Melissa Fein reflects on Initiative crowned as Campaign’s Global Agency of the Year and the success of CultureFest

Initiative - drone show

“The fact that I had the whole company together was such a magical experience”

Initiative Australia held its first national conference since before the pandemic last week at the picturesque Glenworth Valley on the NSW Central Coast.

The event, dubbed CultureFest, saw more than 200 of the media agency’s staff from its Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth offices unite for a fun and engaging three days led by their senior leadership team and CEO, Melissa Fein.

CultureFest was a success for Initiative Australia in many ways, but the news they won gold at the Campaign Global Agency of the Year awards was the icing on the cake.

See also: Australians shine at Campaign’s Global Agency of the Year 2022 awards

Fein spoke to Mediaweek about making the conference a unique experience for their people, the importance of uniting the agency and sharing and celebrating that crowning moment with them.

Initiative - Fein with SLT team

Fein (centre) with her leadership team

Reunited in the great outdoors

Fein called the festival-inspired conference “a big moment in time” for the media agency, particularly as they had been trying to get the entire company – in particular their Perth office – together post-pandemic.

“We got there, and it was just a huge celebration of everything that culminated off the last couple of years of success that Initiative’s had.”


Reset, Reflect and Regenerate

Fein noted that there were three themes of the conference that covered the three days.

CultureFest opened with “Reset, Reflect and Regenerate” – a moment that saw the Initiative’s people focus on “connecting to self”.

Fein said: “These moments are so important in an industry like ours, and it’s critical we force ourselves to turn emails off and appreciate the work we have all done and the journey we’ve been on.”

Fein also noted that talks given by guest speakers Dr Norman Swan and Jack Riewoldt, vice-captain of Richmond Football Club, about “getting out of your comfort zone and into your growth zone” generated engaging and thought-provoking conversations for the team.

The event also featured a wellness side for attendees to take part in, such as breathwork, ice baths, morning yoga, bush walks, and the Ini-Olympics (Initiatives own mini-Olympics).

Another particular highlight Fein noted was the Indigenous fireside conversation led by Michelle Kerrin from AFL NT and Authentic Leadership Group. She shared her point of view on the referendum on The Voice to Parliament and what it means. Kerrin, also an artist, created an Indigenous piece to represent the moment for the agency.


Fein preparing to take an ice bath

Fein (centre) with her team as they support Initiative managing director Sam Geer braving an ice bath

Trivia night

Connection and culture

The second theme of CultureFest centred on connection and culture. Fein pointed out that she and the senior leadership opted to take on the challenge of hosting the conference at a unique location instead of a big luxury resort or hotel to give their people an unforgettable experience.

“At Initiative, we try to do things a bit harder, but it’s worth it. We got everyone camping under the stars. It was more of a difficult logistical piece to pull together, but effectively, our people expect us to do bigger and better things.

“We try to deliver that unique, special, and memorable life moment for them. We choose to do things because they’re hard – it’s why we win all the culture awards,” she added.

The entire Initiative team bumped into 120 glamping tents with showers and toilets.

The idea to rough it in nature for the conference was a unique opportunity for the company’s departments and different crafts to intersect and connect.

“Sometimes in agencies, planners stick together, buyers stick together, and creatives stick together. But to galvanise across all the crafts was also a pretty unique moment in time,” Fein added.

Initiative’s Famous AF party night

Galvanise craft and agency

Rounding out the third theme of the CultureFest was bringing Initiative’s new positioning – Fame and Flow – to life.

The new positioning was recently launched at the agency’s global conference in Marrakech. Fein said: “Fame and Flow acknowledges the change in market with clients becoming the ‘growth engine’ for businesses and our desire to be true partners in driving that growth and measurement of it.

“We gave our people the opportunity to break, build and mould the new product with the ambition of Australia leading its evolution.”

“The new positioning is a cross-connection that talks to everything that brands performs and everything that performs brands,” she added.

Initiative’s drone show

Sharing the big news

Fein on celebrating her team’s gold-winning moment

CultureFest was an overall success for Initiative Australia. Still, for Fein, the conference reached a crescendo on their second night when it was announced they won gold at Campaign’s Global Agency of the Year following a spectacular drone show.

Fein said it was “the absolute highlight of my career” and a “serendipitous moment”.

“At about 10 pm on Wednesday, we got told we won gold at the Campaign Global Agency of the Year awards.

Recalling the moment, she said: “It was amazing. We stopped the DJ and announced it to the whole company, and it transformed what a work memory into a life memory.”

“Usually, I would do it over a virtual town hall or send an email. But the fact that I had the whole company together was such a magical experience for myself, my leadership team, and the entire company to celebrate all being together.

“Moments like that don’t happen many times. It’s never happened to me in my career to have such a galvanising moment with the whole agency.

“It is something I am super proud of and a moment I’ll never forget,” Fein concluded.


A winning moment in Initiative’s drone show

Top image: Initiative’s drone show

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