Emma Morris has won the lottery of working life; that’s because she’s one of the lucky few who absolutely loves what she does. Working in Ireland’s creative hub has informed her own creativity in more ways than she can count. In this interview, we hear about her road into the industry, where she started out in graphic design, long before she’d even considered advertising as an option for creative outlet.
At the heart of Emma’s creative process is strategic thinking, which forms the foundation for any endeavour. However, what truly sets her work apart is the infusion of wit, humour, and storytelling deeply rooted in the rich traditions of Irish communication. She firmly believes that this authentic Irish approach can deeply resonate with global audiences, as long as it remains true to its historical roots while being informed by the dynamics of modern society.
We hear how her nervous anticipation of AI - a familiar feeling amongst many of us - is overridden with an excitement for what it can help us achieve, whilst regonising the urgency to grow and adapt with the beast. Throughout, Emma shares invaluable insights and wisdom gained from her experience. She emphasises the importance of trusting one's instincts, embracing the power of saying "I don't know" when necessary, and recognising the value of being true to oneself.
“Emma is a force of nature. The passion she brings is absolutely evident in every conversation you have with her. She is proven to be an incredible leader and broken through barriers in her career path to contribute to Ireland’s wealth of commercial creativity,” says Charley Stoney, CEO, IAPI. “Last year Emma was one of the participants in IAPI’s Female Futures Fund programme designed to accelerate women into senior roles where they’re in a position to make a difference and help others reach their full potential and that’s certainly true of Emma.”
LBB> Emma, thanks for joining us today. Please begin by telling us a bit about your background and journey to date
Emma> I kind of stumbled into my line of work to be honest! I had my heart set on a creative career from a young age - so studied television production in Ballyfermot College and then went on to complete a BA(Hons) in Television, in Edinburgh Napier University. I made the age old decision to travel after college for two years so once I came back from the southern hemisphere, I got my foot in the door as a (very) junior graphic designer in RMG, part of DDFH&B. Advertising wasn’t a creative stream that I considered as a career early on, but I knew deep down that I could learn and upskill the technical part of graphic design and my creative eye would carry me through the rest. Fast forward eight years and I’m now creative director in GroupM Invention and I absolutely LOVE what I do. We were a team of nine when I joined and now stand at 36, with a team of seven in our creative and production department. It’s been bloody amazing to develop and grow this creative agency from such a small seed.
LBB> What does creativity mean to you?
Emma> I wasn’t a very academic student growing up so having a creative output, being the creative person in the room was kind of what made me feel seen. It’s never been about artistic skill for me (as my stick men storyboards will attest to) it’s always been more about expression and thinking further than what’s directly in front of me.
LBB> Creativity can be a messy and challenging process. What strategies do you use to overcome creative blocks and stay motivated throughout a project?
Emma> I’m definitely someone that thrives in a team environment, being in the office is naturally more motivating than working alone on a project at home. I love to be in the centre of a team; being able to bounce ideas off someone, even if it’s the reassurance that my approach is good. It doesn’t always have to be about inspiring something completely new. Since others now look to me as a leader in the creative team, this role alone keeps me motivated. Teaching others, or being a sound-board in their creative blocks keeps me on my toes as I want to get it right for them.
LBB> Ireland has a strong creative industry, with a thriving start-up scene and a growing reputation as a hub for technology and innovation. How do you see the Irish creative industry contributing to the global creative landscape, and what unique perspectives and talents do Irish creatives bring to the table?
Emma> I truly think that the Irish creative industry is doing something different. When you look at Irish advertising for example; the heart, the clever wit and humour. It’s the first thing I noticed when I moved back home, the one-liners and immediate relatability is what makes creative better here. It’s been said many times (but one more time with feeling) - we are simply great storytellers, and that’s what we have over others around the globe. Even if we’re selling bread, it’s done with a familiar narrative and a bitta’ craic. Embracing these Irish storytelling traditions with new innovation is exactly what we’re doing and what we need to continue to do to contribute to the global creative landscape.
LBB> Tell us about GroupM and what you do. What sets you apart?
Emma> So I head up the creative department within GroupM Invention. Our team ensures that strategic thinking is at the centre of every creative output and not just an afterthought that the media planners have to deal with. We make creative that makes sense. Who’s seeing it, when and where, all feeds directly into the brief ever before creative ideation (So that a 1min TV ad in 16:9 doesn’t end up in someone’s Instagram feed).
We sit on the same floor as the people who are buying the ads we create, so we’re always working in-line with them to ensure that we’re delivering creative that’s fit for purpose. It’s the thing that sets us apart from traditional creative agencies and why I feel we’re leading the charge in this field.
LBB> How can creatives balance authentic Irish storytelling with being understood by global audiences?
Emma> I think once you are fundamentally creating something with a clear message and a true sense of self, it can be viewed and make sense to anyone, no matter where in the world they are watching it, strong Irish narrative or not. If you look at The Banshee of Inisherin from this year; a huge Oscar nominated phenomenon that was adored around the world. Yet if you look at the script, it’s full to the brim of Irish terminology and niche one-liners. The story of broken friendship and heartbreak was what resonated with the global audience and made it relatable to so many. I think the same can be said to any piece of creative, no matter how big or small.
LBB> What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned to date?
Emma> I recently took part in a leadership programme with IAPI, and the one thing that stuck with me above everything else is simple enough - “Be truthful”.
- Trust your gut and be true to yourself. If you have an opinion – speak up.
- You don’t always have to have the answer right away, it’s ok to say “can you leave that with me, and I’ll come back to you”. If you’re unsure of something, don’t just… make something up and send people off with wrong information. You’re only doing your reliability and reputation a disservice, which is the foundation for a good leader.
LBB> What excites you about the future of the industry? What concerns you?
Emma> Having things in place to help expression and translate ideation in your head. The growth in creative technology and everything surrounding A.I. just makes me as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. A.I. is reducing the mundane in our working day. Put a pin in the creative ideation side for a second – just think about research, subtitling, ADMIN. All the things that slow down creative thinking is now more efficient. For creative expression, A.I. is HUGE. As someone who very regularly has an idea in her head, but struggles to paint the picture to someone else; having A.I. imagery, generated storyboarding or A.I.-built video adaptation to hand to bring your ideation to life is so exciting (and also means no more stick men storyboards) I see A.I. as a form of creative support, rather than the basis of genius ideation. Robots are good, but they’re not that good. As far as what concerns me? It’s probably everything that comes hand in hand with A.I. It’s not so much a concern with fear but more of nervous anticipation.There’s no ignoring it, A.I. is here so we better learn how to grow and adapt with it.