With less than 1% female agency owners, Creative Director and Make Mate founder Amelia Micallef is rare among the ranks. Her stellar career kicked off when she won the RMIT Art Director prize, which landed her with CHE Proximity. After cutting her teeth on Mazda and a number of retail clients, she moved to TBWA where she earned international stripes in LA and Singapore. From there, she made her mark at Big Red as Creative Group Head on the Coles and Optus accounts.
Amelia now works directly with clients to improve their strategy, branding and advertising. She’s also an Auntie with The Aunties, a Victorian mentoring program for women in the creative industries. Mavens corresponded with Amelia to learn more.
Make Mate has a steady raft of clients including The Australian Government, Lifeline and Curtin University as well as a number of small businesses. How do you choose who you work with?
I try to seek clients that have a level of meaningfulness to what they do. This can range from organisations who exist to help people or even save lives, or businesses who are creating something bespoke or beautiful that breaks the mould for good. I am really interested in work that shifts perceptions and changes behaviour.
How has being a mum impacted your career? What can the industry be doing to attract and retain more talented mums?
Initially, it was impacted negatively. I experienced what is an unfortunate familiar route for a lot of talented mothers, a redundancy followed by a year of freelancing and tedious job interviews. A study done in the US showed that women with children are 79% less likely to be hired than women without children, and when they do they often get offered less, which also happened to me.
It was in 2019, and the idea of working part time or partially remotely in a creative role was literally laughed at and I wasn't ready for full time advertising work. The knockbacks were exhausting and I could have easily left the industry entirely, so can see how so many mothers do.
Change has to come from the top. The industry needs to realise that, without doubt, having mothers work on ads that are targeted at mothers would make the ads better. The ads would become more insightful, relatable and memorable.
A global study from various industries and sectors showed that having at least 30% of women in leadership positions adds 6% to net profit margin. So by the industry not shifting they are actually the ones missing out. As I like to say, evolve or evaporate.
Your Valentine’s Day campaign for DonateLife featured some great strategy and copywriting. Can you tell us more about the project?
Eight years ago my dad became very unwell, he needed a liver transplant and was given a few months to live. I threw myself into understanding everything I could about organ donation. I realised that the fact he may not get a liver wasn’t entirely a medical problem, but a communication one. Australia has an opt-in system, and the more people who are registered to be organ donors, the more people's lives are saved. Really the difference between life and death could be convincing someone to fill out a one-minute online form - and only 36% of the Australian population are registered.
Fortunately, he was able to receive a liver in time and he is still alive today. This experience led me to become very passionate about organ and tissue donation and helping DonateLife with their communications, with the hope of improving the registration rates.
It started with me pitching an idea in 2020 to advertise on Tinder in the lead up to Valentine's Day as one of their lowest registration demographics are young men. The idea really was about putting ads where their eyeballs were, and tapping into the mind of a young male. This was very bold for a government-owned organisation, but it worked and did exceptionally well, we even re-ran it this year.
I was then asked to be the Creative Director for their annual donation week campaign, a national campaign running through all mediums, including TV. We launched The Great Registration Race, and it has been their most successful campaign to date. Last year we set a record in 2021 for the number of new registrations on the Australian Organ Donor Register and we plan to beat that number this year. This flows through to more lives being saved which is amazing.
What challenges do women face in advertising today, and what advice would you impart to them?
Unfortunately, there is a lot and it is all pretty complex, hard-wired and difficult to change. But we should also be trying.
I feel a way we can help ourselves by improving our confidence. Studies have shown that men’s confidence naturally sits higher than women.
Half of our confidence comes from our genes and the half is formed from life experience, so it's something you can change – many people don't know this.
You can actually train yourself to be more confident than someone born more naturally confident than you, when I discovered that fact it was eye opening.
If we can improve our confidence we can feel like we can ask to be paid equally. We can sell ideas harder. We can stand up for ourselves. We can encourage each other more. We can feel like we can apply for that job we might not have all the qualifications for. We can’t always change the challenges, but I feel with more confidence we can push back with a bigger force.
Mentorships have helped me with confidence in the past, which is why I am so happy to be part of The Aunties. I also recommend improv lessons and any presentation classes you come across.
What’s your professional motto?
The best way to predict your future is to create it.
Amelia is the Founder and Creative Director of Make Mate (Instagram: @makemate.com.au).
Register to be an organ and tissue donor here, it takes one minute and all you need is your Medicare card.
☎️ A proud Auntie: To inspire, protect and champion women and marginalised genders in creative industries.