LBB> Tell me about your background, did you grow up in a creative household?
Clíona> No, I didn’t grow up in a particularly creative household but I loved drawing and painting and doing creative things myself. I was picked a lot in primary school to draw posters etc. I loved art and that love increased as I got older. When I was 15 I was chosen to design, direct and paint a stage set for a local school pantomime. It was a shock really as I definitely didn’t think I was good enough to do this. My teacher had every faith in me that I could and my love for creativity just grew from there. I loved painting and playing with fonts and designing posters – old fashion tracing and doing these by hand. I also had a close friend I really admired, and she was really creative so I guess I aspired to be like her. I am Irish and really appreciated the art history of Ireland and did a lot of calligraphy when I was younger.
You come from the South East Coast of Ireland which is a pretty spectacular place. Was there anything in the environment that influenced your later career?
Yes, the sunny South East is beautiful. I grew up in a small fishing village. It’s a Gaeltacht – which means it’s an Irish-speaking area called An Rinn (Ring). There is a local artist, Michael Mulcahy, who lives in the area and a few of my third cousins are artists. There are lots of Irish mythical legends/stories that peaked my imagination as a child (that I still love to hear today), and a specific one about my name (Tonn Chlíona) that tells mythical stories about her and the sea - I loved growing up by the sea and took a lot of inspiration from this.
I did work for a local broadcast studio, Nemeton working on live sports events when I was at Uni and it gave me a taste for live fast paced design. I also worked for a local design studio for a few years. A lead designer there (Brendan) did nurture and inspire me to become a great designer/creative.
LBB> What were your first experiences with advertising, do you recall anything that particularly moved you or stood out at an early age?
Clíona> From an early age more Irish advertising like Kerrygold (who is taking the horse to France?), Guinness especially the dancing man one, telecommunications ones (the guy from the bar). There were lots of jingle-type adverts in the 1990s or ones with icon songs that I remember. Christmas adverts stood out in my mind and something I was excited to see every year – the An Post - Walking in the Air has always been iconic in my mind. Christmas hadn’t started until that was on TV. Coca-Cola Christmas adverts stand out from a global perspective. All of these adverts showed me the different styles and emotions that advertising can embody – something that tugged at the heartstrings or something that was humorous - this moved me and stood out as advertising types.
LBB> You started your career as a designer, were you always destined to be creative or were any other career paths ever on the cards?
Clíona> I actually studied Science at Trinity College Dublin but I hated it. I choose Science, where I was studying Chemistry, Biology and four Maths subjects, on the advice of career professionals at school. I had no passion for this and honestly never factored in what I wanted or what my true passion was when I applied for university. I made the decision to study art or something creative and found myself studying a Design & Marketing degree. The decision was both difficult and empowering - it seemed to light a fire in me to succeed. I worked several jobs and put myself through this degree, spent long days in the studio and long hours working. I have taken the passion and drive that I felt then when I made this decision into my career and hope to always feel like this.
LBB> Tell me about an important moment in your early career path, was there a pivotal moment that led you to be where you are today?
Clíona> About 10 years ago I started a new role in an industry I hadn’t worked in before and had to go to a client meeting on my own. I received surprisingly positive feedback. That meeting changed me, empowered me and was thought-provoking. It challenged me to think about my role differently and this person inspired me to do great things.
LBB> You worked at GPJ, what did the move into a major agency teach you about your position today?
Clíona> Trust your gut and keep fighting for what you believe in. I met some amazing people at GPJ, had some amazing times and did some great work. It was a real eye-opener into a global agency and how it operated.
LBB> How did you manage the move from creative to suit? Was that always an ambition?
Clíona> No, it was never my ambition to cross over – I never really thought about anything else except designing and being creative and driving that forward. It weirdly seemed to be a natural transition for me, though. I started to really love solving problems – creative, digital, experience but not exactly a fully design problem. I loved engaging with clients and delivering. I remember clients describing me and saying – “she gets shit done” – and that’s what I kept doing. I really enjoyed winning new jobs and clients. I loved changing PwC’s E&M Outlook from print to a digital version and the experience – it wasn’t just a simple design job – it also involved trying to solve the tech and infrastructure issues and selling the idea to stakeholders, and starting them on their digital journey. These types of projects started to change my direction even though I probably didn’t realise it at the time.
I’m always going to be different to a typical suit – I think in a creative way and approach problem-solving with a different thought process. I understand the creative agency/world like a creative, not a suit. I think it helps me see all sides when I am in the thick of whatever is happening in the agency.
LBB> Was there a particular colleague or leader who gave you the first opportunity to work in business management?
Clíona> In my last role, I moved more into the business and started to learn as much as I could. I learnt a hell of a lot about operations, finance, business, leadership and managing people. The experience that took me by surprise that I enjoyed was managing people. I didn’t realise I enjoyed it until I left and had to say goodbye to my teams. Teams called me Mama and showed so much loyalty and trust – it blew me away. I learned so much leading different people across different countries and working regionally, it was a real education for me. I have worked with people globally before but this was a much richer experience. I have taken all of that learning into this role and will keep learning and growing.
LBB> How did you move into your current role at ADK?
Clíona> I was headhunted actually and decided to join the ADK family. ADK has a great leader in Katagi-san and I believe in his vision of becoming an agency that caters to the present and the future and offers solutions that combines both creativity and technology that help clients transform as a business. ADK is in the business of reimagining and reinvigorating possibilities for your brand. We leverage local diversities for globally diverse possibilities. Katagi-san wants us to lead with courage and dare to improve but also dare to fail. I am very excited to be part of the ADK family and to be leading the Australian business. To grow the team, clients, and continue to learn in my journey, with ADK.
LBB> ADK has some ambitious growth plans, what are your ambitions within the business?
Clíona> I currently lead the AU business – one of my ambitions is to make Australia a success from a growth and leadership perspective. I want to create a great culture that empowers women, is diverse and inclusive so people want to come to work and enjoy it. With my nearly 20 years in the industry, I want to help clients solve their important business issues, and uncomplicate their problems or briefs and bring to the table a simple (to understand), a smarter solution that will save both time and cost.
I hope to continue to grow as a leader and evolve to take a regional and global role with ADK in the future - I want to be the leader that I wish I had.