives of the youth and families of East Harlem and the South Bronx. But often the contribution is less formalized. “Sometimes we’ll throw an idea out there and see what happens,” says Mannix, who once suggested a bike ride on Long Island to celebrate the memory or current battle of LeadDog friends and family members impacted by illnesses.
“We’re not a mammoth company, but we do a lot with what we have,” says Mannix, who seemed puzzled when asked how he obtained employee buy-in for LeadDog’s charitable work. “It’s such a part of who we are,” he says.” Asking that is like asking how you get someone who loves dessert to eat chocolate cake.”