Few CEOs can lay claim to a law degree, a stint as a street performer, a taekwondo black belt, and being a co-founder of Australia’s best-reviewed agency (according to Google My Business). But this motley medley is exactly what you’ll find on Ashton Bishop’s résumé. Ashton is the CEO at Step Change, a strategically led marketing agency with a pragmatic business thinking based in Pyrmont.
With a list of achievements that reads more like a bucket list than a CV, he has run million-dollar campaigns for billion-dollar brands, created Australia’s first mobile app, won film awards, guest-lectured at leading universities, and won Speaker of the Year for Australia’s number one CEO network — three times.
As a predatory marketer and expert in pinpointing how brands can grow by outsmarting their competitors, Ashton is becoming the primary catalyst to “inspire step changes in businesses and people” with his aptly named startup, Step Change, which he founded with business partner Jeff Cooper in 2009.
Built on the belief that strategy without creativity is a recipe for mediocrity and creativity without strategy delivers more misses than hits, Step Change is outsmarting its own competitors with a 30-strong team of creative mavericks and strategic thinkers who are racking up a client list flooded with household names including Hewlett Packard, Fairfax Media, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, TEDx Sydney, Sony Pictures, and AGL to name a few.
An Unusual Journey to Extraordinary Success
Tasmanian-born Bishop has always loved a challenge. From state titles in athletics and a black belt in martial arts to graduating from university with a law commerce degree, Ashton took the next logical step: he ran away with the circus. After those three fateful days and his subsequent yet still-born sojourn in stand-up comedy, he aspired to a career in advertising. The result was a turn in telesales.
Never one to back down, he went on to spend the next decade working for the likes of Ogilvy while simultaneously acquiring the global patent for Color Changing Footwear and launching Eric the Circle, the world’s first draw-it-yourself cartoon with over 20,000 iterations.
But by then, the GFC was in full swing, and the threat of bankruptcy loomed. He had a family to take care of, along with these two massively risky startups; and just to spice things up, Ashton quit his comfortable and high-paying consulting job to dedicate himself to Step Change full time.
At the company’s inception, he and Jeff had no stable capital, no client base, and no true standout offering to attract more of either. It was worth it.
Eight years on, Ashton is now at the helm of a thriving creative hub across six regional locations, has a loving wife and two adorable children and has even built his own bespoke leadership programs Powerful Presence and Powerful with Purpose.
Strategy Meets Creativity
Once just two guys sharing a Mac and surviving on credit cards, Step Change has now evolved into a strategic marketing powerhouse, catering to over 100 unique businesses every year, with a turnover graph “that’s got a healthy ‘hockey stick’ feel to it”, and to this day, is all about inspiring step changes in businesses and people.
The agency’s eclectic client list covers all sectors from finance and tech to healthcare, media, food — even funeral homes. And Ashton gets a kick out of mentioning that they’ve recently taken on a fertility clinic: “So we really are birth to burial across the business now.”
As an agency, their strength lies in tapping into the symbiosis of marketing and strategy. “We don’t believe in just doing strategy,” states Ashton. “We believe that to win in business, you need to be strategic. So that’s what we bring to our business consulting, as well as our digital and creative execution offerings.”
Staying Present in Every Moment
From his humble origins in street performing and call centers to surviving the inevitable adversity of multiple startups, it’s easy to see how this turbulent history could foster more altruistic motivations.
“While I have many aims, goals, and passions, my greatest challenge is to stay [focused] on the difference I can make in the present moment,” says Ashton. “In a world of distractions, frustrations, and confusion, I believe there’s huge power available by staying present in the moment.”
What drives him is his ability to equip leaders to realize their potential and leading them to live more fulfilled lives. And what better environment to do this than a consultancy: “I’m very fortunate that the work we do at Step Change with business leaders and their organisations allows me to be a part of many people’s journeys.”
Ashton attributes the credit of his success to his own trinity of mentors: “Mark Nichols, who got me started as a presenter; Gavin Larkin, who got me focused on the difference I can make; and Dave Trott, who taught me how to think.”
And his advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Understand risk. Get a mentor to avoid making mistakes you can’t afford to make. Learn how to learn. Stay curious. And remember that life’s a song, not a journey — google Alan Watts on this.”