Last spring, Common Ventures’ business development manager Drew Tweddle (lead image) traded Sydney’s skyline for the steamier temps of Darwin to launch the indie agency’s NT office. A year on, he reflects on moving from one of Australia’s largest markets to its smallest, and shares insights for those thinking of opening a regional office of their own…
Regional Australia has had a facelift. The remote working revolution has seen hundreds of thousands of city mice scurry out of the capitals to set up camp in smaller hubs. An estimated 9.6 million now live regionally, meaning places like Darwin – where I moved with my partner a year ago – have been injected with fresh energy and new opportunities.
So why the croc change? Our agency has worked with Tourism NT for the best part of the last decade, meaning regular trips to the Territory for shoots, conferences and key meetings. Last year, our senior management team began to discuss the benefits of growing our presence in Darwin. Not only would we be able to collaborate more closely with our existing client and understand “the product” more intimately (which would inherently improve our output), but it would also provide access to expand into one of the most unique places in Australia.
Ever since the notion was put forward, I’d allowed myself to daydream about what a move up to Darwin might look like, but I was sceptical. My partner Peter had just taken a new teaching job in Sydney, we didn’t have many contacts in the Territory, and we were almost certain that we’d get gobbled by a croc upon arrival. On the other hand, it made a lot of sense that it would be me spearheading the move – I had a strong relationship with our existing clients here, making new connections is my bread and butter, and both Peter and I have an innate taste for adventure. Ultimately, the chance to start an exciting new chapter for Common Ventures, and ourselves, was too tantalising to pass up on. It was off to the Top End.
We touched down in Darwin during what’s called “the build up”, the transition from the dry season into the wet, when the air gets thicker but the rain hasn’t broken yet. With the humidity building, it felt appropriate that I start building out my network, too. I sought out as many creative bods as I could, like Michael Hohnen – ARIA-award winning music producer and founder of NT-based record label Skinnyfish, or Alana Holmberg – a visual artist whose photo series “Porch Diaries” went viral during lockdown, or Matt Sav – a director who has made music videos with Spacey Jane, Jack River and Tame Impala. I’d naively underestimated the breadth of talent here – and the ease with which I’d be able to tap into it. Everyone I met had a fresh perspective on the industry landscape and allowed me not only to understand how the cogs turn in Darwin but also ascertain how Common Ventures could plug into the ecosystem and add value.
The first lesson I learned is that, as a creative in a regional town, reputation counts for everything. Australia’s ad land, which is primarily concentrated in the Eastern states, is already a pretty close-knit community. Darwin’s is on a whole other level. Forget seeing the same faces at an industry briefing or a pitch – here, you’ll see your peers and competitors in Woolies, the pub and Parap markets all in the same weekend. It goes without saying that it’s smart (and decent) to treat everyone with kindness and respect, but in regional towns where there’s a smaller pool to play in, it’s paramount.
Small pools have their advantages, though. Shortly after arriving, I joined the board of Top End Pride – a committee dedicated to advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights in the NT and organising the annual Pride festival. As its marketing director, my first duty was to head up comms for Darwin Pride 2023. From developing our strategic positioning “Embrace difference, somewhere different”, to promoting events across owned, paid and earned channels, and even engaging Common Ventures to create a brand and integrated awareness campaign, I was able to own the entire comms output for the festival. Quite simply, I would never have been afforded this kind of opportunity in another state. The experience was one of the most exhausting of my life but ultimately one of the most fulfilling. The four-day weekend was the biggest Pride celebration the Top End has ever seen, and I’m beyond honoured to have played a key role in delivering that.
Of course, the benefits of regional life have had a positive impact on our work as an agency too. With a presence in Darwin, we’re now able to marry up nuanced local insights with world-class solutions. All new job ads are circulated in both markets, meaning our potential talent pool has increased. We’ve even set up a visitor program whereby our Sydney-based staff can head up to the NT and spend time in-person with clients and partners to get to know the Territory more closely. This holistic approach has not only allowed our relationship with Tourism NT to grow, but we’ve been able to replicate this success with iconic Territory brands including Charles Darwin University and Menzies School for Health Research.
I’m delighted to say that the successes I’ve enjoyed here haven’t been limited to my professional life – they’ve been reflected in my personal life, too. Peter treated the move as an opportunity to explore a new career path and now works as a project coordinator at education charity The Smith Family. Working closely with schools and businesses, he develops programs that introduce students to a range of work-based experiences in order to help them begin to build their own careers. Not only that – he’s joined a local choir, volunteered at the Darwin Festival and has even taken up some subjects at CDU. Seeing him dive into Territory life with such enthusiasm has been, quite frankly, a massive turn on and cemented my commitment to our life together even more.
Moving to Darwin has been the adventure of a lifetime. In just a year, this incredible place has offered up countless opportunities. And what’s more is, it feels like we’ve only just begun. I can’t wait to continue to grow the Darwin team, keep championing the Territory through our work, and ultimately aim to prove that creative excellence isn’t confined to the Eastern seaboard. So If you’re thinking about a move to one of Australia’s less populous places – hopefully I’m living proof that it’s not as tricky as you might think. Just make sure the only Crocs you come into contact with are the ones on your feet.