The design agency that wants to change the world

Agency is one of five shortlisted nominees for New Agency of the Year in the 2014 net Awards. Managing director Murray Bunton told us about the range of projects they've been working on this year that strive for development, sustainability and human rights around the world.

What's the philosophy of Agency?

  1. We are for purpose, not for profit. We’ve legally established ourselves, alongside the organisations we respect, as a social enterprise driven by social outcomes, not profit.
  2. We believe in business. Business can be a model for social change, and those passionate about making a more just and equal world should be paid for their work, even interns.
  3. We love vision, but live in the detail. When it comes to the growth of our company, or the goals of our clients, we love nothing more than a big picture, an audacious dream. But the big picture is won only by a pragmatic commitment to doing the little things well.
  4. We thrive on meaningful work. We’re inspired by the First Things First Manifesto, a bold call to action from the 1960’s that designers should seek the useful, the meaningful, the purposeful in what they do.
  5. We are inspired by the people around us. Whether they work for us or alongside us, we have the privilege of working with incredible people, doing great things in the world ­ and we can learn from each one of them.

What sets you apart from the rest?

Agency began because we want to be instrumental in building a more just and equal world. We aren’t the aid workers in the field, the researchers in the laboratory, or the politicians on a stage; but we can use what skills we have to make a big difference in our world.

We are ourselves, a not-for-profit that's working solely with other not-for-profits, development agencies, political organisations and charities to effect change in our world. Many of our team have come from working in that industry themselves so the connection we have with our clients runs deeper than the projects at hand.

Because of that partnership with our clients, we crave their success. That means that we are dedicated to the work we complete, and to constant improvement. It also means that when an opportunity arises, we want to be ready to make the most of the moment.

What truly sets us apart though, is how that sense of partnership translates into action in our office. Over the last year we have developed our own inhouse project management system called Progress, which is now in beta and being used by other creative agencies. Progress keeps all of our projects in one place, assigns tasks and milestones and keeps us accountable to hours and deadlines.

Fighting foreign aid cuts

Having said that, our internal projects aren’t always as planned as our client work. Two days before the Australian election, when foreign aid was under threat, we got talking in our office about what that would mean for people living in poverty and our clients trying to serve them.

That conversation led to our team staying back after work to create and launch Budget Smuggler, a rapid response campaign website to fight against foreign aid cuts. It was built and launched in 36 hours, and received over 37,000 visitors, 16,000 likes and 1000 tweets. We also built and maintained an app called Fairly Local, which allows you to search and find your closest ethically sourced products and cafes wherever you are in the world.

Conference for humanity

We have some big plans for the year ahead as well. In 2015 we are launching a conference for humanity, to educate and inspire secondary school and early ­university students about their ability to make an impact in the world.

The conference is called Expanse, and is being developed in conjunction with a primary charity partner. It will be a big year for us with plans to launch a new office in New York to serve our growing list of American clients, build a new ‘moment aggregator’ to track the success of the campaigns on which we work and create a new digital fundraising offering that will help bring some of our partners into the digital age, but we have to keep that under wraps for now.

Tell us about some work you're proud of.

As a creative studio that works solely for social good, we have the privilege of working with some amazing clients who do incredible things in the world. Working toward a more just and equal world, means that from our smallest to our biggest projects, we get the chance to work on some great campaigns.

The Climate Council

The Climate Council

The Climate Council

In September 2013, only a matter of weeks after the federal election in Australia, the new Government used its first major act to dismantle The Climate Commission. As the only independent body dedicated to bringing climate change information to the public, Australians didn’t take the news too well. Tim Flannery, former Australian of the Year, and his team came to us with less 4 day’s notice to rebrand, re­launch and reimagine the commission as a crowdfunded, climate thinktank.
In that time, we developed a brand, set up their website, filmed a personal appeal, and launched their social media campaign. Within a week we had assisted with fundraising appeals, the release of two new reports and a new donation platform. By the end of that week, we saw $1,000,000 donated by tens of thousands of Australians and the work of the Climate Council had begun.

Live Below The Line

Live Below the Line

Live Below the Line

One of the first projects we ran was the rebrand of Oaktree, Australia’s largest youth movement against poverty. Oaktree was about to reach its 10th anniversary, and wanted to start its next decade with a new and fresh look. The rebrand, as it happens, was just the beginning of our work with this great organisation. By the end of the year we were secured as the creative partner for their signature fundraising campaign, Live Below the Line.

We started from the ground up, working alongside them on strategy, messaging and design; developing campaign videos which we filmed on location in Timor Leste, print and T­-shirt designs and of course the website.

Over the past three years we have seen Oaktree’s Live Below the Line campaign triple in size, reaching 16 million Australians and raising over $2 million for poverty reduction projects in neighbouring countries. We could not be more excited to be working on this incredible campaign.

The Truth About Manus

The Truth About Manus

The Truth About Manus

We have learnt the importance, in campaigning, of being ready to capitalise on moments in time to broadcast your message. With Amnesty’s report into the conditions of Australia’s offshore immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island set to launch, they came to us to ask how they could help their message permeate into a new audience. Due to government controls, all Amnesty could release was a 131 page report, with no images and certainly no video.

In our site, the Truth About Manus, we confronted the challenge head on and created a visually compelling site that conveyed emotions through the narrative alone. The site received over 52,000 unique visitors, resulting in more than 22,000 Facebook shares, 7,400 pledge actions and 4,500 new Amnesty supporters. Most telling though was that two months after the site’s launch, when news reports surfaced of the death of an asylum seeker inside the detention centre, Australians turned again to the Truth About Manus to share their grief and dismay, and call for the closure of these detention centres.

How did you get started?

Agency emerged out of the meeting of two creative studios when Streetline Media moved into the same creative space as Make Believe. Streetline was a digital­-focussed web studio, setup as a not­-for-­profit. Make Believe was a video and campaigning­-focussed team. Our eyes locked, and from across the shared space we started working on projects together, until the decision was made to come together and start afresh.

We all had fairly different backgrounds. Some from advertising, some from the non­profit sector, some who had been freelancers, all with that big of excitement about what we could achieve together. Each with a knowledge that their creative careers could make some meaningful change in the world around us. We started out with a team retreat, to get to know each other, agree on how we would work, and most importantly, find our name. We came home from that weekend united as one team, under a new brand, with a renewed passion to make our work mean something to our world.

What's happened in your first year of business?

In the last year we grew from a team of six to a team of 13, and because of that we have moved out of our shared creative space and into an office of our own. Having our own space makes us feel all grown up.
With that growth rate, we’ve had to establish some core processes to keep our growing team effective, efficient and creative as we work on more and more projects, build our business and pursue products and ideas of our own. A little of that story was featured in the latest issue of Offscreen Magazine.

To put it in numbers, in the last year we have completed 168 projects for 120 clients in over 12,900 hours of work. For them, we have created 32 new brand marques, shot and edited 130,000 frames of video, produced 7600 pages of documents and reports, built 4 apps and designed more than 960 million pixels. All of that has helped reach millions of people around the world, brought tens of thousands to act, and raised over $10,000,000.

It’s been a big year for Agency, and a big year to be working towards development, sustainability and human rights around the world.

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Tanya Combrinck

Tanya is a writer covering art, design, and visual effects. She has 16 years of experience as a magazine journalist and has written for numerous publications including 3D World, 3D Artist, ImagineFX, Computer Arts, net magazine, and Creative Bloq. For Creative Bloq, she mostly writes about web design, including the hottest new tools, as well as 3D artwork and VFX.