Joanne Madeley

Inspiration is everywhere by Joanne madeley

I’m 36 living in Stockport with my husband, 5-year-old son Noah and our golden retriever Biscuit. I manage Cascade Productions, an event agency based in Manchester.

As cliché as it sounds there is no typical day, I could be looking at creative options for our live events, working through budgets, liaising with our partners, undertaking site visits, planning meetings, or supporting content creation to expand our storytelling and audience messages. 

I never set out to run a business, nor did my ambitions lean towards live events. Since doing my A Levels my passion always lied within broadcasting. I was intrigued about how to tell a story and construct that story in a visually appealing way. After finishing my A Levels, I started my degree in Media Studies, at De Montfort University, with hope of working in television production – after 3 years of finishing my degree in Leicester, I moved back to Manchester and went straight to Granada to do whatever I could to get any experience in television. 

Not having anything available at Granada I looked further afield which took me to Yorkshire Television for a couple of months, I then picked up some more work experience on a soap opera and continued to apply for paid Runner jobs. I finally landed a 6-month contract as a Runner for a late night quiz show, ordering the stationary, distributing call sheets, doing anything I could to get noticed.

Contracts are short lived-in television, so I bounced from one to next trying to move up the ladder. From Runner I went to Researcher, quickly moving to Producer and before I knew it, I was travelling the world shooting and producing different programs. From ghost hunting in Turin, travelling around LA filming famous animals (my favorite was Crystal the monkey from Hangover and Night at the Museum) to interviewing Amy Schumer in New York for a BBC annual highlights.

After almost a decade freelancing for big networks and small indie’s I wanted a change. Freelancing in TV had its downfalls – it’s exciting but I needed more of a purpose – I wanted to be a part of something and build and grow within a team.

I knew I wanted to leave TV, but my fear was losing the creativity that came with it. After a long search my skills transferred nicely to Cascade. I had a strong video background, which is a huge part of our business, and I was excited to learn about live events. There was just one hurdle – there was no job. I emailed, I pestered and finally our current owner Alan and previous owner Jim agreed to see me. For whatever reason they created a position for me, and I began to work across the video department using my television experience but very quickly learning that the corporate world is a whole different beast!

I began working at Cascade in 2013, 9 years later I’m still here. Whilst my background is strong in storytelling and understanding filming techniques – I knew nothing about budgeting and working with corporate clients – it was a huge learning curve.

Even though there were client constraints, I needed to understand how to push those boundaries and inject creativity in a different way. This came in understanding clients messaging, branding, doing my homework into different filming techniques but alongside this I needed to up my knowledge in live events and that comes from experience – any event I could go on – I went on!

Ever since the beginning of my career to now, I have loved creating messages for audiences, telling stories that have a real impact on people and that’s one of the initiatives that are at the forefront of the business. We’re audience whisperers, we act as the audience for our clients because we understand individual needs, we understand how to create sustained employee engagement and how to effectively apply internal comms through strategy, content, and delivery.

I believe my parents gave me the drive and determination to succeed. They both ran a successful business together for decades, showed me what it is to be resilient, how important it is to work hard and do something you enjoy. There are times when it isn’t always easy, but surely that’s the point – striving for success is hard and getting there makes it worth it.

I feel very proud to have got where I have, especially knowing how difficult it is juggling family life as well as work. The expectations on women are so great, to do everything and be everything can be overwhelming but when it works and sometimes it doesn’t always, it feels great. 

The biggest lesson I’ve learn along the way is “Don’t be precious about your own idea’s”.

The event industry is a very female led industry so I’m very lucky in that respect, but I have been around comments and looks that would only ever happen to women. We’re lucky things are changing and have been changing for years but there will always be challenges and it’s important to call these out, educate people and make sure we support each other.

We’ve come a long way since I first started my career and well before that, as long as people keep educating themselves and understanding others, things will continue to go in the right direction.

At Cascade we put the needs of our employees at the forefront of the business. As a female running the business and a working mother, I know how important it is to create flexibility. Whether that’s maternity leave, extra support for those needing it or making hours and time work depending on the individual’s needs. It’s important that we, as an employer, make sure we create the right opportunities for our team to thrive no matter their circumstances or gender.

My three tips for young females starting their career would be to:

  1. Graft – hard work pays off and it gets you noticed.
  2. Look for opportunities and make the most of them.
  3. Keep learning, I’m still learning now – I try to challenge myself all the time, learn new things, read, improve myself.

Inspiration is everywhere!

There is so much pressure on women in leading roles – how you should come across, how to make hard decisions, how sympathetic you should be…

So, when it comes to strategies to help you land a more prominent role in your organisation I think it’s important to be yourself, don’t be what people expect you to be or what you think they’d want – be authentic. 

The best bit of advice I have ever been given is “Do the right thing even when no one’s looking”.

My advice for women aiming for leadership positions is when looking for a leadership position, I would suggest not only looking at the position but the leaders themselves, what do they stand for, how is the business run, what is the culture and do you feel aligned to their values and ways of working.

Finding the right people for the right roles is challenging it has to be the right fit for the business but it has to be the right fit for you – it works both ways.

One key leadership lesson I have learnt along the way is ‘Don’t treat everyone the same, everyone is different, and you have to lead and manage people in different ways to get the best out of them. One rule isn’t for all – it takes some practice!’

There are so many inspirational women who have made an impact on my life, from the obvious being my mother to my best friend but then there are more well-known figures and one in particular – Sheila Nevins – president of HBO Documentary Films.

She started behind the camera, as a Producer and since then has won countless awards and nominations for her work in the industry and has been head of the network’s documentary production for 36 years.

She’s quoted as saying ‘Nothing was ever beneath me – it still isn’t!” She’s a grafter, she mucks in – she appreciates every role. Whilst we’re not quite as recognised as HBO, Cascade’s work ethic is very similar – there isn’t one of us who won’t load van full of event equipment, be the Runner where we need to be, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve hoovered a marquee carpet before a private event – no matter the task it needs to be right, and no one is above what needs to be done. 

Sheila’s need and want to tell stories is fascinating she describes being most proud of allowing anonymous voices to be heard – stories are memorable, some never leave us, they inspire us and change us. ‘I want to keep doing what I do as well, if not better, than anybody else’ – Sheila Nevins

My biggest achievement in life is my son, Noah. Bringing up a tiny human is bloody hard work and nothing you can ever prepare for – watching Noah change and grow every day is indescribable – it’s an utter joy.

Outside of work I love running, it the time I get alone to clear my head. Aside from that eating good food, dog walks, time with my family and travelling. 

To my 16-year-old self I’d say ‘Don’t worry as much’.

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