Born from pandemic layoffs, Hustle finds a new model for purposeful work

How a nixed campaign for LinkedIn created by a group of freelancers turned into a borderless full-service collective.

When the pandemic began, Brad Correia and Tito Melega watched a wave of layoffs wash over the ad industry – and wanted to do something about it.

“Pretty much anybody with big experience and salary suddenly found themselves without a gig. Brad and I saw LinkedIn lit up with all of our friends losing their jobs, and some of us as well,” says Melega. “As creatives, we’re trained to solve problems. That’s all we do all day. So when something like this happens, our first reaction is to think about how we can help.”

For CCO Melega and ECD Correia, “this was an easy one.” The question was how they could help their friends find new work and get back on their feet. The answer was what would eventually become their new international freelance creative collective, Hustle.

Hustle began as a project, with Correia – a former CD at GTB Toronto – recruiting 20 creatives from LinkedIn who had just been laid off to develop a campaign to help people get jobs, which was pitched to LinkedIn.

“It was very meta, in a way,” says Melega, GTB’s former global CCO. “[LinkedIn] loved and ran with it to a point, but then eventually it sizzled out when it hit a firewall inside the company.”

Though the project didn’t see the light of day, a seed was planted. “Everybody turned to us and said don’t stop, let’s keep going,” he says. “So we went after the next project, and the next project, and next thing you know a year goes by and here we are with 120 incredibly talented people and very much a full-service agency.”

Hustle’s growth has been driven by recruitment primarily through LinkedIn, and currently boasts a roster of 120 professionals from 24 countries worldwide, who have collectively earned 400 Cannes Lions awards over their careers.

“We took a lot of our time during the last year getting to know people who actually have the same beliefs as ours,” says Correia. “LinkedIn was our main platform. There, we could see who is doing what and for whom, and their amazing work. Watching people on LinkedIn, we could find the right people to join Hustle.”

Hustle’s core philosophy, which it calls “actvertising,” is to emphasize “action and not ads,” explains Melega. Rather than simply talk about doing good, Hustle urges its clients to actually do good – and then talk about the good that they are doing.

“We’re really good at making ads. We made our careers in ads. But I think they serve a different purpose, now – to amplify the message of what a brand is doing to make the world a better place,” he adds.

As part of its purpose-driven mantra, the network has forged partnerships to support underrepresented talent in the industry, including with Concreates, an organization that supports formerly incarcerated creatives; Raising Two-Fifths, which supports mothers in the advertising industry; and African nonprofit “The Blackboard,” which pairs students with Hustle talent to learn how to do the job, on the job.

Another key part of Hustle’s philosophy is that it pairs clients with professionals whose values and passions align with theirs, Correia says. By doing so, it aims to produce work that delivers in a better way for the client, more efficiently. On its site, talent is also organized into different “networks” based on skill sets (such as creative data, strategy and video) or their connection with different communities (such as Black or LGBTQ people).

Hustle “wanted to become a big network,” Correia says, so it sought new talent “from every part of other continents.”

But it also wanted to avoid some of the challenges large networks face.

“We see networks struggling to be fast. There’s so many layers and so many people to approve ideas and it’s very vertical. Our structure is very horizontal,” says Correia, something that also allows it to bring talent in from outside when they are needed.

“The reason why it’s a freelance collective is because if we don’t have it, we can go and get it,” Melega says. “We can go and find people who work for a different agency – or just find a different agency.”