“You help in the way you know to help,” says co-director Lily McCombs. “We try not to be an agency but rather, an agent. We’re not driven by profit – we’re really trying to seek out work with people on things we are excited to work on. That’s what motivates us, and Make Believe is the vehicle that allows us to do that.”
Make Believe was founded by Lily, Nick Moraitis and Jarra McGrath, who were able to first share their philosophies when they worked at grassroots advocacy group GetUp! together. Each had their own specific talents – from writing to creative direction to strategy – and after they parted ways and spent a few years working in separate non-profits, they decided to come together once again and start their own company. By early 2009, Make Believe had grown to the point where they could leave their jobs and their home office, and it became a full-time, full-service creative consultancy. As Lily explains, they each had a passion for change that existed alongside their passion for creation.
“I first started to become politically aware when I was growing up in the US. Clinton was my president when I was in high school, and I started to think about what the government did and how it affected us in an intimate sense. I used to get really fired up about injustice and became interested in messaging and how it related to the rise of the right in the US; they were great at campaigning and at framing themselves, and liberal started to become a dirty word.”
Today the team of six works together in a “symbiotic mix”, describes creative director Rohan Porteous. Make Believe is not simply a “pro-bono thing on the side”, but rather focuses exclusively on initiatives for social change. “We have obvious ideologies and we’re passionate about creating real change – change that matters,” he insists.
Newspaper and billboard ads for the Australian Conservation Foundation
to "dump the nuclear dump" in Muckaty, NT
to "dump the nuclear dump" in Muckaty, NT
As Lily explains, an organisation’s ability to communicate its ideas effectively is what encourages people to be part of its movement, which is the crux of what Make Believe does. Rohan elaborates, “This is why our work hopefully pays off – we are brought in for the crucial moment of a project, right at the period when it matters most – and we can have a big effect in that moment.”
One particular project that stands out for team was Greens candidate Adam Bandt’s campaign in Melbourne, which Make Believe helped execute from start to finish. It was the first time Melbourne shifted seats away from Labor in more than 100 years. “Adam was the kind of candidate we would have wanted to get behind no matter what – he made it all about the people,” reflects Lily. And so the campaigns they collaborated on reflected this sentiment – the ads featured real people, not actors, so that residents could see that their vote wouldn’t be a wasted if they chose a Greens candidate. “People felt a kind of ownership over their vote, and it was largely inspired by Obama’s campaign, which we owe a lot to. It was the first time a president wasn’t bought and paid for by corporates, and it showed on a huge scale what was possible.”
Indeed, the best-case scenario for Make Believe is when they identify a goal and help achieve it, explains Lily. “One of our philosophies is that we don’t like to make clients dependent on us, even though that doesn’t necessarily make the best business sense. We’re all about building infrastructure and making leaders and organisations effective at what they do, so they don’t have to go to consultants for everything they need.” This is why Lily dedicates part of her time to mentoring, which is also one of Make Believe’s core values.
“We’re not alone in our cause, and there are amazing people doing amazing work all over the world; we just want to be an anchor for that. We can’t personally save the world – I know I can’t save the world – and there are people doing things I cant even conceive of, so all I can ask is how can I help people do what THEY do best. We add what we know how to do well so that they can do what they do well… better.”
words: Seema Duggal