Meet the "Agent of Change" Creating a New Social Impact Paradigm In Hollywood

Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Adrien Brody. These are just some of the household names represented by Paradigm Talent Agency. The company’s roster spans from A-list movie stars to chart-topping music acts and beyond.

Aside from keeping some of the biggest names in showbiz at the forefront of the media, Paradigm also has a major focus on social impact, engaging the teams in the company’s multiple offices around the world to help non-profits like HeroBox (which supplies, packages and ships care boxes to military personnel currently serving), and sending volunteers to work for LA Kitchen or Habitat for Humanity. Recently, Paradigm employees teamed up with CITYPAK to hand out CityPak backpacks to the homeless at The People’s Concern Access Center in Santa Monica.

All of these efforts are speer-headed, organized and overseen by Denise Melanson, Paradigm’s Director of Social Impact—in a role she created for herself out of nothing. After regularly topping industry trade lists of “the most powerful women in music” as an agent to some of the world’s top musical acts, Melanson decided to make a shift and become a full-time agent of change. She became the organization’s first ever Director of Social Impact after working for 17 years as an agent.
We had a chance to talk to her about her journey so far.

Net Impact Los Angeles: Tell us about what your journey into social impact has been like.

Denise Melanson: I had always grown up volunteering because that’s what we did at Catholic school. But I actually really, really liked it and it's something that I always did [even when not required]. When I became an agent, I always wanted to remind both myself and our artists, you know, it's, a bigger world out there than just this industry, and it's our job to give back to it.

One year we partnered with an org called Native Instruments and we set up this kind of DJ mentorship program at a boys home and I'm in East LA. We just set up a bunch of different stations and, you know, the kids came and learned how to scratch, how to use the different mixing softwares at the time from some of our artists. It was a really good time! From there, it became a regular thing each Christmas, where we would do this benefit concert for Inner City Arts at the Roxy. There were food drives and a toy drives and pretty much my whole roster would come down and donate their time. It was something that we took a lot of pride in.

And all it was, was connecting artists with the community. And that was the start of all of this.

Denise and the Paradigm team volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

Denise and the Paradigm team volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

NILA: What have been the biggest challenges for you taking this on?

DM: It's super different from being an agent. You know, I was an agent for 17 years and I started to realize that my priorities were changing. At the same time having such respect for my artists and, you know, the work that an agent does, I realized that if my main focus wasn't on [the clients], then I wasn't doing them a service. You know the saying, “Don't let your mouth write to check your butt can't cash.” I always thought of it as like another version of “actions are louder than words.” So I found myself more and more Tweeting and Instagramming about social impact. And I finally was like, “OK, I gotta put my butt in there. I've got to be the change that I want to see.”

The hardest part, really, was making the transition out of being an agent, because I had repped some of my artists for my whole 17 year career. Having to tell these people who are basically my family really, that I was changing my career. You know, I'd been at weddings and baby births, and I cried at every phone call. So I think the hardest part was really disconnecting, professionally at least, from my artists. I'm still friends with all of them, and still visit and talk with them, but you know, making that change—that was hard. That was really hard.

The Paradigm team serving at the LA Food Bank.

The Paradigm team serving at the LA Food Bank.

NILA: Does any of your experience as an agent translate directly to your new role? Like, do you ever match your clients as influencers with charities or anything like that?

DM: A lot of what I do is focused on Paradigm and Paradigm initiatives. We have a social impact industry connection speaker series, that’s brought in people like Dr. Todd Nelson, CEO of Surfrider, to come speak on Earth Day, and Christy Turlington to speak on International Women's Day. Then there’s setting up our volunteer program and our food drives and making sure all of them are integrated in company culture, because we have offices in San Diego, LA, Monterey, Chicago, Nashville, New York and Toronto, and I oversee the social impact programs at all of them. That's been a huge bulk of it.

NILA: How did you actually realize this role was something that, not only was needed, but that you could create?

DM: It started out with just me doing small stuff as an agent. I actually started at AM Only before we were dissolved into Paradigm, and I was always really supported by the executives there on giving back. Then as we became Paradigm, I realized that I was working with a bunch of really great people who were doing small things on their own, too. As my priorities started shifting, I looked into it and realized that there was a real need for this, and a real potential for growth, particular in the entertainment community, for this position. So I did lots of research, assembled allies and put together a great pitch. It felt like it took a long time to come together. But the next thing I knew, I had the job and had to start in a month. And you know, it's been great. People have been extraordinarily supportive at Paradigm and they're all really excited about it. It’s been really successful.

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