Chips off the old block

By Melinda Collins

Ben and Libby Crawford get recognised all the time; there’s those awkward moments when someone actually thinks they know them, or the times someone says hello and they have just seconds to work out if they actually know them. However, it was the family ties which the pair believes secured them the winning spot on The Block New Zealand.

“Being brother and sister, we didn’t have to deal with relationship crap,” Ben laughs. “We went into this almost like a business transaction; we went in there with a plan and always looking to the end.”

It was this natural mentality to plan ahead which proved a strong factor in the win.

“There wasn’t really time to sit down and literally formulate a plan of every aspect. But we discussed key ideas we wanted to incorporate and looked ahead rather than plan room by room,” Libby says.

The pair used Pinterest a lot, putting together a number of boards based on interiors and exteriors. “There’s so much inspiration available, particularly online. You don’t even have to subscribe to a magazine anymore with access to so many blogs to get to hear people’s commentary on ideas and see the latest trends,” Libby says.

“It gives you confidence to see things you like and know they have broad appeal.”

The forward thinking enabled them to control their budget and be better able to communicate with the various contractors who were involved with the build. “Because we had a clear plan that we could communicate to them, the process was more efficient and it kept costs clear; we could see where to allocate costs from the outset and see where we needed to pull back on them,” Libby says.

Renovation success depends on what you are renovating for Ben says. “If you’re selling then you need to think who is going to buy, so you would keep things a little less personal and more neutral than you would if you were going to create your dream home.”

The pair agree you need to be able to ask for help. “You want to bluff your way through it; oh yeah I can do that, or do things you can’t actually do,” Ben says.

But it saves time, money and a bunch of embarrassment if you just ask for help.

Unlike the clash of classic siblings, the pair’s personalities and skills have always melded together in a complementary manner.

Ben gained a first class honours degree in marketing at Otago University, before forging a career focused on the strategy, planning and development aspects of advertising. Libby also studied at Otago, completing a double degree in marketing and design, and in turn has focused more on the creative side of the industry, but with a marketing slant.

She has worked as a graphic designer within creative agencies for the last eight years, the most recent five as a senior designer in a Christchurch agency. Ben most recently spent seven years working for Tourism New Zealand in various marketing management roles both in New Zealand and offshore.

The Block offered much more than the opportunity to chase their dreams. It allowed them to build their dreams, from the ground up.

“We’ve talked about having our own advertising agency for two or three years and sat down a couple of Christmases ago to map out what we wanted to do,” Ben says. “Then The Block came around and we quickly realised there’d be no better opportunity to launch our business.

“It’s what we’ve always wanted to do.”

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Known simply as Libby & Ben, the company is a creative agency that “build brands through bloody good ideas, top-notch creative and clever marketing communications,” according to the website.

“We’re a creative advertising agency and we create and evolve brands to communicate and engage with the customer no matter where that may be,” Ben says.

This involves everything from strategy development, through to the brand creation and specific campaign development. “We do a lot of digital as part of that,” Ben says.

“It’s an area we’re extremely experienced in and passionate about. Our ideas and work involves everything from website design and build through to social integration and mobile initiatives,” he says.

“A lot of businesses know they should be in the digital and social environments, but often don’t really understand it or how to do it in a relevant way,” Libby finishes in a way I suspect is common for the pair who think so succinctly.

“It’s funny, a lot of people hear we are in business and think we’re doing up houses,” Libby says. “But it couldn’t be further from the truth!”

Born and bred in Southland and boarding in Christchurch for high school, the siblings operate the business from Ben’s Auckland base and Libby’s Cantabrian home, enabling a nationwide presence.

It’s a modern way of working, Ben says. “That mobile philosophy carries out through everything we do.”

“Because we’re mobile and can work remotely,” Libby says, “the ideas we’re getting to our clients also reflect that
as well.”

Libby’s Christchurch location also melds with the company’s philosophy. “I’m here to stay and we’re really keen to have that strong footprint here in Christchurch. I think the nature of the business we’re in is around clever and creative ideas, and branding has such a strong synergy with what’s going on here at the moment,” she says.

“It’s really exciting to be involved in helping businesses achieve their potential, get back on their feet and create this really vibrant city that Christchurch is going to be.”

It’s a unique opportunity, Libby adds. “While it’s obviously been a horrible, gruelling couple of years in Canterbury for so many people, the earthquake has opened doors for people to be entrepreneurial and give something new a go. There’s a lot of fresh opportunity and a lot of the ‘this is how it has always been done’ has been removed.

“I think that’s bringing a real vibrancy and energy to the city and that’s something we would love to be able to be part of from a creative point of view, so it’s certainly exciting.”

The pair have forged strong relationships with clients and groups of people who are involved in the greater movement to foster and support the creative and entrepreneurial community in the region. “We’re definitely keen to stay in those conversations and stay involved where we can,” Libby adds.

Maintaining a Christchurch presence has been a conscious decision, she explains.

“I’m not here because I have to be, but because I want to be, it’s my home. From a business point of view we’re excited by having the opportunity to be apart of where Christchurch is going.”

The pair admit that they were at a major advantage when they decided to take the plunge and set out on their own, given the significant prize money they won and the national recognition that came with it. “We had a massive advantage in the fact that we were on nationwide television and everybody now knows what we do, which blew through so many barriers people have around creating awareness of their new business,” Ben says.

“Plus we won a good chunk of money that we’ve put into starting the business, and basically treated as our first year and a bit of fall-back salary. It gave us 12 months at least to give it a crack and the confidence to commit fully to the business.”

But they are confident they would have realised their dreams regardless. “I always say give it a crack, you never know unless you try and I’ve got a very strong belief in that,” Ben says.

“Obviously you shouldn’t be reckless and need to be sure what you’re planning on doing is based on a sound rationale or proposition, but provided it stacks up, go out and give it a go. It’s going to be scary as hell.”

“Seek sound advice as well,” Libby adds, ever the pragmatist. “Get sound advice from people within the relevant industries, business mentors or people whose jobs are to go over ideas.

“There’s the balancing point between Ben and I; he’s all like ‘let’s do it’ and I’m all ‘hang on, let’s think about this’,” Libby laughs.

“Give it a shot, go for it, do it!” Ben states.

“Provided it’s a strong idea,” Libby finishes.

Don’t ever be afraid to say yes, Ben says. “Imagine if we hadn’t said yes to this? It’s allowed us to do so many things we’ve always wanted to do.”

“Put yourself out there,” Libby says. “We pushed ourselves to the absolute breaking point of physical and mental ability and we kind of thrived under the pressure of it all.

“Now when I’m finding something tough in my every day world, I stop myself and think ‘hang on this is nothing compared to how far I managed to push myself on The Block’. It’s a new point of reference for me. You realise how much you can actually achieve in a short amount of time and how hard you can push yourself.”

“If people said yes more often the world would be a better place.” Ben adds.

“Oh, look out!” Libby laughs. “I’m so inspired by you today!”



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