Melbourne Community Ambassador Jade Craven kicks off her first interview with Justine Bloome – an entrepreneur, creative strategist, mother and lover of behavioural psychology.

Name: Justine Bloome
Twitter: @inBloome
Works: Founder and Chief Strategist of The Village Agency

You are the founder and chief strategist of a virtual marketing agency. Why did you decide to leverage this model?

I was working in a globally-recognised agency that, despite its specialisation in experiential, was still very traditional in its structure and approach with clients. That was great for me because I got to see from the inside what worked about that, and what didn’t.

Then the GFC hit and a huge chunk of our team was ‘made redundant’ and hired back as freelancers… just to reduce the head-count on the balance sheet, not because we didn’t have the work to sustain that level of resource! It seemed utterly crazy to me that these fantastic, talented and creative individuals were now ‘free agents’, that could work with any agency in town.

As an agency, your primary assets are the skills and the creativity of the individuals that come together to collaborate on your clients’ projects. So it seemed ludicrous to me that we’d allow those assets to enter the broader market, in favour of reducing other overheads.

I have always been called a Closet Geek. I was the first of all my friends and family to get a Hotmail address, and I’m about to celebrate my fifth birthday on Twitter. I think I’ve always just been interested in how digital can help people connect, communication and collaborate.

The idea of a virtual agency wasn’t necessarily a new one. But The Village Agency has only come about because the advances in technology and digital have allowed me to rethink how I could gather the most creative minds around a project.

For me, the virtual model allowed me to focus the agency’s energies in the right place – the creativity, the client’s brief, the client’s outcomes – in favour of servicing overheads like a big fancy office for us all to sit in. Or, indeed, a massive team of full time staff. For many clients, they are happy just to have a small piece of the very best person in their field working on their business. A virtual, freelance collaborative like The Village allows them to have that, without the price tag that would go with it from a traditionally structured agency.

Justine speaking at Creative3 in Brisbane earlier this year

You have a strong interest in behavioural change. How has this impacted on your work?

To be honest, keeping this at the forefront of my approach to marketing is what keeps me in this industry.

About once a year, I have an existential crisis. I look at the larger marketing landscape and feel a little sick in my stomach. There are so many people that work in this industry for the money, or the awards, or for the ‘perks’.

I have always struggled, (and now as my own operation, I often refuse) to work with businesses and brands that aren’t giving anything of true value to their end customer, who expect their agency to help them manufacture the demand for their product, or make the customer feel unworthy without that product or service.

I’ve always been fascinated by human behaviour. What makes us tick? What makes us choose what we do? Why are some people happy to just cruise and others are always striving for excellence. In general, I am someone who loves change. I embrace it and often invent change in my life, just to mix things up and keep progressing.

So in my work as a creative strategist, this means I am always focused on the audience. Whether they are a consumer, a trade audience or an internal audience, I always start with what their existing behaviour is. Researching this is often the birthplace of the most creative ideas. Understanding whether you need them to change their behaviour – a little, or a lot – in order for your clients’ objectives to be achieved, can often be the biggest difference in delivering an outcome for a client.

Who else do you think is doing good work at the moment, both locally and globally?

I really enjoy watching the work that agencies like Naked and FRANk, but to be honest, most of the really innovative stuff is coming out of the little players. Check out the work of Hunter, for example. Or TheSumOf in Brisbane. It’s these smaller players that I enjoy watching the most!

What do you have planned for The Village in the future?

We’re in our third year now and the model is continually evolving. I’ve observed so much of the behaviour of the freelance teams we assemble. The way they integrate and the way they engage with clients. I’m always thinking about ‘how can we make this better?’ and ‘how can we make this bigger?’

We have some really big things planned for 2013. The freelancer marketplace is exploding. I get approached daily by freelancers wanting to know how they can join. And, for now, we’ve put all business development on hold because we are getting approached by clients on a regular basis also.

The plans include an evolution of the model, we want to scale to connect more freelancers and more clients through our community. We want to shift slightly from being a “full-service agency” with a virtual model, to become the easiest way for clients to navigate the freelancer landscape, to find the best resources to help grow their businesses. We’ll do this while still giving personalised service, remaining the curator of creative teams, assembling the highest calibre individuals for a given brief. It will involve creating our own digital platform, and partnering with some too. Watch this space!

What stands out about the Melbourne creative and digital community?

If I’m honest, I think some of the best creative in Australia comes out of Melbourne.

Not because they are any more skilled than other cities, but because of their attitudes to collaboration. Melbourne creatives seem to me, to be really open-minded and generally tend to understand that the best creative outcomes are drawn out through collaborative thinking and working. I think this is what often gives them a point of difference when working with a client as well – particularly Melbourne-based clients, who are more likely than the clients we have in other states to have multiple stakeholders involved in the decisions around their marketing. Collaboration on both sides is what makes creativity in Melbourne unique, in my experience.

The group at a Meet&Eat event

Tell us more about the Meet&Eat concept…

Ahhh I love my little Meet&Eat side project! While The Village may work with seven of the best restaurants in Melbourne, I have always been a massive foodie. I also love meeting new people, particularly likeminded people. But I am not a big fan of traditional ‘networking events’. I’ve always enjoyed a more relaxed style, without the nametags or the whip around the room for the five-minute “who am I” sell. The events where people gather around a common interest and just chat, connect and, if you’re really lucky, create.

So Meet&Eat is about offering a relaxed networking environment, with likeminds. We give two degrees of likemindedness though; generally the attendees to the events I host are also foodies, and we give each event a ‘theme’ – such as Creative Minds, Fabulous & Freelance, Business Babes, or Get Your Geek On. This seems to ensure there is always something to kick off the conversation, and I am yet to host one where there has been any kind of uncomfortable silence! I enjoy watching the connections and collaborations happen between attendees off the back of an event. I guess it’s fair to say that connecting people to create outcomes is a little bit of an obsession for me, and Meet&Eat is another dimension to that.

What trends and innovations are exciting you at the moment?

I am loving the trends in health and wellbeing. It seems that our infolust (facilitated by the interweb) is translating into greater self-awareness, particularly as a generation who were raised to believe that our GP had all the answers! The public’s awareness of the relationships between pharmaceutical companies and the medical fraternity, a growing acceptance for alternative health practices, coupled with an explosion of apps available to consumers is now facilitating increased awareness of what it takes to be truly healthy and well. That ‘health’ is not the absence of illness and that preventative health is the key to wellness, not a bottle of pills.

This probably seems like a totally off topic trend to be talking about! But it’s one that inspires me personally. Food, fitness, health and wellbeing are the four industries I most enjoy working with, because I am personally passionate about them and what businesses in these industries can deliver to their customers.

It’s also an industry that will boom in the next few years. The number of consumer health apps has grown from 3,000 in Feb 2010 to over 13,000 earlier this year*! The global mobile health apps market is tipped to be triple the size it was in 2010 – from USD 1.7 billion to USD 4.1 billion by 2014**.

I’m not about to launch another health app, in what will be a cluttered marketplace in no time! But I am keeping a close eye on the developments, trends and innovations in this space, because I’m planning to launch a new health and wellbeing business in 2013.

* Source: MobiHealthNews, Jul 2012 /
** Source: Technavio, Feb 2012 /

About our Ambassador // Jade Craven is a blogger and social marketing intern who’s obsessed with digital, startups, and publishing. She helps microbusiness owners become famous in their industry. Follow her on Twitter @jadecraven.