Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Vanessa Richards, Founder & Director at Calico Jagger

Vanessa Richards is the Founder & Director at Calico Jagger, a Sydney-based full service creative agency, specialising in the tourism, lifestyle and entertainment industries.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

Where do I begin! My career has spanned 16 years working across some of the biggest players in the travel, media, entertainment, music and technology industries globally as an entrepreneur, marketer, publicist, writer, commercial director, event director and creative director.

I have been very fortunate to work for Nova Entertainment, Vevo, Authentic Entertainment, Southern Cross Austereo, bellabox, Bauer Media, Excite Holidays, a new entertainment platform (non-disclosure) & launch my own companies Travel You and Calico Jagger.

I started my career in radio back in 2004, working full time while completing my University degree. I was driven, hungry and worked incredibly hard for every opportunity that presented itself.

There wasn’t much balance back then though, apart from the work hard, play hard mentality! I was on, always and still operate that way to this day. Across the years and through professional growth and promotions, market moves, company moves and competitor poaches, I worked on some pretty amazing things.

Too much to write down, although I had many pinch-yourself moments and celebrity encounters. Some of my most notable media and entertainment industry highlights included:

  • launching Digital Radio in Australia in 2009
  • Nova’s Red Room in 2012
  • launching Smooth FM, on 21 May in 2012
  • building out the Vevo Go Shows & Vevo Originals programs across Australia from 2014 onwards
  • launching the Telstra Road to Discovery Content Series
  • conceptualising and launching a new creative agency which I headed up, The ACL.
  • bringing to life 15 new radio programs and nationally syndicated shows.

Lastly, relaunching and bringing to life one of the best-known heritage music brands in Australia – the ‘Live At The Chapel’ series (live concert, event, television and radio broadcasts). I also met my gorgeous husband working in radio, so it is an industry that is very dear to my heart!

My work outside media and entertainment has also been pretty spectacular. In 2013 I joined an e-commerce beauty start up, bellabox, heading up the Australian and Asian offices as their Chief Marketing Officer.

I set the marcom and digital content agenda for APAC, worked with thousands of beauty brands internationally and scaled the business substantially, bringing in new audiences, alongside investment.

In 2016 I joined global travel wholesaler, Excite Holidays in the global executive position of Chief Marketing Officer.

It was here that I honoured my heart by working in Tourism (after working with travel brands for years in media) and for founders who like myself, encouraged change and wanted to disrupt and innovate traditional travel industry norms.

And that we did, especially with my outside the box marketing mindset, partnership alignments, content plays, events and new market launch strategies. I am very proud of my time here. In early 2018, and still while at Excite, I co-founded a new travel publication, Travel You.

Centred around the Gen Z/Millennial consumer, it combined original travel content, celebrity interviews, live streamed events with curated playlists via a Spotify API connection. Very cool, if I do say so myself.

Then 2020 came along and brought with it a whole lot of change for the travel world. So I decided to launch my own full service creative agency, Calico Jagger, where I am Founder and Director.

My team and I move fast, think quickly and creatively for our clients. A one stop shop, doing it all, from ideation through to production & deployment in house. Additionally and as of April this year, I was appointed Group Chief Marketing Officer of a new global entertainment company set to launch soon.

As much as I would love to talk about this, it is under lock and key at the moment! Currently juggling both worlds, which is something I love and am very used to. I like productivity.

My side passions over the years have included raising the much needed funds for Motor Neurone Disease via Walk to dFeet MND and Breast Cancer Awareness via the Mcgrath Foundation. Both of these charities are very close to my heart.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

A day in the life of Vanessa is never the same and never 9-5, which I love. I always opt for a morning surf, run and coffee before starting each day. I am a huge fan of drawing inspiration from the people that pass me by each morning. Consumer insight on the go!

The only change from pre-COVID to current day though, is the coffee that I kick my morning off with. Once upon a time that coffee was had in one of my favourite local haunts, either here in Sydney or across the globe on my business travels. Nowadays, (COVID life) my Nespresso and Good Vibes and Good Times Spotify playlist are the things that give me life each morning.

My world is currently split between being the Founder and Director of Calico Jagger, my Creative Agency; and contracting as the Group Chief Marketing Officer of a new Entertainment Company (non-disclosure).

The COVID edition of my grind involves: a mixture of client and staff meetings, strategic planning, creative output and budgeting.

Across the last three days for instance, I spent my time in app development meetings, reviewed wireframes, designed a website, spoke to several celebrities, their managers and associated record labels, built a storyboard for a client’s video series, read and responded to emails, wrote-designed-and-sent client proposals, shot a photo series for a new hotel launch, wrote-and-sent press, fleshed out a go to market plan, and started giving one of my clients business a complete brand overhaul – name, visual identity and purpose!

Regardless of how busy I am though, I will always make time for lunch, a bit of a boogie (always dancing), an online Pilates class and an afternoon family walk with my husband and our Golden Retriever, Archie.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

With COVID, the entire world is learning how to operate remotely. However, it is something that I am very used to and have done for many years. My current business and previous roles in the tourism and entertainment industries, saw me travel for work often.

I would travel into several different countries every year. Sometimes multiple countries a month. I was very rarely in Australia. I also manage multiple teams in multiple markets which means navigating various time zones and video conferencing.

We are more equipped to do business remotely than we have ever been before. The world is seemingly more connected and moving at the same speed. If anything, COVID has shown us that business can operate just fine “out of office”.

It’s a technological world and the digital nomad is on the rise. I think what this situation is doing is showing some of the more traditional operators a new way of working and shedding light on that thing we call balance.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I think work-life balance is different for everyone. It’s actually a very personal thing, because we are all wired differently and at various stages in our lives.

What we require is ultimately dependent upon our needs in our particular life stages. What I like to call it is work life integration. Which means, creating workplaces and a way of living and working, that acknowledges our humanity.

For me, right now, work life integration means the ability to have flexibility in my day. To start when I need to start and finish when I need to finish.

As a both a business owner and executive within another organisation, my natural prerogative is to never stop working because I love what I do and it seemingly integrates into my life, however I know that I need to be mindful of making time for my husband and friends.

As my life evolves through, my goals will change, which is why I have an open mind to flexible hours and working arrangements with my staff. I am a huge empowerer of people being able to do it all. The husband/wife, the house, the dream job, the fitness, the travel, the baby, the owning of who you are.

Life is there for the taking and you should be able to have it all, if you very so want it. I always want to encourage balance for my team, giving them the ability to find what works best for their lifestyle. I find it generates more productivity and creates a great culture. Ultimately it comes down to having a strong foundation of trust. So very important.

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5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

The biggest change for me has been my inability to travel due to COVID.

“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, dimmed by familiarity, and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end” – My thoughts, perfectly penned by Pico Iyer.

This is the longest I have ever gone without being in another country. Not only has it impacted my business which relies heavily upon travel, however personally. It is a huge adjustment for an adventure and experience seeking Sagittarian to just not roam.

To be in the one place, without having somewhere or something to go to for a prolonged period of time, is unusual and very out of routine for me. It just isn’t within me to be grounded for long periods of time. I carry an air of freedom with me wherever I go and this certainly has impacted my flow.

For through my travels and my work in travel I am filled with so much inspiration, hope, awareness, gratitude and satisfaction. And alike those great love affairs, I am always left wanting more. Huge life changer.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I am all about a good book. Losing yourself in a great novel is one of life’s most enduring and dependable joys. I could recommend an entire bookstore, however these are some of my top picks right now (some new, some old):

  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Thrive by Arianna Huffington
  • Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Podcasts. As a sports nut, I love the Bill Simmons Podcast.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

  • My iPhone. Just ask my husband.
  • My camera – it comes with me everywhere.
  • The Pilates Class by Jacqui Kingswell. I grew up dancing and am all about core work and strength. This is one of the best online classes I have tried and you can do it anywhere! Easy to follow with regular updates!
  • Spotify. I can not live without music. It defines who I am as a person and has shaped my life. Not many things in life can truly take us out of a moment and into another. Music has the ability to do that. It is perfect for times like these.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Arianna Huffington.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Work hard, smile always, be nice to people, find your balance and remember to have fun! Every successful person has worked incredibly hard to get to where they are. After all the hardest thing to do is to make something look easy, while balancing that thing we call life!

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.