Melinda Parent: Creative Director & Founder
We caught up with Melinda to find out more about her story.
Explain a little about yourself and the role you play in the creative communication industry.
I spent my early career as an international editorial and runway model while, at the same time, completed three university degrees: Bachelor of Arts (Music) at Adelaide University; Post Grad. Business and BA Visual Communication at the University of South Australia.
With many years working in front of the camera behind me - I combined my three uni degrees and industry experience into starting my own business - Melinda Parent Creative - in 1997. I have now expanded the business into a small agency - Oranje Creative.
Oranje is a full service studio that works across all media including digital, print, press, TV, radio and events.
The hours are endless, deadlines are tight, budgets are tighter, and you must have equal amounts of creativity, patience and business savvy to compete and manoeuvre
amongst the big-guns (men in the industry). It’s a 24/7 business.
I have always said you build a career in advertising and brand design with nothing but fresh air. It all comes down to an idea. We create something - from nothing. It’s simply up to raw talent, hard work, building strong working relationships and persistence.
These values are something Artificial Intelligence or machine learning will never be able to replicate! We have learnt to shut the noise and pressure of the industry out - remaining focused on each exciting project - and on each client - with unwavering energy and attention to detail. Probably
obsessively so. But we have also faced our fair share of challenges on our way here - some almost broke us -
but in the end each one of the challenges served to make us stronger.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I love that we create something new everyday. Everyday we need to find solutions for clients - and the challenge is real, and exciting.
I love my team. Everyday I try to embody the traits I want to foster in my team, which then translates to our
work. To be open to ideas, to work in collaboration, to be generous, to work beyond the brief and invest in my team in fresh ways. To listen. To operate with a clear vision for clients and teams, to set a high design standard, to be fair,
respectful and work with integrity, to be humble in my learnings and successes, and appreciative of, and loyal to, clients and my team.
Perhaps most importantly, it is to take risks. Encouraging my team to execute what they believe in, as it is this vision, passion and insight that sets us apart. I believe taking risks create new opportunities. We should make decisions with the intention of creating multiple positive outcomes.
It is also the 'human element' that positively connects and keeps us connected to our clients. It is also the human element that ultimately sells a brand. I'm all about building, nurturing and keeping relationships strong.
Over the past two years I have also tapped into the emerging field of neuroaesthetics as a tool - which has been fascinating research - to enhance audience engagement. Neuroaesthetics examines the psychology behind people’s response to design, imagery and form preferences. It
covers various principles such as colour, contrast, symmetry, grouping, isolation, orderliness etc and how these elements can be used in different ways to generate desired responses to brand design, creative communications more broadly and to influence and enhance consumer behaviour.
Putting the principles of neuroaesthetics into practice enables Oranje to adopt a unique perspective in creative product development. This has served to boost the team’s creativity, by providing a fresh lens through which to view creative solutions and broaden thinking as a result.
This makes for both a rewarding workplace and successful communications.
What challenges have you faced in the industry and how have you overcome them?
In 2014 Melinda Parent Creative (MPC) lost a major client, without notice, and under contract, due to a change to a new (all-male) management. We faced an existential threat.
Our 14 year relationship based on a track record of providing 24/7 service, a preferential competitive fee structure and an ethic of going the extra mile on all jobs appeared to mean very little. MPC was left in a perilous financial situation as a result. The business learned the hard way that a contract is only as good as the financial resources you have available to legally pursue your contractual rights. Perhaps the most critical learning was not to put all the business’ eggs in the one basket.
How did you overcome them?
The business learned not to take anything for granted, even long-term, healthy client relationships. Operating in an industry with a culture of ‘good faith’ agreements it had adopted an inconsistent approach to formalising contracts, thereby inviting risk.
Oranje now has either formal, written agreements or individual project contracts in place to ensure a clear and shared understanding of obligations by both parties. It has also introduced three-year retainers with larger clients. Legal contracts, facilitated by an expert legal team, ensure financial security for Oranje to enable meaningful forward-planning and strategic business development. All-in-all, the business is far more in control of its financial destiny.
What advice would give to someone just starting out in the industry, particularly young women entering the creative community?
1. Out of a negative experience always comes a positive solution as long as you are prepared to learn and grow from experience.
2. Believe in yourself - you have to trust your instincts and know your value, no matter how tough things get.
3. Take a step back from the challenge and make sure your operations are aligned with your business goals.
4. Work hard and ride the wave - you never know who you are going to meet on the way - and you often need to hit rock bottom in order to come back up and shine.
5. Continue to develop your relationships and keep those that believe in you close.
6. Good business is all about relationships.
7. Trust your intuition.
8. Be honest and do not be afraid to diplomatically speak your mind.
How do you believe the industry could be more accommodating to women?
The advertising industry has always experienced a huge gender imbalance and long been seen as ‘still a boys’ club at the top’. The advertising world also prides itself on being current, modern, cutting edge - yet it's one of the most conservative and male dominated industries.
Women have always been seen as part of the ‘outer circle' of advertising. Only 15% of creative directors worldwide are female - yet females are the prime decision makers when it comes to consumer activity. There is an overall worldwide male bias in creative and tech roles.
1. There are many women working in the creative industries - but not in leadership roles. Companies need to be more proactive in promoting women into leadership roles.
2. The industry needs to recognise the consumer experience and instinct women can bring that men do not have.
3. Men are louder and better at taking credit for themselves and they have a more aggressive communication style. Females are being cautious about joining a male-
dominated or non diverse company and whereby they feel they will not be heard. We need to raise our voice against an industry in which women were trained to stay silent
4. We need to build more networks (such as She Creates) which can be such a strong force at all stages of our careers.
5. We need to 're-culture’ the industry. Many female creatives believe real change has been an uphill battle because the industry’s reputation of partying, drinking and big egos
breeds the type of behaviour where male leaders feel they have a license to do whatever they want since they're perceived as having celebrity status. This is so 1980. We definitely need to change the aesthetic of the industry.
6. Introduction of a company assessment/auditing process to support agencies in retaining and promoting women. Agencies need to meet key culture benchmarks around female leadership, workplace equality and culture, and equal creative opportunity. The cost of the evaluation should include a detailed assessment of workplace programs, culture, female leadership, and creative opportunity and presentation.
Any other comments?
As the Principal of a female-lead company, it is such a positive to see an initiative such as She Creates being founded in Adelaide to raise the status of women working in the creative industries. It’s a brilliant idea and totally what we need.