Clare Molesworth has taken on the newly created chief customer officer role at PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival. In this exclusive Q&A with Ragtrader, she reveals why and how she was selected and what she has planned for 2024.

What was the selection process like for the newly created CCO role at Melbourne Fashion Festival (MFF)?

The process moved at pace, which I now know was indicative of all things at MFF. There was a desire on both sides to ensure a strong cultural and vibe fit, and I hit it off immediately with Ralph (CEO Caroline Ralphsmith) and Deirdre (COO Deirdre McGuane).

I remember walking out of the first interview thinking there was something wonderfully warm and collaborative about their approach, which was underpinned by fierce intelligence and ambition. It was a brilliant first impression.

It's a big role that requires a hands-on approach, so they definitely put me through my paces - testing my creative versus critical thinking and ability to switch seamlessly between strategy and execution. As part of this, Ralph gave me a sneak peek at some initial creative campaign concepts for the 2024 festival and asked for my feedback on the spot.

As someone who thinks fast on their feet, I loved being able to show my expertise in action and it gave me taste of what it would be like riffing with Ralph day-to-day. From there, it was a done deal.

What are your key focal points for the first few months in the role?

As planning for the 2024 festival is already in full swing, I’m diving straight into the detail on the marketing and customer experience strategy. Getting up close and personal with our programme and partnership ecosystem and establishing a unified brand approach across all festival touch points.

While there is an immediate need to deliver impactful activity for 2024, I also have the long-term festival strategy firmly in mind, ensuring anything we execute now, sets us up for success well into the future.

Relationship building at this point is vital. I want to ensure the MFF team feels instantly supported by having another senior set of hands and the fresh injection energy that comes along with it. This also extends to festival stakeholders, partners and community. MFF exists to elevate and support the industry, so gaining a robust and nuanced understanding of their wants and needs is a priority.

Beyond all this, in any new role there are always some simple quick wins around process optimisation that can be difficult to pinpoint once you’re fully engrained in the organisation. They’re not sexy, but they make a world of difference to day-to-day efficiency.

Do you have any immediate tasks to tackle?

The production of our 2024 creative campaign is the priority, and luckily, I got a little head start during the interview process. Without giving too much away, the concept is bold, dynamic and aspirational, with a uniquely Melbourne DNA.

The campaign needs to work hard to represent the many different facets of the festival and ultimately act as a reflection and exploration of the fashion industry and community itself. It’s a fine balance when our audience is so diverse and fashion and creativity is so subjective, but I can confidently say we’ve found the sweet spot.

All will be revealed when the campaign is launched later this year, but I‘m excited I joined MFF just in time to be involved in this creative process for 2024.

How will you draw upon your prior marketing experience for the new role, especially one so fashion-driven?

More than half my career has been in fashion, working agency side with a wide range of fashion businesses from Australian designers Zimmermann, Bassike, Gary Bigeni and Ginger & Smart, to global leaders Net-a-Porter, Loewe and Tod’s, and retail destinations Country Road, The Strand Arcade and Highpoint Shopping Centre. So, joining MFF feels like a welcome return to my spiritual home of fashion.

However, what’s been particularly valuable over recent years is deepening my experience beyond fashion. Brands today are not defined by traditional product categories and consumer interests are fluid. So, successful fashion marketing needs to seek inspiration and insights from outside the immediate environment in order to diversify appeal, cement relevance and increase share of heart. MFF does exactly that by exploring fashion in all its forms.

My breadth of experience across fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands, as well as varied business models including ecommerce, brick and mortar, shopping centre, wholesale and even resale, has given me a wide frame of reference that will deliver a strong cross-pollination of strategy, ideas and opportunities for MFF.

Lastly, I highly rate the skills gained by working in an agency or multi-brand environment like my experience at Mecca. You become adept at juggling numerous objectives and priorities simultaneously and at speed and are exposed to diverse ways of working. Plus, agencies are at the front line of execution, so I know how to roll up my sleeves.

How are you gearing up for MFF 2024?

My challenge is often too many plans and ideas. But yes, there’s an abundance of exciting things in the pipeline for the 2024 festival. Starting with the super fresh creative campaign direction, which will be rolled out with wow-factor.

There is a big opportunity around education and storytelling. Not enough people are aware of all the incredible things MFF does to support creative talent at all levels and propel the industry forward - I certainly wasn’t prior to joining. So, we'll heighten the focus on content to bring this to life in new and interesting ways.

Part of this will also include giving voice to the immensely creative and innovative people behind the festival, from designers to MFF team and everything in between.

You can also expect to see more marketing activity popping up interstate, proudly encouraging people to visit Melbourne, Australia's rightful fashion capital, and immerse themselves in the world-class style, creativity, arts and ideas that our beautiful city has to offer.

That’s all I can say for now, however I can promise that we’ll be shouting it from the rooftops when the time comes to officially launch the 2024 festival.

What’s your key advice for those seeking top executive positions?

Take risks and choose roles that allow you to do your best work. This doesn’t always mean the fanciest role at the biggest business; instead focus on opportunities that give you room to flex your skills, innovate rapidly and make an impact that can be seen from the outside.

You’re essentially building a collection of proof points that demonstrate your ability to drive businesses forward, and you want your work and reputation to precede you.

Further to this, the best compliment I’ve ever received from a team member is that I operate and treat people with humanity. Leading with empathy is the key to building high performing teams, and, beyond it simply being the decent thing to do, I’ve had so many more career opportunities come my way via peers or junior colleagues because they remember being respected and empowered.

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