Work therapy: can a branding agency

Work therapy: can a branding agency

Pity the poor, unappreciated artist, who has long known the challenges of the ‘slashie’ work style, since they’re usually reliant on multiple revenue streams to survive.

Actually, increasing numbers of people across all disciplines are diversifying for a living. That might be either out of necessity, since the pandemic messed with regular incomes, or out of choice. That Emma Gannon’s book The Multi-Hyphen Method has made bestseller lists speaks to the number of people actively choosing portfolio careers. This week, our case study’s multiple roles are by design, and they fall under the umbrella of social change – but that’s where the easy part ends.

The case: Alex Kelly is a documentary film-maker, an impact producer hired by film directors, a campaigner who lobbies against fossil-fuel sponsorship of the arts, a ‘creative futurist’ – and she strategises anti-fracking campaigns.

“Being someone who works across disciplines, topics and audiences means that I have no idea what my profile is or how to build it!” she says.

The expert: Lindsay Rogers is the managing director of Sydney-based branding agency Chello, which in 2021 scooped four Gold design awards for Branding Design of the Year.

Ordinarily, an agency like Chello builds strategies for organisations, analysing their rhythms, budgets, barriers and potential bureaucracy. Working with an individual about their personal brand is a much more emotional conversation. “It’s intrinsically linked to the person’s cause, history and vision,” says Lindsay.

The projects Alex is hired to work on centre the lived experience of others, which makes using her social media pages complicated. How much of herself should she include? As an impact producer, she supported the star of Maya Newell’s documentary In My Blood It Runs, Dujuan Hoosan, when he presented at the UN, speaking out against the incarceration of young Indigenous people; for Newell’s doco about a transgender actor, The Dreamlife of Georgie Stone, she’s helped design a campaign to amplify the voices of young trans people.

“It’s a bit of a dance, seeking opportunities without falling into the traps of marketing hoo-ha, ‘expert’ frames, or over-simplification of complex ideas,” Alex says.

Lindsay agrees. “The goal isn’t to highlight the grandeur of you as a person,” she says, but to give voice to others. “The persona of a political speechwriter resonates strongly.”

Effective storytelling leans more heavily on “show” than “tell”, and Lindsay thinks that short video clips could be the perfect way for Alex to present herself online.

“The work you share doesn’t have to be work you have produced,” she says. “It could be work that resonates or that you have an opinion on.”

Using the example of Dreamlife, Lindsay says, “it would be great to have some teasers of the film, a write-up from your perspective on why this story was important … and some commentary on the Olympics trans conversation”.

Lindsay suggests that Alex use searchable terms such as “inequity, “filmmaking”, “social-impact films”, and “lived experiences” to improve her internet presence.

Then, to start planning her social media approach, it’s vital that Alex identifies her audience. “It’s likely you may have a primary and secondary audience, and that’s fine,” Lindsay says. “But who would be your desired audience, so you can talk to them in the most relevant way? Is it those whose voices need to be heard? Is it large organisations getting it wrong who need your support? Is it progressive organisations? Is it government? From here you can create your positioning using the right language.”

Alex is based in Victoria’s goldfields and suspects she gets overlooked as a commentator on political projects because of her location – and also because she doesn’t work for an institution.

“I would see it as a huge advantage that you’re grassroots and on the ground,” Lindsay says. “You can use what you do as a creative expression to gain attention, but also as a cut-through, above and beyond a white paper or seminar. You’re unbound by opinion, organisational agendas or being at risk of looking down from an ivory tower.”

Using film, art and opinion to respond to issues gives Alex a stealthy approach that she likens to a Trojan horse. As an independent player in all her collaborations, Alex also says she can be more nimble than an organisation.

Lindsay says Alex can use this to her advantage. “Working in the marketing space, we’re always thinking about, ‘Where’s the biggest impact? How can we get the most views/clicks/awareness/donations to help?’”

Perhaps Alex could be more visible on social media on occasions when she is addressing the shortfalls of policy and of NGOs?

“I would love to see helpful articles, thoughts and ideas on how companies can be better,” Lindsay says. “You’re the person to call if they want to chat further. You’re challenging the norms through the arts with a much bigger impact. How have you done that effectively? What drives you forward?”

“Lindsay got the work and recognised the tensions I’m facing,” says Alex. In fact, some of Lindsay’s suggestions are already in Alex’s playbook, such as sharing posts from social movements – her role as an impact producer on Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything left her well connected on that front.

Alex found Lindsay’s ideas for opinion posts on social media spot-on.“I am planning to write up a piece on trans inclusion in sport through the lens of my fabulous and inclusive footy club, the Mount Alexander Falcons,” she says. “I really want to nail the op-ed form in the next 12 months, so this is great advice.”

Using social media hashtags and SEO terms are a reluctant must-do, too. “I have generally shied away from sharpening my digital toolkit, so this is good advice. It might be the inner DIY person in me that baulks at trying to win over the algorithms.”

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