Dynamic Duos: Manifest Melbourne’s Isabel Thomson-Officer and Jessie Bowers

In this week's dynamic duos, Manifest Melbourne co-founders Isabel Thomson-Officer and Jessie Bowers share the story of how their very New York romance lead them back to Australia, to ultimately set up the first Australian office for global brand communications agency Manifest.

Isabel Thomson-Officer:

I met Jessie at a Tumblr party while I was living in New York back in 2015. My first impressions were that of a tattooed-up, free spirit, full of conversation. Waxing lyrical about street art, a passion I also shared, I was captivated by this chatty creative. Fast forward a few months and we were dating. Another three years and we were married. Two years later we began working together.

We often talked about starting an agency. Jessie on the creative side, me on operations. We even went as far as to register a company in New York called ‘Artful Arcade’ but that was as far as we took it. It wasn’t until I went back to Melbourne in March 2020 for a friend’s wedding and ended up getting all but stuck that our working relationship really kicked into gear. As one door closed, another one quite literally opened.

I’d been working for Manifest Group in New York and so when the CEO Alex Myers got wind that I’d handed in my notice and that I was moving back to my hometown with Jessie, the cogs started whirring. Alex and I had talked about doing Manifest Melbourne ‘one day’ and Jessie had already done a few freelance projects for the agency in New York. Faced with an unstable job market, lengthy lockdowns, and the gift of time, it made sense to put our complementary skill sets to work. If we could find clients in the current COVID climate, then we might just be on to something.

We’ve now been working together for over two years and I’m immensely proud of what we’ve achieved from building a diverse and talented team, to our two Best Culture and Best Places To Work nominations alongside some of the world’s largest and most respected agency brands. Not bad for an independent agency office less than two years old! What’s more we’ve been able to make one of Manifest Group’s goals of becoming a 24/7 creative shop a reality.

I’d be a total liar if I said Jessie and I never bump heads or that we keep our professional and personal lives separate, far from it! But conflict is crucial (the good kind) and disagreements mean we find better solutions that take each other’s opposing views into account. What’s more, the best ideas don’t come to you when you’re sitting at a desk and so bouncing concepts across the dinner table is pretty common practice at our place. It’s not for everyone, but it works for us.

Despite being quite different people (you can guess who is left and right brain), we share common values like integrity, compassion and equality which transcends work and home. Coupled with our passion for creativity and driving positive change, it’s meant we’ve been able to bring campaigns like Breastralia to life aimed at normalising feeding in public with Tommee Tippee placing art at the very heart of the work.

Jessie Bowers:

I met Isabel in my hometown, Brooklyn, back in 2015 at an art gallery opening my friends were showing at. We struck up a conversation and I remember asking her what her favourite pieces were before we digressed into street art, Australian versus American culture, politics and lord knows what else. We exchanged numbers and started off as friends which rather quickly blossomed into a romance. By 2018 we were partners in life and in 2020, we would become partners in business.

I’d been freelancing for Ogilvy and had done a few projects for Manifest in New York but if you’d asked me in February 2020 if I’d be opening an agency on the other side of the world with my wife in the midst of a pandemic, I wouldn’t have believed you. What’s more it’s not something most people would recommend doing. But we had time on our hands and a talented global team ready to back us. Failure was the worst that could happen and so it was a challenge I knew Isabel and I could handle.

It definitely wasn’t easy! There were lots of cold emails that went unanswered and the few replies we did get usually went something like ‘talk to us once you’re up and running’. However within a few months we had clients and we were ready to open our doors by December that year. Two years on and we’ve had the pleasure of working with brands as varied as Logitech, Tommee Tippee, Pirate Life Beer, Banrock Station, Hot Octopuss, Airtasker, Dettol, Eastern Standard Times, and more.

They say “experience is the best teacher” and so navigating differences of opinion and learning how to take each other’s perspectives into account in a professional setting was an adjustment. Going from ways of living to encompass ways of working took some getting used to but we’ve become all the stronger because of it. A lot of people say they could never work with their partners, but at the same time plenty of people do. Personally I love that my life wife is also my work wife and that we’re able to share so much together.

We’ve been fortunate to find ourselves doing work that really does reflect what’s important to us. We are firm believers in improving DE&I and so being able to migrate that mission into the workplace at a company that champions it has been a real blessing. Focusing on increasing representation of minority voices in our industry in Australia is one very important reason that we get up and go to work in the morning. While we’re only just getting started we’re sowing the seeds which are reflected in the team we’re building and the projects we’re aligning ourselves with and instigating. Watch this space.

Isabel on Jessie:

Most memorable moment with Jessie: Helping the artist we commissioned Caroline Lejeune to finish off a mural together all weekend last winter to ensure Breastralia would be ready to unveil for a Monday morning media launch was definitely up there. There were consecutive cold mornings, late nights, frozen fingers, several paint spills, and on my end — not much talent for painting. However we smashed the campaign KPIs, got ourselves banned by Meta and landed in every major metro newspaper in the country which resulted in a very happy client. What’s more, not long ago Greens State MP Ellen Sandell was spotted breastfeeding in front of it, championing our message on her social media pages which really cemented why we set out to do this in the first place.

Describe Jessie in one word: Gregarious.

Jessie’s most annoying habit or endearing behaviour: Creative perfectionism. It’s both a blessing and a curse!

Jessie on Isabel: 

Most memorable moment with Isabel: In the days leading up to announcing Manifest Melbourne, we did a shoot with photographer Kim Jane on Hosier Lane. It really was the perfect backdrop to visually introduce Manifest Melbourne to this part of the world in a setting that felt very fitting for me and Isabel. It was fun, creative and our agency headshots are far from typical. Seeing those pictures across trade media and the news out in the world that we’d officially launched was pretty special.

Describe Isabel in one word: Organised.

Isabel’s most annoying habit or endearing behaviour: Sometimes she can be such a left-brainer but as a visual creative there are times when I need that balance in my life. Being polar opposites means we don’t always see eye to eye but when we put our minds to it we really can achieve anything together.


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