Independent digital agency Pusher wowed the creative community last year when it beat the big names to win B&T’s Queensland Agency of the Year. The Pusher boys tell Madeleine Ross why bigger isn’t necessarily better.
When founders Mike Crebar and Kim Hopwood were searching for a name to encapsulate their start-up in 2004, ‘Pusher’ instantly appealed.
“The formal definition of ‘pusher’ is an actively or aggressively ambitious person,” says director and co-founder Mike Crebar. “I think that is true of the people who work with us and for us. We’re all about pushing people to get the best out of them, pushing budgets, limitations, boundaries.”
In nine years this enterprising indie has pushed its way to 30 staffers, two offices (Sydney and Brisbane) and some big clients, including the Brisbane Heat cricket team, Ardent Leisure (the owners of Dreamworld), Lorna Jane and, more recently, an undisclosed internet giant.
Within its first 12 months of operation, and with only a handful of staffers, Pusher’s Brisbane office won B&T’s Queensland Agency of the Year award in 2012, over heavyweight creative shops like BCM and GPY&R.
The boys call the agency “backwards”. Not because it’s stuck in the past, but rather because they began in new media and are now expanding into traditional. “We started digital and we keep it at our core, but every now and then we flutter into above the line work,” says Crebar.
Crebar and Hopwood were both 24 when they set up Pusher. Crebar was an account manager at Clemenger BBDO and Hopwood was a consultant at Cisco.
“We were a bit clueless I suppose,” admits Hopwood. “I’m a nerd at heart, but I have creative bloodlines. My dad was a cinematographer and his dad was an arts director at Patts.”
He says “the stars aligned” when he got a call during a year out of work (which he spent skydiving and base jumping around the world) from Crebar asking him to join forces and set up an agency.
“In 2004, people weren’t even using the term ‘digital’ really, it was more ‘kids that knew that internet thing’, so it was an interesting start,” recalls Hopwood.
As Pusher’s client roster grew, so did its requests. The agency has “fluttered” into above the line work, as Crebar puts it, producing some TVCs, print and large format outdoor executions, in addition to its core digital work.
It has thrown Pusher into the major league. They regularly find themselves head-to-head with the Goliath networks in digital and creative pitches – and the Pusher slingshot has a deadly aim.
“I don’t think there is anything that they’ve got that we don’t have and if they do, I don’t see them utilising that strength or power,” says Crebar of the major networks.
“We show just as many smarts, just as much knowledge of the category, we’ve got a lot of innovation that we can bring to the table where often they have case studies from years back which don’t show any innovation.”
Hopwood adds: “When you are within a network, you are forced to use the people who are in your network, whereas when you are in an indie you can choose whoever you want – you can go out and choose best of breed, and that is what I think gives us a competitive edge.”
But being digitally-savvy doesn’t mean an excuse to show off.
“A lot of digital agencies can still get carried away with the technology and doing something just because it’s cool or new, but you have to think about what behaviour is driving people to somewhere,” says Hopwood. “It’s about a traditional planning process and understanding of strategy, rather than just technology for technology’s sake.”
“Gone are the days of gimmicks,” adds Crebar. “People just want results now, and they are looking more into the audience they want to connect with.”
‘Make it first, make it fun and make it count’. Those are Pusher’s internal values.
“The thing that gets us out of bed is trying to do something new,” explains Hopwood. “We also want to enjoy what we’re doing. There is nothing worse than having a tense relationship with a client – it stifles creativity and it doesn’t build trust.
“The best work always comes out of relationships where you have trust. It’s not about winning an award – that won’t keep a client in the long term – it’s about getting big results for them.”
So, which clients is Pusher chasing?
“Brave clients,” answers Hopwood. “I think there is a culture in Australia that clients are risk-averse and play on the safe side. Look at countries like New Zealand – I think they are pushing things a lot further. We want to find more of those brave clients in Australia.”
As well as chasing the brave clients down, and growing its portfolio of above the line work, Pusher intends to grow its data offering.
“It’s a massive buzz word, but we absolutely see the relevance of it,” says Crebar.
But, at the same time, Pusher is focused on retaining its good bits.
Crebar concludes: “We want to continue to grow, but maintain our culture at the same time. Hiring the right people is really important, and the right clients are important too. It’s not just about becoming a big agency – it’s about becoming the right agency and staying on strategy.”