“Awards Won’t Win You A Pitch!” 10 Quick Ones With Initiative’s Award-Winning CEO Melissa Fein

“Awards Won’t Win You A Pitch!” 10 Quick Ones With Initiative’s Award-Winning CEO Melissa Fein

If there’s an agency that’s “so hot right now” it has to be IPG’s Initiative. Proof of the fact was when it absolutely cleaned up at last week’s MFA Awards (read all the winners HERE and the party pics HERE.) Here, B&T goes a fast 10 with agency CEO Melissa Fein (lead image) on that winning feeling and what’s creating all the buzz. And you can relive Fein’s recent B&T TV appearance HERE

1) At the MFA Awards you took home a swag of awards including the Grand Prix, what were your expectations going into the night?

Despite the size of our shortlist, we went in with rather modest expectations. We never count our chickens when it comes to awards as we believe our work is industry leading, but you never know if we’re just drinking the Initiative Kool-Aid or it is legit. Naturally on the night we were blown away, humbled and immensely proud – it’s an achievement that will stick with us for some time.

2) What do these awards mean to clients? 

I’d be lying if I said clients (and agencies) don’t suffer from award fatigue, and the ever-expanding list is diluting their significance, but in that climate it’s more important than ever to prioritise the ones that do matter. Effies, Lions, Spikes etc are the obvious ones, but when it comes to the actual craft of media the MFA Awards are a clear standout. The most common criticism of awards is that they’re ‘too subjective’, but I can tell you sitting on the board and going through the process the rigour that’s been embedded into these awards in the last year is next level, from pre-vetting by industry experts, blind voting, a priority on effectiveness outcomes and the onboarding of signature judges – some of Australia’s most esteemed CMOs – all mean to clients wining a MFA Award is seen as a real achievement.

3) The MFA Grand Prix is a big deal and you have previously talked about you can’t win Awards without clients.  The Lego client seemed chuffed, what was her initial reaction of winning the big one?

Pure elation. Work like this doesn’t happen in isolation, to make it happen you need clients and partners as invested as we are and therefore when you do get recognised it means as much to them as it does us. That’s why we invite them along to the show, bring them on stage and celebrate together as it’s not Initiative’s success it’s all ours.

4) What does bravery in media really look like? 

Taking Initiative and making the impossible, possible. That can be convincing a kids toy brand to partner with an extreme stunt tour, working with NRMA Insurance to commit three per cent of their investment to first nations media or even not taking 30,000 no’s as the answer and eventually turning cricket covers into a new media channel. Bravery is part confidence, part ambition but a bucketload of resilience to make good shit happen as if it were easy there’d be no point to awards because everyone would be doing it all the time.

5) Your MFA Award wins across NRMA, Lotterywest, Amazon Prime Video, NGEN & of course Lego shows great depth of work, how is that achieved day to day? 

This is something I’m particularly proud of. There’s plenty of cases where an agency creates a ‘once in a career’ campaign and flogs that as sole evidence of their promise. To have the breadth and depth of work we deliver at Initiative is really special. We have award-worthy work across every market, category and budget size and importantly not pigeonholed into one area of media we’re good at. From exceptionally creative use of media to incredibly intelligent use of data and analytics, we have a bench of work the industry would be envious of.

It comes down to a powerful purpose, genuinely brilliant strategic product, and a high-performance culture where we all are committed to ‘taking Initiative’ and going beyond standard in every aspect of our jobs.

It also comes down to investing in the right people, and we saw that come to light with our brilliant nGen superstars – who probably got the biggest reaction of the night (and we’re proudly a loud bunch) – because we’re all so proud of the young talent we foster at Initiative. There’s a relentless focus on training, SLT mentorship and even frequent internal competitions all designed to not just develop our talent but rapidly accelerate that development. To not just go back-to-back, but get 4of6 shortlists last year and 5of6 this year (alongside winning back-to-back Cannes Young Lions, 30under30, Young Spikes Asia and more) is testament to the commitment we put into the careers of our youngstars (note: deliberate typo.)

6) We noticed that your team accepted the majority of the awards, was that your strategic decision? 

Of course. Everyone deserves to feel what its like to have the industry recognise and applause you for the hard work and commitment we all bring everyday. We even invited some people who may not have worked on that specific campaign but helped out in brainstorms, helped manage work overflows etc as that equally makes it all possible.

7) On reflection did you forget to thank anyone? Now’s your chance? 

I don’t think I forget anyone – but will take this opportunity to once again thank our amazing clients, people and media publisher partners for making it all possible. It’s not just an acceptance speech – it’s the personalised thank you’d the day after (Friday was a busy day-ha)!

8) Does award success help new business acquisition? 

Will an award win you a pitch? No. Will it punctuate your promise with evidence you’ve not only delivered it, but to a standard above all your competitors, absolutely. Awards are only the outcome of amazing people and product and are meaningless to clients if they can’t see how that thinking/program/policy you’ve got shiny metal for will benefit their business.

9) What about talent retention or attracting new talent to the agency? 

It’s vital in our eyes. Our employee value proposition is that Initiative is the place you come to rapidly accelerate your growth and deliver the best work of your careers and awards are a genuine marker of that. They are vital for CVs, they foster a spirit of healthy competition between teams which is vital for a high-performance culture like ours and overall they provide continuous reasons to come together and celebrate throughout the year. We work exceptionally hard in media and we deserve to take stop and celebrate that from time to time.

10) Lastly where do you keep all your award trophie and do you need a bigger cabinet? 

You know what, we actually do! Ours are currently on our front desk and random flat surfaces around the office, and we’re not the type of agency to forget our past successes by storing older trophies in a backroom somewhere. Every acknowledgement is part of the Initiative legacy and deserves to be visibly immortalised in our offices.

Check out the other instalments in the Fast 10 series here:



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