INTERVIEW | Young upstarts making money: Inside Curative...

By REBEKAH WHITE, 10 Oct 2013

These ambitious smarties are making money in industries that aren't renowned for paying the bills – fashion, publishing, the non-profit sector and the internet. Their secret? Give everything away.

Eddy Helm and Jade Tang will make people listen to you.

They’re running a thriving business based on doing good – helping charities and community groups go further with their marketing budgets than any not-for-profit has gone before.

“There are 97,000 community groups in New Zealand and they all have wonderful stories,” says Tang. “They just need help telling them a bit more effectively.”

From backgrounds in advertising (Helm) and design and arts management (Tang), the pair met as volunteers for the yMedia Challenge, which paired university students with non-profits for pro bono work experience, all under the watchful eye of industry mentors. So far, so clever.

But Tang and Helm knew yMedia had its limits – they wanted to be full-time do-gooders, and yMedia wouldn’t ever be more than a side project. What’s more, they had an inside view of what non-profits needed help with and a burning itch to do something about it. In early 2012, they launched their own communications agency, Curative, and set around proving to everyone (including themselves) that their services were a good investment.

Jade and Eddy 2.jpg

“Last year was about proving we can make a website, produce beautiful videos, put a TV ad together, make you gorgeous business cards, design a logo, organise events – essentially, that we can tell a story,” says Helm. The door stayed open for anyone who knocked, provided they matched up with Curative’s values (wine labels out, Global Poverty Project in). Helping small organisations with little budgets and big needs meant Curative operated under a kind of pay-what-you-can model at first.

“It was like, here’s our honesty box – just put your cash in at the end of the project,” Helm laughs. “We got a lot of gifts last year.”

When the pair found themselves putting in weeks of 80-100-hours, they knew it was time to evolve, armed with a diverse portfolio – and the attention of people who mattered.

One downside of the non-profit sector is that financial growth isn’t necessarily built in. Or as Helm puts it: “Just because you help feed 100 kids who are living in poverty doesn’t mean you get more money … because [non-profits] aren’t businesses and a lot of them aren’t generating revenue themselves it’s not like the budget grows every year.”

So growing Curative has involved a bit of smart thinking – getting the attention of those who actually hold the purse strings, such as the funding bodies and government organisations that cash up Curative’s clients in the first place.

“They’re starting to see the value in the work we’re doing,” says Helm. “Now the funders are starting to match us with projects, paying for our time and services, where they see how our skills could be of benefit.”

Jade Tang & Eddy Helm

Jade Tang & Eddy Helm

Spend five minutes with Tang and Helm and you’ll realise they’re relentlessly, indomitably optimistic. Not the aphorism-dropping kind, but the kind who recognise that positivity is a motor that needs refuelling on a regular basis. They get up in the morning because they genuinely want to change the world, and they don’t see ‘making a difference’ as a blurry target but a list of steps with measurable outcomes. They’ve got a utopic vision for the way they run their business (it involves cultivating “joy and play and fun”, says Helm) and they’re willing to share what they’ve got. Friday afternoons are set aside for coffees with strangers who’ve approached them – “either a student project or an NGO project or an entrepreneur just wanting to toss their idea around”. There’s no agenda to these sessions – it’s about pointing people in the right direction, connecting them to community groups or creatives who might be able to help.

Cultivating relationships is something that can’t be undervalued, says Tang, especially in the not-for-profit sector. Trust and respect aren’t bestowed immediately, but incrementally. “It’s quite different to working with a marketing team in a corporate organisation,” adds Helm. “That time you actually take to sit down and have a cup of tea with people and hear their stories is priceless.”


This interview was part of a larger feature article and was originally published on Idealog »