In times of change, the works of communicators, strategists, thinkers, writers, and makers will be in high demand, according to Houston Group’s Cara Meade. Here’s why.
The Women in Media Awards, presented by Are Media, are just days away, with the best of Australian media set to be recognised and celebrated for their courage, innovation, and leadership.
During an interview with Cara Meade, Houston Group’s strategy director and a WIM nominee, she asked: When has playing it safe ever moved humanity through monumental periods of change?
It’s an important question amid the shake-up of the century. And as the world shifts, Meade believes creatives, whether they be communicators, writers or makers, will be in high demand.
As she explains, “We can find clarity when there is chaos, inspire action where there is lethargy”.
Cara, congratulations on making the WIM shortlist. For what are you being recognised?
I have been nominated for my work in strategy. I’m the strategy director at Houston Group in Melbourne and work across all facets of brand strategy—from defining and articulating a brand’s position and direction to naming new businesses, complex brand portfolio management, communications strategies, to experience and service design.
I’m currently working with 17 markets in Asia Pacific for Toyota, after three years working with Toyota Australia on their national brand transformation.
Is being recognised as a professional working in advertising, marketing, or the media important?
Recognition for me is more about reflection. Our industry is fast and furious, and we have little time to contemplate. So, while the recognition itself isn’t so important to me, the reflection part is. And if six months of lockdown has taught me anything, it’s the power of reflection.
I’ll take this with me into next year, and leave my sad, deflated sourdough starter behind.
How will you leverage your recognition as a Women in Media finalist as a force for good?
The reflection process paves the way for action. What’s next is just as important as what has been. And with a lot of time for stillness this year, I’ve been able to do some thinking about what’s next.
I’ve just started studying the Master of Design Futures program at RMIT so I can be better equipped to unpack the complexity of the world we’re living in. And with that, be part of shaping a better future. I’m hopeful for what comes next.
Do you work for a living, or work because you love what you do?
Of course, there’s days when the grind feels real! But on days like that, I come back to why I do what I do. And that’s working with good people, doing good things. My role offers me the chance to understand and unpack the systems people exist in and play a hand in reshaping them—clarifying the complex and telling stories with substance.
I moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 2018 to open Houston’s first satellite office, and after a very long lockdown, I can’t wait to get back into the city I love, doing work I love!
What aspect of your industry, or your role, would you change for the better?
In the early parts of my career, I really struggled with finding meaning. The work felt like one of those flimsy, no frills Band-Aids that never quite sticks. It wasn’t solving the problem. It had no real purpose. So, I went looking for something more.
That led me to strategy— and to Houston—where I work on long-term, large-scale projects that do away with the Band-Aids, and work meaningfully to create positive change.
If I could change one thing, it would be to do away with the flimsy stuff and put the great minds in this industry on to the things that mean a little more. Surface level thinking won’t stand up to the real challenges we’re facing.
If that wasn’t obvious before, a global pandemic seems to have revealed the fault lines pretty well! Brands must do before they say—meaningful change comes from the inside, out. I’m working hard on leveraging my skills and reshaping them to do even more meaningful work, in and outside of my job.
Do we have a right, as media professionals, to advocate, to influence, and to change people’s behaviour?
Thinking of it as a ‘right’, funnily enough, doesn’t feel right to me. ‘Advocating’ and ‘influencing’ feels a little too hierarchal, too. There are fragile power dynamics at play when you seek to change behaviour. It’s a great responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Everything has an impact, so it’s important to examine what the impact could be.
Is it positive or negative? Is it good for people? If not, why not? Is this work the best use of my skills? Self-reflexive questions like this help me examine what I do, and how I can continue to do better.
In shaky and uncertain times of change, will playing it safe, and falling back on tropes, get businesses through?
When has playing it safe ever moved humanity through monumental periods of change? In times of conflict, we rise. In times of change, we adapt. In times of destruction, we recreate. Our work as communicators, strategists, thinkers, writers, and makers is important. We can find clarity when there is chaos, inspire action where there is lethargy—they’re needed skills today.
It takes courage, but now is the time to call out what doesn’t feel right, ask the hard questions, think before we act. It is a daily practice to push past safety, and it’s one I am hard at work practicing every day.
Where is your industry’s biggest opportunity? And where is your industry’s biggest danger?
When we think about brands, businesses, or governments, we often think of faceless entities, operating without heart. Yet organisations are simply a collection of people, and it’s these people that make decisions that will either change structures for good or sustain biased and unjust systems.
So, to me, our industry’s biggest opportunity is a deceivingly simple one. Put people back at the centre of all we do. It sounds relatively easy, but it’s hard to do when you’re working within structures that are built to do just the opposite.
I believe that business and brands have a fundamental role to play in this. Will they challenge the way things have been done before? Or will they choose to sustain dangerous practices that negatively impact peoples’ lives? I believe that our work in this industry is to support, empower and guide—and to use creativity to shake the seemingly unshakable.
The Women in Media Awards will be held virtually on Wednesday 28 October 2020.
If you’d like more information about the event, head to this website.
You can also check out who made this year’s shortlist, here.
Thank you to all of our incredible sponsors for making the event possible!