Luke Pierson started the agency now known as Heyday as a 20-year-old, cold calling prospects for web builds. Now its speciality is working with private sector organisations that just want to get stuff done — and making content the starting point for every project.
Start from the beginning...
We're 14 years old and we now have 35 staff. We're completely independent — I started it and I'm the only shareholder. I was 20 and it was a really weird, 'young' thing to do. I'd been studying architecture and working in IT and I had a design and sales background. I had a partner I bought out a couple of years in, who was a developer. We cold called people. It was the time everybody thought they needed a website, but didn't know why. After we got past the point of eating rice drinking seven espressos a day — that's not an exaggeration — I started doing bigger website builds and working for agencies as well. Having had a decade of experience and that amount of time in business, we had more strategic insight, strategists on the team and a larger developer team (there are now 13 on that team), so we could execute much bigger projects.
You work with some Kiwi-founded exporters among other privately-owned companies, what do you enjoy about working with these businesses?
We do some government work but we much prefer to work with results-oriented organisations that want to get stuff done and are prepared to take more risk. We understand business drivers and campaign and brand and where digital plays. One of the joys of being independent and smaller is you can make decisions and move quickly. We get frustrated when people aren't bold enough to make a decision. We try and be the 'small spinning cog' and work with a small group of decision markers That's the frustration with some government organisations, when they need to make a decision and there are 20 people in the room.
How do you keep up with what's happening in digital offshore?
We spent last year on a trip to the US doing a study tour and went to some bigger agencies in New York and to Facebook. We spent some time with Huge in New York, which has 650 people. It started out exactly like us and was bought by a global group. We went back to our cold calling roots to set up the trip. Our strategy and design director Bert Aldridge takes a course at the California College of Art.
What did the US trip reveal about the differences between that market and New Zealand?
The mobile market there is more advanced, but we don't have a technology problem, we have a scale problem. Marketers here will think they need an app, but we don't have the scale to support apps. They're expensive to make. What's happening is other ways of accessing content on mobile devices. Where everything seems to be going is mobile is less of a thing, not more of a thing. It's not about the device: mobile is not the channel.
Digital is the channel and if people choose to access the content on their mobile device, that's their choice. You have to offer the content on any device. In New Zealand I haven't seen many people have success going down the app strategy road unless they're designed and built here, then used offshore. Unless you're a big consumer brand it's really hard to get an app off the ground here. The most recent app we developed was CalmKeeper, Gerney's iOS app for managing anxiety. It had a lot of attention internationally and that was the point, it wasn't designed for the New Zealand market, it was for anyone with a panic problem.
Does that come down to being a small country and if so, how do you work within those limits?
When it comes to successful technology it's about taking things people are already doing and making them better. In a market where we have a scale problem, the trick is to find that out. Powershop is a really good example of a success story. They have an app for their customers but they also allow you to use their website. We're interested in what the constraints of this market mean and how you capitalise on that.
To celebrate turning 10 and changing the company name, you gifted Down To The Wire to the Kiwi internet community. Why such a geeky gift?
The internet was 21, we were 10, it was a year of binary dates. We launched it on 10/10/10. It was neat to go and speak to about 60 people involved in the internet in a significant way, right back to John Houlker, whose efforts led to the first internet connection in 1989 at Waikato University. We shot about 30 hours of high def video and I can't remember how many thousands of hours of content.
It got a huge amount of attention. There was no PR or marketing budget. Partly it was an exercise in proving that as a digital business we understand content. That's the big challenge for digital agencies in New Zealand. You're focusing on content and building your team in that area.
Why has that become so central to your projects?
Everybody is talking about UX, design or responsive sites, but nobody's talking about the reasons people are visiting websites, which is content. Michael Enoka, our director of content, has a huge amount of content experience and we're doing a lot more content, copywriting, scripting and shooting video in house. When we're concepting for people, we evolve content rather than leaving it to the end for the client to sort out. Our content team has four or five people across different disciplines. We went to the An Event Apart conference, run in five US cities each year. One particular speaker said if you can say something in two lines for mobile, why do you need five lines for desktop? We don't get to choose how people consume content. Good content should transform into mobile.
You work with ANZ and banking is a hot area for digital innovation here. How do you tackle the pace of change in that sector?
Banks have to be careful not get gimmicky. This is people's money and you need to be able to build credibility and trust with consumers. We've heavily focused on internet banking, we haven't done any major design refreshes. We've been helping ANZ design and release features and do usability testing. The idea is to get the house and the platform in order before we start to make other changes.