In one sentence, can you explain what Hoyne does?

Hoyne specializes in Place Visioning™, branding, and property marketing.

What made you decide to launch your own agency?

27 years ago, I had long hair, lived in a 5x4m shoebox, and had no driver’s license. That’s when I started Hoyne, and thank God things have changed since then!

The reasons I launched the agency seem almost irrelevant now. I think the real question for me is, “What made you decide to persevere?” Starting an agency is relatively easy, but sticking it out for years (decades even) means consistently going the extra mile. Take a look at the landscape in Australia. If you were to make a list of the agencies still around after all these years, my guess is that few have managed to stay the course.

To survive, you need a strong dose of:

  • Self-belief. Recognize that you’re not that great, but if you stay hungry and work your guts out, perhaps you will be one day.
  • An overwhelming fear of failure and an almost desperate desire to succeed at all costs.
  • An enormous enthusiasm and passion for what you do, and an insatiable curiosity to find ways to improve.

Over the past 27 years, there have been days when I’ve wanted to chuck it all in (e.g. the many times big clients have gone bust). Days when I’ve monumentally mismanaged and created a financial clusterfuck, or when someone I trusted let me down in a way I never anticipated.

The longer you’re in business though, the stronger your resolve becomes and the more powerful your “never give up, never give in” grit grows.

What are some of the challenges facing agencies today?

Personally, I think the challenges fall into six categories:

  1. People. Staff is your biggest asset and your most constant challenge. Our key focus is on training and leadership, and it’s where we invest the most time and effort.
  2. Business management. Have a clear mission, a long horizon, and empowered leaders to help you steer the proverbial ship.
  3. Client management. Four words: delivery, advocacy, engagement, & relationships.
  4. Profit. With large investment and constant risk, meaningful profit is everything. Without it, you’re out of business.
  5. Family. Never lose sight of life’s highest priority: the people you love. I work hard, but my family comes first, and I allocate a decent amount of quality time (including two big holidays with them each year).
  6. Reinvention. Doing the same ol’ same ol’ doesn’t cut it. Clients and staff are excited by evolution. Continually reinvesting in your business, your people, and yourself is essential.

Who did you look up to when you first launched your career?

When I first got started, I didn’t know anyone in the industry, and I never considered finding a business or creative mentor who was working outside of design. In hindsight, that was a big mistake. Mentors should be mandatory for all start-ups and young people in business.

I’ve mentored several dozen people who are in the same industry—including a few who might even be considered competitors. For some, it’s brief advice. For others, it’s a monthly one-hour session with a few emails and calls in-between. I take it seriously, and I set clear goals and outcomes for each person. I ask tough questions, but I’m also here to help with the answers.

It’s much more of a two-way street than you’d imagine. I enjoy seeing people succeed, but I also learn from them too. About a year ago, I had a mentee who gave me homework. She was appalled that I had an Instagram account with followers, but not a single post. I had to commit to a minimum of four posts a month to get things rolling. Now I go to her for professional advice in areas she knows far more about than I do!

How large is your team now? Do you allow remote work?

We have over 70 people working across our three studios in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.

Collaboration is the key to any good creative process, so that means coming together as a team to share ideas and produce the best work possible. It also creates a really fun atmosphere that we all feed off of. Each studio has a barista coffee machine, along with several beer and wine fridges (a drink or two at the end of the day never hurt anybody).

In terms of team flexibility, we have a dozen people who are either permanent part-timers or who have hours that can accommodate their lives.

What does a typical project look like at Hoyne?

We work with major local and international developers and councils on projects ranging from residential towers and master-planned communities, commercial developments, and new mixed-use precincts and city branding.

We’ve evolved to become a key consultant in the process, and our expertise goes way beyond the branding—we also contribute to the place vision, its make-up, and curation. This covers everything from collaborating with urban-planners and architects; presenting ideas at board meetings; hand-selecting tenants; and even driving around small towns asking the residents what they’d build if they could design their own communities.

We meet so many interesting, inspiring people doing what we do. No two days are ever the same.

You specialize in the property market and have amassed an impressive list of clients. Does focusing on one sector give you an advantage over other agencies? Have you ever turned down work because it just didn’t fit with your culture?

Definitely. Specializing in one sector allows us to understand the market better than anyone else. Clients don’t see us as just a brand agency creating pretty graphics. They come to us in the nascent stages of a project saying, “We’ve got this space: can you help us develop it?”

As a result, we’re often involved in projects from inception. We help create the initial place vision direction and strategy that informs the brand and marketing campaign.

We’ve turned down a lot of work because it didn’t resonate with our core values. I’m not happy putting my name on a development that isn’t designed with legacy in mind and doesn’t provide economic and social benefits.

I also have a “no dickheads” rule. We don’t work with clients who we wouldn’t want to go to dinner with. It’s a simple criteria.

What’s something you wish clients understood better about your business?

I would like to see more clients understand that Place VisioningTM can add to their development. It can help their business, profitability, and simultaneously create meaningful places that improve lives. It has an abundance of incentives, in addition to mitigating commercial risk.

In a corporate environment, the big fear is often perceived risk. Not actual risk, but the concern that anything new and different is an unsafe path. So companies replicate their past endeavors rather than creating a bespoke solution that meets (and ideally exceeds) the real needs of their customers.

In fairness, this is happening less and less. We get great support from our clients, and as our popularity continues to grow, we’re seeing more companies in both Australia and overseas come to us for help.

How do you measure progress as an agency?

It’s simple: how happy are our employees and clients? If I have a productive, fulfilled team, and clients who love working with us, that’s the highest measure of success for me.

However, when you’re successful (and have a 27-year track record as we do) you also become a target for attack. Other firms want to poach your clients and staff, and they’ll go to desperate measures to do it. While that can hurt at times, it also serves as a great motivator. They’re doing it because they aspire to become who we are. When you look at it that way, it’s quite flattering!

I’m interested in VR and AR. I think they’re going to change how marketers—especially in the property industry—sell. We recently created a VR experience for the city of Maroochydore in Queensland. Our client needed a compelling way to unveil a new 53-hectare city center, which will boost the Sunshine Coast’s economy by $4.4 billion. While it won’t be completed until 2038, our VR experience revealed what it would look and feel like embedded with smart city technology and beautiful intelligence.

Hoyne is part of the BCorp community, a collection of companies from around the globe who are committed to creating a positive impact on the world. How are you contributing to that goal?

For me, being part of BCorp represents our ongoing commitment to doing more for our people, our clients, and the community—as well as driving positive change for the future.

In our studios, the emphasis is on our people. We designed the spaces to make collaboration and creation easier. We believe in looking after ourselves and celebrating life, and have many unique benefits in place, such as the MORE award. Each month, the team votes for the person they believe has contributed “more.” The prize is also pretty great (so far, I’ve gifted over 60 iPads). Another thing we do is give everyone the day off on their birthday.

Our client work is about ensuring we’re creating sustainable places that benefit society. That’s why I recently published The Place Economy. The book argues that investment in placemaking can lead to greater profit for developers and investors, better-performing economies, and happier, healthier communities. It’s basically a “win-win-win” theory.

You’ve also written a number of other books and sit on the board of a handful of organizations and non-profits. How do you find the time to do so much?

The truthful answer is that I get up at 4:20 a.m. almost every morning and never watch TV. Ever. Though I do socialize a lot, which means some brief naps or some late starts on occasion. But it is amazing how much time you can find in the day if you get up early, cut out TV, and spend your hours with purpose.

It also helps that I’m working towards something I’m truly passionate about. It gives me a huge amount of drive, motivation, and passion to keep going and doing more. I also work anywhere I can. Taxi/plane/restaurant—you name it. The only downtime I have is spent with my wife, kids, and friends.

Do you have any advice for someone starting their own agency?

All the stuff about being passionate, working really hard, experimenting, taking risks, being modest, trying to get a mentor—every word is true. However, it’s only true for the 5-10% of people who actually do it.

For the other 90%, think deeply about what you really enjoy in life. Be honest with yourself (even though it might be painful). Ask yourself the tough questions and don’t shy away from the answers. Setting up shop on your own might not be your calling.

But if you’re brilliant and driven, you don’t need a pep talk from me. You’re probably already out there making great stuff happen. Keep it up!