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Why Collaboration Isn’t Just about Working ‘On the Same Page’ with R/GA’s Melissa Jackson Parsey
Advertising Agency
New York, USA
VP, managing director, brand design and consultancy practice on thinking intentionally about design systems and the need for sharp, strategic brand foundations

Melissa is the VP managing director of our brand design and consulting group at R/GA having worked at the forefront of brand, innovation and experience design for the past 15 years. Her focus is growing purposeful, connected brands that add value to people’s lives and our planet, and building purpose-driven, collaborative teams that operate at the intersection of culture and technology.

She joins R/GA from award-winning, creative network B-Reel where she served as global chief strategy officer. Prior to this, she was head of strategy at transformation consultancy, Co:Collective, where she built an interdisciplinary strategy group and offering - working directly with C-suite and business leaders to define their purpose and how they live this from the inside out. Melissa also spent nearly a decade with WPP in multi-disciplinary roles across agencies, following-on from their prestigious Fellowship program.

Career highlights include enlisting a new generation of climate activists alongside VP Al Gore and the UN; defining the future of work with Microsoft; staking-out Chrome’s evolution; Under Armour’s next big play, and forging the first tourism brand for the USA, credited with $8.9BN incremental economic activity. Melissa’s work has been recognised at every major creative and effectiveness competition and published in the Journal of Brand Strategy.

Melissa is also a qualified teacher, having started her working-life at an inner-city school in North London. Today, you can find her leading workshops on brand and innovation with groups from Harvard Business School, Wharton, and Columbia.

Q> Tell us a little bit about yourself… What is your professional background and what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Melissa> I started my professional career as a teacher in North London and made the leap into this industry after applying for a job 'seeking ambidextrous brains'. 15+ years later I’ve been lucky to work at the forefront of brand, innovation and experience design in EMEA, China, and the US. I’m also mum to two little people, which keeps me quite busy.

Q> You’ve joined R/GA in 2021 in a completely new role for the company. What are the pros and cons of shaping a position from scratch?

Melissa> While the role was new, I’ve been able to build on R/GA’s rich legacy of innovative strategic design with a group of talented, ambitious individuals I.e., it’s been less about shaping something from scratch, and more about building forwards and upwards, together.

Q> What do you think is the role of brand design within a brand’s strategy?

Melissa> A brand is not a logo, an ad, or an app - it’s the sum of all of these, and more. As such, you need to think intentionally about the - visual, verbal, behavioural - design system that you’re building and how it can shape people’s experience of a brand across each and every interaction.

Q> At Cannes Lions this year, R/GA spoke about building brand as operating system and how it allows brands to build applications using design and tech stakes as foundational elements. Why is this model the quintessential approach for brands wanting to evolve their design thinking for the digital age? 

Melissa> Most brand interactions today are digitised, yet traditional brand models were not built with this reality in mind. If you’re building a brand today, you’re doing so with multiple partners, collaborators, and types of designers. You also need to solve for lots of different environments and requirements. We needed a model that was able to guide collaborative action across different disciplines and mediums, and that could iterate and grow based on people’s applications of it. We believe approaching brands as an operating system is a better model for brand building in a digital-first world.

Q> The BDC team is made up of strategists, designers, technologists - what do you look for when bringing on new talent and to continue to foster a collaborative team structure?

Melissa> Individuals who love sitting across the table/ screen from people with different perspectives and skills to them. Collaboration isn’t just about working 'on the same page' it’s about trusting in other’s abilities to enrich your own.

Q> What are the key pillars for brand design when considering brands as multi-platforms entities?

Melissa> You need a sharp, strategic brand foundation. Plus tools, not rules, to help teams adapt, build and grow the brand true to your purpose, principles and potential. 

Q> What are the main challenges for brands today from a design point of view?

Melissa> Your brand will continue to be delivered by many, across a growing web of interactions, and new technologies. A new model is required to set your brand, teams, and partners up for success.

Q> At what stage do you think global brands are regarding accessible design?

Melissa> Every brand would say accessibility is important, but there’s still work to be done to push our practice and processes at an industry-level to make accessibility a consideration at every stage: in how we define, design and deliver solutions for all. 

Q> One piece of R/GA work that you would like to highlight?

Melissa> Building a brand operating system for the world’s largest - and most inclusive - operating system, Android. We’ve started to seed some of the work into the world, but you should see more in the coming months. It’s a prime example of how to build a system for the world that’s coming - designed for people to create and make their own.