18 October 2016

Creative Talk with Lezlie Mearns



This month we talk with Lezlie Mearns, who has worked within the brand and design industry for several decades.  Yes, that’s right – decades.  We talk to Lezlie to find out about her journey, the ups and downs and yes – the future.  Let’s talk.


Lezlie you have an extensive career behind you, and a passion for brand beyond belief – how did you become involved in the industry?


You’re right it’s been a lot of years. My background was marketing. I did a variety of jobs in this field while I juggled moving up the country to follow career opportunities for Warren and of course being a Mum to three kids. Then I did my corporate experience with a brilliant global company based in Germany, followed by an 18 month contracting role while I was doing some post grad studies. Then I felt it was time to do my own thing and started my own business with the objective of marrying the disciplines of marketing and design to deliver a more strategically based branding offer for the market.


Your family have been a major part in who you are, in life and business - how did this transpire?


Warren joined me as a writer and strategist about 20 years ago. He’d worked in a completely different field for the first twenty years of his career but had always wanted to stretch his creative and strategic muscles. So after he completed an MBA and spent a couple of years helping out behind the scenes he joined me full time.


And my wonderful kids have all played a part in the business even during their early years working part-time in various capacities as they completed their studies. Today they all (including my daughters-in-law) work in and around the creative industry. Family get togethers are always interesting events as we share similar professional interests, experiences and a passion for the industry. We’re a pretty lucky bunch.


It’s not been a smooth journey all the way has it?


Yes, you’re right, but do you know anyone who has ever had a completely smooth career journey? If I look at the sum of the whole, I would have to say I’ve had a wonderful career, with so many brilliant experiences and successes. And it’s not over yet. In retrospect there are some things I would certainly have done differently, but when I weigh things up the positives certainly out weight the negatives. I built a successful larger branding agency with a wonderful partner and Warren, and together we worked on some fabulous brands with some outstanding people. Then we ran into some challenges – a major bad debt, a big investment in a new product that launched just as the GFC struck and a relationship breakdown. But the challenging stuff is never forever, so you pick yourself up and just forge on and welcome the next challenge. Even today, I am no less enthusiastic about what I do, the new challenges I face and the difference I can make for people, businesses and of course brands.


You are coming to the age, where most of us would like to think we would be retiring – feet up with a nice cup of tea – but this isn’t you is it?


You’re right, that’s not for me. Why? Well first of all, I’m not old enough to retire, but the main reason is I’m still totally engaged, I love learning and mastering new stuff, adding to my experience and working with our young team and clients. For instance, could I have imagined myself managing the design and build of a banking platform two years ago? Not really. But that’s because no one had really heard of peer to peer lending in New Zealand. But I did it and LendMe is now going from strength to strength.


Coming to work every day and doing what I do well to help people achieve their goals energises me as much today as it ever did. And to be frank, the thought of retiring horrifies me. It’s hard for me to contemplate not working and losing touch. Work is my passion. The field I work in is constantly changing, which syncs well with my personality and inclination. I like pushing boundaries and I know from experience when I push and challenge I achieve outstanding results.


In an industry that is renowned for youth and the ever changing digital landscape – do you think age holds you back?


In some cases, yes, if I’m honest. But only ever initially, which gives me a lot of confidence. I have a healthy ego and it can be quite satisfying in some situations to see an initial reaction change when people engage with me and it dawns on them that this woman knows her stuff. Age is never the best determinant of capability, rather it’s about being curious, open, interested in learning and staying informed.


A former business colleague of mine (John McRae) got in touch earlier in the year. What did I know about eSports he asked? Fast forward two months and we’ve built the brand and website for New Zealand’s first professional eSports brand – Let’s Play Live.


The bonus age brings is everything you learn just adds to a heap of experience, which means you just keep getting better.


How would you challenge the industry to respond to ageism?


Like any type of prejudice, understand that ageism is just ignorance. Treat people as people and assess their value on the basis of their attitude, knowledge, experience and what they can bring that creates value, not how old they are. I worked on two reasonably substantial brands recently where the principals were 72 and 82 respectively. Like many people, I approached these people with some preconceived notions, assuming that I would need to do a lot of hand holding and would struggle to get new ideas and practices across the line. But I was proven very wrong.


With a sharp brain and enviable appetite for outstanding brand and design - what type project would you love to be your swan song?


It’s probably too soon for me to be considering my swan song, but projecting ahead, I think I would like to work on another startup that has the power to completely change people’s lives for the better and change the landscape now and for a long time into the future. Ripple is an innovative New Zealand start up and while the brand we created and the site we’re building is stunning, knowing how much the product will improve people’s lives makes me feel very fortunate to work on this type of project.


I’ve been lucky to work on a number of similarly smart, innovative startups over the past couple of years and these projects really stir me and give me enormous satisfaction. But then on the other hand, I don’t think there’s ever been a project I’ve worked on that I haven’t loved and felt completely passionate about.


What would be your one piece of advice that you would give to graduates, about to forge their career in the industry?


Align, work or mentor with the very best in the industry and never think because you have finished your formal studies that you have finished learning.


Most memorable design moment?


This is almost impossible to answer. I have had so many memorable moments, big brands, innovators, brands that have stood the test of time, brands that win awards and the list goes on.


But really, every design moment is memorable, because it never happens in isolation from a bigger purpose. It’s a language to communicate ideas and tell stories. So even when there’s compromise because of a lack of understanding and foresight, there are always memorable moments.


I’ve had clients giggle uncontrollably when we nail the brief, while others have cried because they never thought it could be done. But one of the most magical experiences is seeing the look on a young designer’s face when the client falls in love with their work and when they see their work doing its job; informing, exciting, getting noticed, connecting and effecting change.