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By The Drum | Editorial

December 7, 2023 | 7 min read

Denver-based agency Cactus has been heavily involved in mental health work for many years and takes the mental health and well-being of its own people seriously. The work that agency is doing in this area is making many people's lives better and also scooped the Health and Well Being Award along with the Business Growth trophy at The Drum Awards for Agency Business. Here is the award-winning case study.

You might say Cactus was a purpose-driven agency a good 25 years before brand purpose was even “a thing” in the agency space. Prior to starting Cactus in 1990, our Founder & CEO Joe Conrad was at a crossroads - searching for meaning in his life and his career.

A mentor of Joe's gave him a book called “Critical Path” by the inventor, philosopher, and futurist, Buckminster Fuller. In it, Fuller wrote “Never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.”

Inspired by Bucky to make a meaningful impact through his passion for advertising, Joe launched Cactus with a belief that agency creativity and innovation can solve the world’s biggest problems - and a vision of putting his agency's talents to work exclusively for clients he truly believed in. Purposeful brands, causes, and non-profit organizations that actually make the world a better place - brands that truly help people thrive in their lives. That’s why we call the brands we choose to partner with “Thrive Brands.”

Over the years, Cactus has tackled just about every challenge imaginable in the public health arena: smoking cessation, suicide prevention, alcohol addiction, the opioid crisis, and destigmatizing mental health services to name just a few. Always melding evidence-based strategies with breakthrough creativity to get people to change bad habits into healthy ones so they can thrive.

It’s meaningful work that has a huge impact - where success KPIs are often measured in lives saved. Working in the social impact space has given Cactus a unique point of view on the value of driving behavior change for all marketers. And a few years back, it led to the creation of a new agency work process we call Belief & Behavior Design®. With it, we apply the lessons from our decades driving public behavior change to the full spectrum of client partners at Cactus, including consumer brands like banks, lotteries, hospitals, restaurants and travel destinations. Turns out our roots in cause and purpose are precisely what make us a uniquely high-impact agency partner for consumer brand clients of every size and sector.

Thirty-three years on, being purpose-driven is still “a thing” here at Cactus - serving as filter #1 for any potential new client partnership, either the client is a “Thrive Brand” - or it isn’t. And we’ve found our commitment to these Thrive Brands has been key to attracting and retaining some of the best talent in the business. They tell us in our regular employee surveys just how much our focus on working with purposeful clients means to them. How it drew them to Cactus in the first place, and keeps them charging forward every day.

“Cactus stands out from other agencies because of our Thrive Brand clients - we believe in our clients’ mission. It’s not solely about money coming in or a big brand name. Cactus believes in supporting purposeful and meaningful brands.”

“I love that we are conscious of who our clients are, and why we are working with them.”

“At Cactus, we’re given a space to create work that has meaning.”

“I choose to work here because of our commitment to making badass work while simultaneously supporting brands that help people thrive”

“The agency’s purpose and alignment with my values are distinguished in my career.”

“Cactus's dedication to growing ‘Thrive Brands’ is what differentiates us.

“Arriving with a purpose is a great reason to show up every morning.”

Thought Leadership: If the pandemic years had a silver lining, it’s how mental health became part of the national conversation around our overall health. Issues of mental health have gone mainstream, and are now a major priority for agencies and our clients’ brands.

We’re proud to say Cactus has been on the front lines of mental health advocacy for well over a decade. Frankly, you’d be hard-pressed to find an agency of any size, anywhere, more deeply committed to advancing mental health and wellbeing than Cactus.

Our pioneering journey in the mental health space started with Man Therapy (mantherapy.org), the world’s first brand and digital well-being platform dedicated to men’s mental health. Pairing an evidence-based behavior change model with a breakthrough creative approach that tapped into how real guys actually communicate - we set out to change the way men think about their mental health. Since the launch of Man Therapy, 1.5 million men have visited the site, 400,000 have completed 20-point “head inspections”, 3.7 million evidence-based resources have been viewed, and 40,000 connections made to lifesaving crisis services.

That success led Cactus to create an in-house mental health tech called Grit Digital Health. With a team of 20 including a PsyD on staff, Grit is dedicated to building technologies that help priority populations take care of their mental health - including college students, youth, veterans, and first responders.

Grit builds the tech, while Cactus handles GTM strategy, brand, and integrated marketing. The Cactus/Grit partnership has launched a host of behavioral health products like the YOU@College wellbeing platform used on 200 campuses nationwide; and Nod, a mobile app designed to combat depression, loneliness, and isolation among students, and named by Fast Company as a Top Digital Innovation for Social Good.

Inside the agency, we utilize a custom version of the YOU platform called YOU@Cactus. It’s the agency’s intranet hub employees see every workday - prompting the Cacti for regular check-ins, assessments, connecting employees to mental health resources, and helping them set/stick to goals in other areas like career and personal finance.

In fact, we recently released a free version called YOU@Agency, making the same tool we use to improve the mental well-being of our own employees available to anyone who works in an advertising agency (see the platform at youatagency.com). Cactus Founder & CEO Joe Conrad and Grit PsyD Nathaan Demers have become go-to sources for stories on how agencies are prioritizing mental health, and the agency has been featured in Ad Age’s roundup of agency mental health initiatives in May 2022 and 2023.

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, Cactus created a weekly video content series on mental health in 2022 called ‘Frame of Mind’. And we’re proud to take it to the next level in 2023. This year’s ‘Frame Of Mind’ featured candid conversations with top agency leaders from Mischief, Fig, OKRP, Preacher, Barkley, DNA, and the 4As on the importance of taking care of the mental health and wellbeing of agency employees (see full series at cactusinc.com/frame-of-mind).

As mental health takes on increasing importance in culture and the agency space, Cactus is proud to play a leadership role in that ever-evolving industry conversation. What will never change is Cactus’s trailblazing commitment to improving mental health and wellbeing for all through evidence-based technologies and breakthrough advertising communications.

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