‘Launching an airline from scratch was the most fun I’ve ever had’ – Melissa Madden career profile
From orange aeroplanes to blue police call boxes, Melissa Madden ditched the legal career for the high-flying world of airline brands and broadcasters, now heading up regional marketing for BBC Worldwide where she oversees brands like Doctor Who and Top Gear.
Melissa Madden is the reason the Jetstar logo is orange (curiously, it’s the same orange as the noodle shop logo that was next door to her office at the time…) and is now responsible for what she refers to as an ‘undercooked’ brand as the director of brands and marketing in Australasia for BBC Worldwide.
She was going to be a lawyer, but opted for a career in the marketing game instead, a move that led her to hold top marketing positions across some of the biggest companies in the country. Starting off in airlines (she worked for Qantas for over a decade) before moving into broadcasting, she is now responsible for the Australia and New Zealand arm of the largest global broadcaster.
Marketing: What’s a typical day for the director of brands and marketing at BBC Worldwide Australia/New Zealand?
Melissa Madden: I guess it’s divided into a few different areas. We [BBC Worldwide Australasia] are responsible for the channel portfolio for Australia and New Zealand, our pay TV channel, so the marketing of those channels as well as the on-air creative and communication strategy for that channel.
There is also what we call global brands at the BBC, which we have a set of key brands: one of those is Doctor Who, for example, one is Top Gear, and we’re responsible for the strategy and business plans for those brands, growing those brands and protecting those brands in the market.
What’s the role of BBC Worldwide in the Australian market?
That’s a really interesting question. BBC Worldwide is the international and commercial arm of the BBC, the [UK] public broadcaster and is very much like the ABC in Australia. They’ve got a charter and a purpose for what they have to deliver to the community in the UK [but there is also] a commercial arm, which is the international arm, basically, of the BBC, which is responsible for selling BBC content and growing the BBC brand around the world.
What’s your educational background? Did you study marketing straight up or did you come into the industry another way?
No, I went to one of those schools that point you in one of two directions, either to be a lawyer or a doctor. I decided that I was going to be an excellent lawyer and went to do law, but I didn’t finish it. I was there for about a year and a half before I realised I was not cut out to be a lawyer and I had absolutely no interest in it whatsoever, so I left and went and worked at a very small advertising agency.
From there, I pretty much decided that I wanted to be in advertising and I was going to make my way from the ground up, so I got a job as a receptionist in a really small agency. I was there probably for about four years and it was the most incredibly fertile ground for putting your hand up to do anything. From there, I ended up working in the studio – this is before computers, how embarrassing – making ads.
I was there for a few years and then I decided that I really wanted to be client side because I was a bit of a control freak. I really wanted to be the one that was more on the side of making the decisions, rather than the one that was guiding or helping somebody make the decisions – that’s probably a nicer way of putting it.
How did your first marketing role at Qantas come about?
Qantas was actually a brand that I was quite passionate about; it was a brand that was obviously growing up overseas. It was front and foremost in my mind, and I saw a position advertised in the advertising department at Qantas, and went and applied, and got the job.
You were at Qantas for more than 10 years, at Channel Seven for eight years, but only at Jetstar for eight months – what’s the reason behind your decision to stay with some organisations for considerably longer?
Yeah, there’s a bit of a story. I had decided to leave Qantas, I had been with the company on and off for 15 years. I was looking for something new, I had discussions at Qantas about what I could do, what I was interested in, and I really decided I was a marketing person, not an airline person. All of the options were taking me away from what I loved, which was marketing. I decided to leave and had been out of there for a month when [then Qantas CEO] Geoff Dixon contacted me and asked me to come back to work on launching Jetstar.
It was literally a case of, ‘I’ve got an idea to launch an airline.’ And he put a team together and we made it happen.
Launching an airline from scratch is not something a lot of people have had the opportunity to do. What was that like?
It was the most fun I’ve ever had. Literally, we launched an airline from an idea to flying in the sky, in something like eight or 10 months.
It was the ideal marketing scenario for anybody. It was a special group of people. You had to make quick decisions, there was no bureaucracy and it was a really tight team of people that were on a mission, basically. We had a really clear brand in our heads and, yeah, we had to make decisions fast and make it happen and we did. It was fantastic.
I worked with an incredible group of people to make it happen, it really was phenomenal, and we had to put the paper together for the pitch to the Qantas board. I kind of designed the uniforms, met a manufacturer down in Melbourne one afternoon. We had to come up with colour palettes for the livery and I really love orange, and we were looking at all different oranges…
So you’re responsible for making Jetstar orange?
Yes, I am. It was the colour of the noodle box from the takeaway shop next door to the office in North Sydney.
We were trying to find the right orange, and when I saw it I went running in and said, ‘Here it is, this is the perfect orange!’ It was just brilliant. It’s like one of those stories from the US, like a digital start-up or something. It was just a clever group of people. It was brilliant.
How did you go about making the move over to television after spending all that time with airlines?
I spent quite a bit of time in between deciding to leave Qantas and starting at Seven, and trying to work out where I wanted to go next.
I think for me there was a similarity in a way, in terms of them [Seven and Qantas] both being very consumer and customer focused organisations, but the thing that excited me the most about going to Seven and working in broadcasting was that I really enjoy the creative side of the business and being able to actually go and work somewhere that creates content – with writers, producers and people like that – was really exciting.
And so, even more so now with my current role, the BBC has taken that to a whole different level again.
What would you say are the main differences between working for the Seven Network, which is an Australian company geared towards the Australian market, and a global broadcasting company like the BBC?
The most obvious point would be the amount of time I spend on the phone at night! But seriously, I think the main difference is that Seven is a local company, it’s very much an Australian brand, and it’s very much a brand that is targeting Australians. It creates content for Australians, everything has an Australian filter to it. And, of course, what comes of that is, everything that you do is within this market. Working for the BBC, it is global, it is the world’s largest broadcasting organisation and it is literally in every single country around the world. But everything that we work on, and there is a lot of work going on at the moment, on the brand and on developing new brands, everything has to be done with, ‘is it going to work in Australia?’
Do you find that more satisfying?
Yeah. I’m not going to pretend. Do you know what’s great for me? What I’m absolutely loving at the moment is there is a lot happening at the BBC. It’s going through a huge period of strategic change, and we’ve really embraced that in Australia and we’re leading the rest of the world in terms of what we’re doing.
We’ve just had our CEO here last week and he’s saying, ‘Well, Australia has become the test market for the BBC’s global strategy.’
We’re just all enjoying that… we’re constantly proving how forward-thinking we are.
Have you had any mentors or any big influences in your career so far, or do you mentor anyone?
I think I’ve been lucky enough to work with really good people at every stage of my career, so there is a handful of people that I could say have mentored me. Probably the most significant person who has had the most impact on me would be Geoff Dixon when I was at Qantas.
He was an amazing person to work for; he could be very tough but was incredibly supportive, and still is, actually, to me. He’s a bit of a legend.
Have you made any big mistakes throughout your career?
I can’t really think of a specific example of something that’s gone wrong. I think that there are things that happen along the way that I’ve learned lessons from. I’ve always worked in very competitive businesses and I think a lot of the times that we have made mistakes have been when we’ve been too focused on what our competition is doing and because of that we’ve become more tactical and less strategic.
I think that you need to be nimble and you need to be responsive, but I think you need to try to be careful and not do that without proper consideration.
What advice would you give to marketers who may be just starting out in their careers? And what kinds of qualities do you look for in people that you are considering hiring as part of your team?
My advice – and this also goes to people that I look for, particularly if you’re starting out – is to get your hands dirty and get involved in whatever you can.
I really look for people when I’m hiring that are ambitious, but at the same time realise that they’ve got to work hard and are willing to dive in at the deep end and try things and be involved rather than expect to walk in and being nurtured through a career path.
As far as your own career aspirations, where to from here?
People often say to me, ‘Surely your next step is to be CEO’, and all that sort of stuff, but, honestly, I just really like marketing. I am so excited with everything we are working on here at the moment. I’m not really sure what’s next, there is just way too much to do here at the moment for me to even think about it!