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Christine Isaac on Creativity, Madonna & Finding Better Ways

Christine Isaac is the kind of creative director who makes fun work and work fun. She spent the first decade of her career at Clemenger BBDO Melbourne and New York before heading up creative teams at the Campaign Palace, Noisy Beast and Big Red. She’s judged numerous award shows and won just as many, but Christine doesn’t rest on her laurels – every new idea gets scribbled on a sticky note to revisit for the right brief.

Leah Morris, copywriter and Mavens founder, chats to Christine via remote correspondence.

L: You’ve been using your creativity to help brands reach their business objectives for over 25 years. What do you perceive to be our industry’s biggest challenges in 2020?

C: 2020 is well underway and has provided the biggest challenge of our lifetime – a global pandemic. So whatever challenges our industry had – we now have an even bigger one.

The beauty of our industry is the ability to adapt quickly. We are used to pressure and being resilient in the face of change. It’s a time when bigger isn’t always going to be better.

The upheaval of the industry will lead to innovation, creativity and new ways of working. Hopefully we come out a more diverse, robust and relevant industry on the other side.

L: You’re absolutely right about new ways of working. How has the pandemic affected you and your decision to launch your new creative studio, cdco?

C: Before Covid, I would often think there’s got to be a better way. I had classic rushing women’s syndrome – rushing here, there and everywhere. Working from home with my husband Dario, I’ve had time to focus on what’s important. With our combined experience and expertise, we’d often discussed doing something together, when the time was right. As it turns out the world gave us a pretty big hint, the time is right now!

L: As the founder of an independent company, you’re making the rules now. What are some ways cdco is different to other agencies?

C: I don’t see cdco as an ad agency, it’s a business that allows fluid creativity across all industries and mediums. If you break down the name, aside from being our initials it also stands for Creative Development Co-operative. We are in the business of creating, whether it be high concept thinking or campaign execution. We offer a unique perspective and skill set. Whether we partner with agencies, clients or individuals, we’re here to make creative happen.

L: Prior to founding cdco, you were Creative Director at Big Red. What did working across Renault, BHP, News Corp, Yellow and others tell you about the changing needs of brands?

C: Working across such a diverse range of clients you get a sense of the common challenges across various industries. They are all trying to make efficiencies and maintain effectiveness. Brands are looking to reach their audience in a highly targeted way. They want partners who are flexible and can respond quickly. But most of all brands still want good ideas that resonate.

L: Big Red doesn’t enter awards, although you have won many throughout your career. What’s your opinion on the role of awards in our industry?

C: We work in an industry that has created an industry of awards. The rise of award shows has made us accolade hungry. It’s actually creatively freeing to work outside the award system and concentrate on the commercial success of clients. When awards become our main focus, we are undervaluing ourselves and what we are capable of as an industry. Yes, it’s nice to win awards but keep it in perspective. Concentrate on the business at hand not the business of making it to Cannes. But, if you do find yourself in Cannes, enjoy the moment.

L: Women are systematically undervalued and under celebrated in our industry. What are some ways we can work with our male peers to change this?

C: I do think the majority of the industry want women to succeed. I’ve never felt it should be a man vs woman thing. When we start out in creative, we’re on a pretty equal footing, you let the work speak for you, but the power does tend to shift as you rise up through the industry.

Those making the decisions need to look beyond the ‘beardy guy’ because there is a wealth of talented women out there that could also be right for the job. We need to work together, make everyone aware of the talent pool of women and elevate them to the roles they deserve.

L: As an experienced leader, you’ve mentored many young creatives. What key advice do you give your protégés?

C: Spending 10 years at Clemenger BBDO the mantra ‘The Work The Work The Work’ was drilled into us. It’s such a strong statement. No matter what is going on around you, all the talk, all the distractions, it always comes back to the work. Get the work right and it will speak for itself. My advice – keep working on the work until it works, and play nice.

L: Who are you favourite female role models?

C: I have Madonna to thank for my career in advertising. I did a parody of her ‘Sex’ book that helped me get an AFA Grad position.

I’ve also been lucky to work with some inspiring creative women, including Sarah Barclay, Sue Carey and Sarah Hatherley.

And of course, my Mum!

View Christine’s impressive body of work here.

Go here to learn more about Christine Isaac and Dario Bulfone’s new creative studio, cdco.


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