Carl Rush on how his creative agency – Crush – gained a reputation as safe hands for big brands

Crush Creative’s founder, Carl Rush, discusses how he got started… And what keeps him going!

Carl Rush, thanks for making time. You’re the director of several companies – and the founder of Crush Creative. Before we talk about that, what’s your background?
I started the company on my own in 1998. I’d spent many years working in the music industry, designing record covers for some of the biggest artists in the world.

Yes! In fact, my claim to fame is that George Michael once bought me a Curly Wurly!

Carl, we could wrap this up right now and it’d be my best-ever interview! You want to carry on? Or quit while you’re ahead?
Let’s see if there’s more!

Alright… So you were in the music industry. George Michael’s bought you a Curly Wurly… Then what?
When the music industry started to move towards digital downloads, I needed to take a new direction for my creative output… So I took my design skills to big brands, and combined them with my experience of working with a youthful audience. I got my big break when I pitched for a dance music campaign that Heineken was rolling out globally. I won the pitch against huge ad agencies and then had to immediately employ three people because I’d pretended I was the boss of a small company, when at the time it was just me doing everything!

Wow. Chutzpah! And that was Crush?
Right. After that project, which lasted five years, we’d started to gain a reputation as safe hands for big brands that wanted a fresh look in what was quite a dry creative landscape.

Carl Rush, Crush
Safe hands for big brands is pretty much what I first heard about you… Crush Creative has a reputation as something of a go-to agency in licensing. Who are some of your clients
That’s nice to hear! We started working in licensing about ten years ago. Nickelodeon were the first brand to try us out; it was on a SpongeBob SquarePants guide, ‘Doodle Bob’. I must admit, it took a while for us to understand the world of licensing – but Nickelodeon loved what we did, and we must’ve produced ten style guides for Bob and his mates to date.

We then continued to produce style guides for properties aimed at children and young people, including Disney, Cartoon Network, Blaze & The Monster Machines, PJ Masks to name a few. Then, as we understood the value of great design in licensing, we decided to take our skills to some more adult brands.

Who was the first?
PepsiCo, I think, on a guide for Lay’s Chips. McDonald’s then came knocking, and we created a new brand update, and licensing guides for Masterchef and The Science Museum. Since 2020, our clients include Discovery Channel, SEGA, Pokémon… We have absolutely stacks of projects under wraps for Warner Bros. and DC. Recently, we worked on Amazon Prime: Rings of Power. Now that was an exciting project to win!

Gosh, yes. Kudos! So what kind of projects do you take on?
Well, as you know, one of our specialist areas is licensing – we love to take on any creative challenges in this area… Guides, packaging, character art, trend prediction and consultancy. But it’s not all we do. We also create many brand- identity projects, do website design, illustration and – increasingly – more animation projects. We have a website dedicated to our motion work…

Carl Rush, Crush
Which we’re happy to link to here! What’s the address?

Thank you! It’s

Perfect. When I was chatting to some of your team, it sounded to me like you were busy in a number of areas…
Yes, we’ve been very lucky. We believe that any brief can be a creative opportunity and I love the fact that we can work in many different sectors. We recently worked with the NHS and Sussex Police because of the more youthful brands they’ve seen us partner with.

Looking at your clients and work then, Carl, what qualities are consistent throughout? What makes a project a Crush Creative project?
Ideas are what connect all our creative output! We believe in smart ideas, beautifully crafted. Some would say ‘bright colours’ but hopefully our Lord of the Rings work has proved that we can mix up a colour palette! My team are incredibly passionate about their craft, and I believe attention to detail shines through in every piece of work. I think another common thread is that all our clients understand the value of good design – and we more often than not start the creative journey from a blank canvas.

Good answer. Clearly, then, creativity’s important in what you do…

How do you stay creative?
Creative thinking and execution is at the heart of everything we do. My team are constantly immersing themselves in all things creative, and quite a few of them go home after a long day designing to work on passion projects. Those might involve even more drawing, painting, learning 3D programs or creating content for their personal Instagram accounts. We keep a keen eye on all emerging trends, and use this in our consulting work for clients. Design is a lifestyle; we’re never not working.

And given that, then, what advice would you give others looking to work in a creative team?
Illustrate your passion. It’s very easy nowadays to get noticed on social media, so use your personal platform to show off your skills.

Carl Rush, Crush
Fantastic. Carl, we need to start wrapping this up soon but before we do, tell me about some of your other companies…

So I mentioned our animation wing, Crush Motion, which is part of Crush Creative. I also own an event space in Brighton called The Vine Club

We’ll make that another link!
I also run a live creative-networking event called GLUG – although, sadly, that’s been dormant since the pandemic. Right now, most of my focus is on Crush Creative and how we can grow our clients in the US.

Great stuff! Penultimate question, then: what’s the one thing I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
How have you survived 25 years as a creative agency? And how do you stay on top?

Lovely! What’re the answer?
I owe so much to all the amazing people that have worked with me over the years. The team has obviously changed over that time, but everyone that’s come along and joined me on this journey has brought their own little bit of magic… And right now, I’m working with the most talented bunch of individuals… It’s like a little family where – genuinely – everyone gets along and works hard and parties together. Here’s to the next 25 years of Crush Creative!

Fabulous! Great to hear from you, Carl; I enjoyed that. Thanks again for making time!

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