Side Gig: Melissa Matos, Mental Health Advocate

March 24, 2022

Creativity never goes off the clock.

This blog series delves into the creative work our people do when they’re ‘off the clock.’

Inside the TMA hallways you’ll find the typical agency titles: account executives, copywriters, creative directors, operations managers, and more… but behind the scenes, those same folks double as photographers, artists, screenwriters, novelists, singers, actors, and a plethora of other creative roles.

At TMA, we pride ourselves on creativity that matters – both inside and outside the office. We recently sat down with Melissa Matos, Associate Creative Director to discuss producing the Melanin Minds Mental Health Conference, her title as a Savage X Fenty Game Changer, and launching her own app.

During the Great Isolation, introverts across advertising and design either found their sparkly wings or dove deeper into their comfort zones. One TMA-er who leaned into the former on and off the clock is Associate Creative Director Mel Matos, CT-to-CA transplant leading creative across entertainment, CPG, and wellness brands.

A beach and bookstore lover who found herself tragically missing museums and open mics during LA’s lockdown, Mel channeled her creativity on and off the clock into advocating for mental health, equity, and empathy. At work, her refueled talents garnered her a promotion, a global creative pitch win, and a coveted Bust Your A** For Spring Break trip award in a year. Around the same time, she launched an app, won a small business grant, and single-handedly produced a Women’s History Month virtual conference.

Most recently, Mel’s OOO mental health work won her the title of Savage X Fenty Game Changer. The recognition came with social media posts, email blasts, and a microsite sharing the work of three dynamic duos. Social and influencer teams may recognize the campaign format, but how many can say they’ve been on the featured side? We sat down with Mel to ask her about the campaign, her involvement, and the passions that led her here.

We thought we recognized our Associate Creative Director on! How did this campaign come about?

MM: Less than a month after producing and hosting the inaugural Melanin Minds Mental Health Conference – 12+ hours of actionable workshops and interactive panels centering BIPOC mental health – I saw Savage X Fenty was looking for dynamic duos. As soon as I saw the call for pairs changing the games for their communities, I texted my Melanin Minds co-founder and business bestie LaGina that I was going to apply for us. Anything for Queen Rih!

That was in August; it wasn’t until November that we heard anything else. Struggling to keep straight faces, the Savage team told us over Zoom that we were selected as one of the three winning duos (Rihanna knew who we were !!!). They showed us exclusive new looks with mood boards to style ourselves for an at-home shoot due in ONE WEEK. Both of us used to wearing creative director, photographer, and talent hats on tight deadlines, we made an at-home shoot happen and saw the magic go live just before the start of the new year.

What was it like being on the “influencer” side of this campaign as opposed to the brand side?

MM: Being an ACD with so much experience with scrappy photoshoots and influencer campaigns, it was much easier to plan and coordinate. During our Zoom call, I made sure the team knew I translated, “make it your own,” to “featuring as many small brand accessories as I could.” They were down and I ran with it, reaching out to a few local brands and offering to pick up all over LA. All of this was on top of full-time TMA work. Thankfully, my small apartment is stacked with backdrops, photo equipment, and tons of natural light.

Proactively shooting all the BTS we could, we knew to prioritize the product and photoshop-able angles to help the shoot run as smoothly as it could in between meetings. I give so much kudos to the creatives who choose this path daily. I came out with a whole new respect for influencers, along with first-hand experience on how to maximize brand features and capture killer content that we felt proud of – and with new individual and brand headshots. It meant the world to share the spotlight with my co-founder and much-needed hype woman, as well as the small local brands like Diosa Leon and Coqueta Collective that we were able to feature. By far the coolest thing I’ve ever done!

Let’s back up to the Melanin Minds conference. What goes into putting something like that together?

MM: Again, tons of scrappiness. We worked a lot with the platforms we already knew and skinned them with our brand, story, and voice. Zoom and Eventbrite are two platforms I’ve been gaining expertise in on the brand side after so much time on the user side. I have a better understanding of exactly what can be done with the bare minimum, but still functioning like a premium user experience. Plus it was the ultimate test in remote collaboration – LaGina and I never met in person until 12 hours before conference time!

This wasn’t my first run around the conference block, so I did have some learnings under my belt with troubleshooting those new-to-me platforms. In March 2021, my first business, WoMi™ (aka, just me!) produced and hosted the She Will Shine conference supporting and celebrating womenpreneurs. LaGina was a speaker on a panel for that conference and was a huge support and sounding board as I navigated what on earth I was doing. That was an all-digital, part-live, part-pre-recorded conference, so I learned a lot about skinning platforms from that experience too. Producing and hosting the second time around with a partner in crime made all the difference!

What’s the origin story for your first business, WoMi™?

MM: Starting back in college in Connecticut, I was prototyping and designing UX before I even knew what those were. This was also before my university offered classes in it, so my interest in app building fell off with my interest in learning to code – a hard pass.

Once I transferred from the Connecticut to California TMA offices, I fell in love with LA life and the entrepreneurial spirit of the new network I was quickly building. In 2019, I started a weekly Instagram series shouting out and supporting small businesses owned by women and minority entrepreneurs called WoMi™ Small Biz. It quickly became the only kind of content I was okay losing sleep over, and I found a passion for amplifying and championing small businesses through reviews, interviews, and walkthroughs.

In early 2020, my Instagram highlights started maxing out and the panini unfolded. As the existential angst of what difference my work was really making kept hitting, I started thinking of the next step for WoMi™. A few months into lockdown and civil rights unrest, I attended a WorkSmart webinar on building apps without coding. I hired a Glide expert, channeled my emotional turmoil into inspired all-nighters, and launched The WoMi™ App in Google Play and app stores in September 2020.

My love for UX and digital communication was coming full circle as I created my first LLC, secured my first trademark, and hosted my first virtual conference within the first year of business. As the world went virtual (and upside down) and my understanding of UX evolved and expanded, I found a new level of confidence and purpose that was freed from social anxiety or self doubt. I was lucky and grateful to not only have survived lockdown with my job, but to have been promoted to ACD and be leading more digital and UX-focused projects than ever before.

Sounds like you’re truly living Creativity That Matters on and off the clock!

MM: Looking back, I think that’s what was missing from my career before TMA. I came from an in-house position in the door and hardware industry – terribly un-glamorous, but there was still a story there. Openings and hardware were literally saving lives, from school security to behavioral health. Those brand storytelling projects were the ones I’d always gravitate toward. Unfortunately, those stories and design in general wasn’t prioritized over sell, sell, sell.

Coming into TMA from that environment really affirmed my multifaceted, “Mel of all trades” approach to my work on and off the clock. I’ve been able to amass a list of clients, teams, skills, and projects that never let me forget just how much I’m capable of. Now whether it’s building a platform or producing content for either of my businesses or day job, I feel empowered to embrace whichever mission and passion calls to me.

With a side business, a future non-profit, and a full-time gig, what drives that passion and creativity?

MM: Above all else I love to say I’m a lover of stories! I’m enough of an empath to cry at every movie, holiday commercial, and pet PSA. So I love any opportunity to affect a great story and appreciate how much of an impact creative and strategy have on any given experience. Whether it’s amplifying a message with inspiring creative, threading touchpoints, or zhuzhing the details for consistency, I am here for a great journey.

Learn more about Melanin Minds.

Learn more about Savage X Fenty Game Changers.