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HEY! WHAT? - THE UPS AND DOWNS OF STARTING AN AGENCY

It’s hard to believe that we are now approaching 5 years since the birth of Hey! What?. It’s been one hell of a rollercoaster ride and we’ve faced plenty of challenges but we’re happy to say whatever we are doing appears to be working. Touch wood. :)


I know we still have a long way to go, but I’m immensely proud to be where we are today and that stems from our list of clients, the incredible team we have built, the creativity that oozes from their veins and the bonds we have all formed as a team. We’ve become more than colleagues. We eat, drink, dance and party together at every given opportunity. Sometimes all of this happens before we even leave the office. Needless to say, we’ve learnt to have a lot of fun doing what we do and we never want to lose our unique culture.



Starting an agency you have a dream of how you want it to be and the clients and sectors you want to be working for but bringing that into fruition is another story. Our dream was to bring our own real life passions for music, events, art, technology, food and drink into the studio and to be able to recognise the opportunities that these sectors have to collaborate and cross-pollinate. It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. As with any start up we’ve made some mistakes, done some work we didn’t want to do and struggled financially.


SO HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?

It began when I took a gamble in January 2018 and left my job of 9 years at Bristol branding agency Halo where I had gone from Middleweight Designer in 2008 to Visual Director. Previous to this I had been freelancing for a number of agencies and clients for around 11 years both here and in Australia and as I hit 40 I decided I wanted to go back to working for myself and to try to create an agency where I could do things my own way. After spending weeks trying to think of a name that stood out Hey! What? was born. On that note… what kind of idiot puts punctuation into a brand name? This idiot. Me.


I knew that before I left Halo I had to have some sort of plan in place to ensure I hit the ground running and I knew that I wanted to work within music, food and drink. I then reached out to my friends at Bristol Beer Factory and Team Love where I secured some regular work. The wheels were now in motion. I also offered to do a free video and animation for Pieminister for their new range of pie inspired soft serve ice creams. It’s a piece that I am still proud of and still features on our website to this day. From that I now had a small portfolio of clients that I could use as a stepping stone to approach more clients within the sectors that i wanted to build Hey! What? around.


30 second social ad for Pieminister


After a successful 18 months on my own it was time to properly grow it into an agency so I joined forces with Account Director extraordinaire Amy Gettings (also ex Halo) and well respected designer and artist Chris Rees (Christophe). It felt like we had a winning team so we got a new office in the Tobacco Factory and we became a limited company. We also reached out to Duchess Media and after a late night meeting of minds made plans to combine our different skills sets as two agencies and collaborate within the food, drink and events sectors.


And then… nothing.


We had various small pieces of work trickling in but not enough to feed three mouths and I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake. Amy was also off to Australia for 6 months (which was always planned) and with the extra overheads I couldn’t pay myself for about 4 months and had to spend the money I had saved for my tax bill to keep the agency afloat. Thankfully the notorious Nat Inker came on board to help out whilst Amy was away and thankfully, little by little, things started to turn a corner. In January 2020 we advertised for a full time animator and we were lucky enough to come across the super talented animator and exceptional illustrator Pedro Sousa. His skills quickly transformed our abilities for animation, we were busy again and felt motivated to drive forward. Hooray!


And then… a fucking pandemic.


It was panic stations. Amy had got stuck in Guernsey on her return to the UK and we didn’t have a lot of money in the bank but were determined to survive and in the absence of any work we teamed up with Duchess Media to see what we could do. Through the power of Zoom and social media we launched an ambitious fund raiser to help raise £10,000 for the NHS and Mind.


Original oil painting by Chris Rees


We brought together 30 key artists and illustrators from around the UK to create a pandemic themed campaign around the concept of ‘Life On Hold’. We sold prints and clothing including our now infamous ‘Living La Vida Lockdown’ t-shirts and sweats and also opened the campaign up to other creatives by giving them the opportunity to ‘remix’ the work of our key artists. These remixed pieces were then added into our online store. It was a formula that worked and not only did we benefit from the PR opportunities it created but we smashed our target and raised £15,000. Go team!


From top left to bottom right: Jasmine Hortop, RichT, Inkie, Mr Jago, Yee Poon, Victoria Topping


Whether it was karma, hard work or just a bit of luck we managed to fight our way through lockdown after lockdown and we've gone from strength to strength and are now a formidable and mischievous team of 8. We’ve done work we didn’t want to do, undercharged on countless projects and spent money we shouldn’t have spent but we’ve never lost sight of our vision for the type of agency we want to be, the clients we want to work with and the culture that makes work a fun and inspiring place to be.



SO WHERE TO NEXT?

We have already worked with some amazing clients including Glastonbury Festival, Oowee, Josh Eggleton, Deloitte, Frame Artists, BBC, Wake The Tiger, Love Saves the Day, Forwards Festival, WECA and one global technology company who we're not allowed to mention. You know who you are! But it’s now time to step it up.


For the first time ever we’re actually marketing ourselves and we've taken on a new business person to help put Hey! What? in front of some legendary brands that we consider dream clients. We’re meticulously targeting the sectors we are strongest in and it all seems to be paying off. Our lips are currently sealed but we’ve had some very encouraging feedback on our portfolio of work from some very well known global music and events brands and we're off to London next week for a number of very exciting meetings. Maybe nothing will come of them. Who knows? But the most important thing is that they’ve now heard of us so it’s now up to us to monopolise on this.


In the meantime we’ll continue to do what we do best… work hard to produce stand out creative whilst having a fuck tonne of fun while we do it. We're working on some super exciting projects at the moment and we can't wait to share them with you when they go live. Watch this space.


If you haven’t been and had a nosy around our website yet then you’re already here so take a look. You never know… we might work well together.


And if you want to check out our office antics then check out our Instagram.


Hey! What? on tour in Barcelona for Offf Festival 2022

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