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Esther Navarro-Orejon of The Project Agency

Studio Visit

6th June, 2014
Lucy Feagins
Friday 6th June 2014

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Esther Navarro Orejon (right) and Emma Hofmann (left) of The Project Agency.  Photo - Ben Clement, production - Natalie Turnbull for The Design Files.

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Esther and Emma at work, reviewing press clippings.  Photo - Ben Clement, production - Natalie Turnbull for The Design Files.

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The Footscray studio of The Project Agency.  Photo - Ben Clement, production - Natalie Turnbull for The Design Files.

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AMAZING press campaign for The Design Files Open House 2013 (!), co-ordinated by Esther of The Project Agency.

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Esther Navarro Orejon of The Project Agency.  Photo -  Amelia Stanwix.

Whilst we love interviewing talented creatives of all kinds, I feel especially lucky today because I'm introducing someone who over the past few years has become a regular collaborator of ours, and a dear friend.  Esther Navarro Orejon is an amazing publicist and brand strategist whose service offering, to be honest, is quite hard to pin down!  Her consultancy, The Project Agency, is a versatile brand and communications agency which supports boutique creative clients in the interiors, lifestyle and retail industries - and that means everything from planning and managing publicity campaigns, to hosting product launches, to conceptualising pop-up projects and running charity events. Esther is an absolute dynamo, and given the great variety of services she offers to so many local creative businesses, we thought it was high time we dragged her out from the wings and onto centre stage for a moment in the spotlight!

I first met Esther in around 2010, mainly through the publicity work she was doing at the time for Melbourne artist David Bromley, as well as fashion designer Megan Park.  Esther would pitch us stories for TDF now and then, and it wasn't long before we were hatching plans of our own.  I was instantly drawn to Esther's incredible work ethic and can-do attitude, and her ability to keep it real and cut through the 'publicity speak' that is so prevalent in her industry!

In 2011, Esther and I collaborated to produce the very first TDF Open House event, and I can honestly say it just wouldn't have happened without her.  Since then, Esther has managed the publicity and media events for each of our Open House events, and if you've seen the incredible media coverage we are so lucky to receive year after year (touch wood!) you'll know she is worth her weight in gold!

The Project agency is a small, nimble business, and though they do regularly collaborate with freelancers on a project by project basis, the day to day team is just Esther and fulltime staff member Emma (for now!). The byproduct of this, of course, is an incredibly personal level of service which really can be likened to a genuine partnership.  Simply put, Esther treats every clients' business like it is her own.  At present, The Project Agency's extensive client list includes Hunting For GeorgeWood MelbourneFiona Lynch OfficeBauwerkHello ToesThe Woodsfolk and Megan Park, to name a few!  Her enthusiasm for the brands she works with is genuine and infectious, and she just doesn't take clients on if she isn't excited about the product.  As she outlines below, 'we provide a creative partnership and always give beyond our scope. We don't count hours and we don't draw a line in the sand.'  I can say with absolute honesty say that this is true, and its one of Esther's greatest strengths. Above and beyond, all the way.

Last year Esther became a mother for the first time!  With support from her husband, parents and Emma, she was back to work within the week (maternity leave doesn't work quite the same way when you run your own small business!), and it has been nothing short of awe-inspiring to watch from the sidelines as Esther has effortlessly balanced her growing business with her growing family!  As if she wasn't busy enough, Esther's daughter's arrival also inspired a new project - The Petite Edit. This sweet new website launches TODAY, and will feature conversations with creative parents, gorgeous products for kids, and businesses relevant to parents and children.   'I don't really consider myself a blogger, but I do like to think I have a good eye at unearthing new talent, and look forward to creating and sharing a site that aims to be aspirational and not unattainable' says Esther of this exciting new venture!

We're thrilled to introduce Esther today, after being the beneficiaries of her incredible work so often over the past few years... although I must admit, we're a bit worried that we'll have to share her with a few more clients after this story...!

Tell us a little bit about your background – what did you study and what career path led you to launching The Project Agency in 2009?

During my last year of university, while studying a Bachelor of Marketing and Information systems, I was fortunate to get a short (one week) intern role at Witchery supporting the PR and Marketing Manager Kit Willow. Willow introduced me to Scanlan Theodore and I quickly took on another intern role where I was engaged to assist the then Publicity Manager, Emma van Haandel (who now runs evhpr) for a two week stint - and within three days I was offered a part-time role that I undertook while completing my final year at university.

At the time, and I guess like lots of young women, I longed for a job in fashion, so to say I was over the moon was an understatement. I spent the next nine years at Scanlan Theodore, learning, absorbing, and throwing myself into every aspect of the business that I could. I assisted and managed new store roll outs, marketing campaigns, export and wholesale, publicity, and got to work on one of my favourite projects - launching the Scanlan Theodore online store. Well ahead of it’s time, the online boutique launched during the Net-a-porter launch era and was a progressive and exciting project. It connected me with many creatives and was my first taste at the digital world - I loved the immediacy of it all.

During my time with Scanlan Theodore I was also appointed to work across the ROY fashion business, which at the time was undergoing a significant restructure. I was given the project to assist the General Manager on the rebrand of the label, a role I loved as it provided great variety and meant juggling both roles – a fast paced environment that I thrived on.

I loved every aspect of the fashion industry, but after nine years and many incredible experiences, some of the best years of my young career, I decided that it was time to challenge myself and explore other opportunities. After a quick outward search I realised that what I really yearned for was to be creatively fulfilled across many platforms - there was not one single role I wanted, nor one specific company I wanted to work for. I loved working on projects, both short and long, ones that had the fast pace and intensity of a shifting fashion season, but also in other areas outside of fashion. So with that realisation, I resigned from my role and embarked on the launch of my own consultancy, The Project Agency. Six years later we have matured a lot, but I think we still approach each project and client with the same excitement as if it were our first.

What have been some favourite projects you've worked on in recent years?

Our favourite projects and clients are always those who trust us in delivering a creative response to their needs. I feel very fortunate to have worked with a group of super dynamic and inspiring clients!

Over the past six years some of the most memorable projects include our support of artist David Bromley. We have been lucky to support David on many of his creative projects, and seeing him work and transform environments and his adaptability to the changing artist landscape is so inspiring.

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Curated retail space by David Bromley, one of The Project Agency's many creative clients.

Our collaboration with The Design Files on the inaugural Design Files Open House in 2011, and working with you guys on publicity for the event since then has cemented my love for design and interiors, and fostered within me a deep connection and love for Australian design.

I also feel very strongly about The Million Dollar Lunch, my first ever client, and an event which I get to manage with a complete and all encompassing service offering. Funds raised from The Million Dollar Lunch supports the Children’s Cancer Foundation, and this year we will roll out the 10th annual lunch in October. One of our largest projects in service scope and sheer size, I feel proud of our association and support of the event (this will be our sixth year managing this respected event!) which has helped raise millions of dollars for Victorian childhood cancer.

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The Million Dollar Lunch - one of The Project Agency's oldest clients.

Our current stable of clients is diverse, from established brands to new emerging designers and creatives. I love that they are all Australian independent businesses working hard to make their mark.

We keep things colourful with The Woodsfolk and Hello Toes, who allow us to inject a playful approach into their projects.  We recently worked with Hunting For George to launch their debut bed linen collection, and have an exciting artist exhibition to unveil later in the year. We are thrilled to welcome Wood Melbourne to our stable and also Bauwerk, who we are working with on a fabulous collaboration to be unveiled soon.

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Melbourne retailer The Woodsfolk engaged The Project Agency to manage their store launch and an extensive publicity campaign last year. Photo - Melissa Cowan.
The Project Agency is a lot more than your traditional PR / publicity company, we should know as regular collaborators of yours! Can you tell a little bit about how you do things differently?

While we do work on great PR campaigns for some of our clients, we are so many things to different clients.  We are a nimble little team and we can be really versatile. We like to think of ourselves more as brand strategists and communicators. We work very closely with every client, and consider ourselves an extension of their businesses, which I think is so vital to the relationship and the success of building a brand.

We are very tailored in our approach, with no two client campaigns alike.  There is no set approach, as our strategy needs to be diverse to suit our great variety of clients and their individual goals. Our expertise across various platforms enables us to understand how the entire cycle works, how each vital component needs to fit together and how we must support our brands in the most effective way.

The Project Agency prides itself on our strong network of relationships with a variety of local creatives, service providers and media contacts.  These relationships enable us to stay relevant, and ensure our clients are always at the forefront of their industries.

We provide a creative partnership and always give beyond our scope. We don't count hours and we don't draw a line in the sand. We create suitable concepts, awareness and experiences - this may be via publicity, events, marketing, collaborations and/or introductions.

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The amazing new Cannings butcher in Hawthorn designed by Fiona Lynch, a client of The Project Agency.  Photo - Sharyn Cairns.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of The Project Agency – i.e. how is your office structured, do you employ others, and are there any significant tasks which your outsource?

We are a small team, and that sometimes surprises our clients, but I love keeping things tight and small. I like knowing every little last detail of our clients, and couldn't imagine not being so actively involved in each project. Emma is here full-time and supports all client projects and has been an amazing addition to The Project Agency. We are excited about growing our team, and will have a new role listed in the next few weeks which is very exciting!

We engage external contractors when a project requires. We have built a reliable network of people who understand us and our clients who are called upon to support us during peak times.

While we try to keep most projects in house, we do love to work with others. We recently worked with local design studio South South West on the development of a little side project, The Petite Edit, and will soon be working with them on another client project.

Last year you became a mother for the first time, which has inspired your latest project – The Petite Edit. How did the idea for this come about and what are your hopes for this project?

I am constantly inspired by the creatives that surround The Project Agency. Whether they be clients, collaborators, suppliers or people that I admire from afar.  Recently, since preparing for the arrival of Amelia, I have been drawn to creative people who are also parents.

After Amelia was born, I returned to work pretty much immediately (with a little help from family here and there) and it's been a busy but exciting time learning to balance family life with my business.  The Project Agency usually plays the role of communicating the stories of the great clients we work with, but Amelia's arrival encouraged me to create a platform where I could do some of my own storytelling, and connect readers directly with the brands and creatives that inspire me as a new mother.

In The Petite Edit we will speak with creative parents, profile businesses relevant to parents and children, and have a little fun with products that create a little distraction from the madness of day to day life. I don't really consider myself a blogger, but I do like to think I have a good eye at unearthing new talent, and look forward to creating and sharing a site that aims to be aspirational and not unattainable. It actually launches today, which I am very excited about. Oh, and I promise there won’t be a babycino in sight!

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A snapshot from Esther's new project, The Petite Edit, with styling by Marsha Golemac, photo by Brooke Holm.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I rise by 6.00am most mornings and I must say, I jump online for a quick sneak peek of my emails and our social media platforms. I like to get a head start, it helps me plan my day.

Between 6.00am - 9.00am it’s all about family time, preparing for the day. I often take a few calls early (my clients know I am an early riser), but generally I try and spend this precious time with Amelia.

From 9.00am I am ready to go and tend to work solo in the office until 9.30am when Emma arrives. This short time alone allows me to recap on the day prior and review the days plan, check emails etc. Emma arrives at 9.30am and we have a daily meeting to review our project requirements for the days, discuss any deadlines, check for client press and get the day started.

Lunch is usually spent at my desk, a terrible habit like most of us I am sure, but I like to power through as much as possible. Occasionally Emma and I will sit outside in the courtyard (never often enough) to get some fresh air or head down to our local West 48 for a quick bite.

I usually work until 5.00pm, then I and make time at home for dinner and family time, and then it’s back in the office between 7.00pm until 10.30pm. These late hours spent in the office are such a productive time for me, I really love the peace of powering through, responding to new client opportunities, planning and preparing for the next day.

No two days are ever the same but they usually always involve speaking with clients about current projects, reading the news (print and online), emails and lots of telephone calls and meetings with clients.

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?

I am obsessed with Freunde von Freunden. I love the diversity of the site, the photography, and the artist profiles.

Instagram is an incredible resource I am loving, I love it’s simple ability to connect people, and I often find myself lost in it for hours.

Print magazines – I have a little obsession with print magazines. Whether they are about fashion, interiors, film, food and wine, you name it I read it! I love the collectable nature of a print magazine, and love seeing what is amongst the pages of the glossies versus online titles.

I love photographic and interior design and architecture books and journals. While of late I haven’t had much time to pour over them as I would like, I’m loving my recent purchase SUBLIME, a design and architecture book from Japan.

Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?

Megan Park – I am constantly inspired by Megan’s aesthetic and approach to design, both in fashion and retail environments. I love her understated sensibilities and fierce work ethic. I love that she doesn't necessary design for a ‘trend’ instead for a women she wants to dress. Her recently launched Fitzroy Boutique is a beautiful space.

Luisa Brimble – I love the way Luisa’s images tell a story, and that she has been able to use her talent to explore new platforms with the launch of Alphabet Family Journal. I love her dedication and pursuit of publishing.

Marsha Golemac – Marsha’s work has a maturity yet playfulness that really resonates with me.

Brett Phillips and David Roennfeldt of 3Deep – I am constantly inspired by 3Deep’s work across the luxury market and think their journal Neue Luxury, is a must read.

This list is just a very small part of a long list of people and creatives I admire.  There are too many to list, but the common thread is always something to do with fierce determination, a resilience that transcends a single form or presence, and creatives who move with the shifting environments they work in.

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Megan Park Mother's day window, concept / co-ordination by The Project Agency, styling by Marsha Golemac, photo by Brooke Holm.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?

As cliched as it is, I am proud of taking a chance on myself and starting The Project Agency. Without a single project confirmed I took a chance, and whilst we're always evolving, I feel like The Project Agency has matured, and I am proud that I grasped the opportunity to go out on my own. It's been an incredible time and I have met so many incredible people!

From a project standpoint, each and every project is a proud achievement. In the end it's very simple, I get excited about every successful campaign, big achievements, small achievements. To be here six years after starting feels great.

What would be your dream project?

Oh, where to start! There really are too many to list, I am a dreamer and would love to one day work on a project that allows me to have creative free rein.  Connecting people is a passion of mine, so it would definitely be a project that ties together many creatives on a local and international platform.

I love physical environments and old school retail, so perhaps something in that world... who knows, but one thing is certain you will be the first to know!

What are you looking forward to?

Winter getaways and time with my husband and daughter and friends.

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New contemporary timber tapware by Wood Melbourne, client of The Project Agency.  Styling - Stephanie Stamatis, Photo - Tara Pearce.

MELBOURNE QUESTIONS

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

I am loving what Collingwood has to offer and get a nostalgic feeling when I visit. Having spent most of my youth in the area it is incredible to see how it has evolved and how it seems to be welcoming so many fabulous new creative enterprises to the area.

Where and what was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

At this stage of our lives, with a new baby and a growing business, a hot meal is a good meal! Work and family is hectic and the juggle means a delicious home cooked meal with family and good friends keeps us satisfied. We have confirmed our new ‘local’ – nothing fancy but always consistent – The Plough!

I am however looking forward to heading into Prix Fixe, Fiona Lynch has done an incredible job with the fit out I cannot wait to see it all come together. This along with the new Stokecity who I am working on a project with later in the year.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

With my daughter and husband maybe at a park, or maybe at the market for simple family time. We’ve got a few local haunts around Yarraville, Seddon and Footscray that we venture out to.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Not so much a secret but I really love my local neighbourhood of Footscray. I live and work here and am excited about the new injection of food and creative folk heading our way. It's still quite raw but I look forward to seeing it evolve and take shape.

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Hunting for George bedlinen campaign, shot on location in the home of Simone Haag. Photo - Eve Wilson, production - Kate Lee and Elisenda Russell, publicity / strategy - The Project Agency.

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