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Creative Is Native: TBWA\Dublin’s Clara Traynor Likes Work without Ego


LBB speaks to the senior copywriter about starting her career in fashion design, on the creative freedom the role affords her, and why she followed her heart back to Ireland

Creative Is Native: TBWA\Dublin’s Clara Traynor Likes Work without Ego

Some people discover that they’re really good at one thing and pursue it professionally. Clara Traynor, senior copywriter at TBWA\Dublin, is very good at many things. She started her professional life as a fashion designer, created a fashion label, and helped to make a bra for Katy Perry. Life as a new designer taught her that the ‘customer is always right’ mantra might actually be wrong, and it’s a lesson she carries with her to this day. 

Clara credits her primary school teacher for igniting her love of writing, saying that “her enthusiasm for words was infectious.” One of the things that Clara likes most about the role is the freedom it affords her to learn something new and to get a little bit obsessed with it if she wants. 

To date, Clara has worked on clients like Heineken, Orchard Thieves, Tesco, and Nike. We spoke to Clara about why chose to return to Ireland after almost settling in New York, how she pushes past writer’s block through play, and why the best work has no ego.

Charley Stoney, CEO of IAPI, says: “Clara is a real enthusiast and her team say she’s an absolute joy to work with. She comes at every project with fervent energy which she manages to channel into really smart, well structured creative ideas. Another female creative star in the making…!”

LBB> Before the world of advertising, you worked as a fashion designer. Tell us a little about that and your label! 

Clara> Wow, that feels like another life now. Yeah, I studied fashion in LSAD, Limerick. I was still in my final year of college when I came across an opportunity for emerging designers to exhibit at Showcase, Ireland’s largest creative expo, where designers connect with over 5000 buyers from across the world. 

I took a punt (what felt like a bit of a shot in the dark) and filled out the application and, to my shock, it was successful. I was told by one of the organisers that I’d been their youngest ever exhibitor which, although was said as a compliment, completely spiralled my self-doubt. 

Because of my age, I assumed that everyone else knew more than me. I felt totally out of my depth at times which looking back now, the only thing that was holding me back, was my lack of self-belief.   

I’ve great love for the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland. They were amazing at preparing makers who had no experience. They ran free entrepreneur workshops that helped ease the self-doubt. I’ll never forget how friendly and welcoming the makers in the design and craft community were to the newbies. 

Above: Clara's designs

LBB> We’d also love to know how you ended up designing a bra for Katy Perry - are three pictures we can see?

Clara> That was a lovely job to work on. It was during my time working in New York with Logan Neitzel (Project Runway fans might recognise his name). The two of us created it in one long night and maybe a half a day. It was quickly couriered off to her stylist the next morning so sadly, I never got to see it on her IRL. I’m not sure if I can share pictures but I have shared some work from my former life. 

LBB> What did you learn from that part of your work and does it help with the role you’re in today?

Clara> As a new and naïve designer, I thought the best approach to attract buyers was over-accommodation. If a buyer seemed interested in my collection, I’d tell them about all the fabric possibilities that were available or how any element of the design could be changed. “The customer is always right” was burned deeply into my psyche from all my restaurant and catering gigs.  

A piece of advice from an Irish designer who had far more experience than me made me rethink my blindness servile approach. He talked about how some people will ask for the world and more and they still won’t be happy. His advice was to hold firm to your vision. Listen to your gut and give your expert opinion. 

I think covid scared a lot of people in the advertising industry to voice their expert opinions. During that time (where we all spent baking indoors), it felt like everyone was following each other and because of it, there was a lot of going around in circles. Worrying about the unknown meant that everyone was playing it a bit safe because no one wanted to make a wrong move.

Above: Orchard Thieves

LBB> You also worked as an associate designer on the iconic Madison Avenue. What was that experience like?

Clara> Exciting, exhausting, dizzying. I’m a Kildare native so going from Ireland’s flattest county all the way to an office that was on the 28th floor took a bit of getting used to. The people, sights and experiences are something I’ll never forget. 

LBB> Today, you’re a senior copywriter - where does your knack for words come from?

Clara> If I had to pinpoint what sparked my love of words, it’s a life moment that’s possibly familiar to many. I’d credit my sixth class primary school teacher. Her enthusiasm for words was infectious and I suppose that’s where I caught the bug. 

I’d say that anyone has the potential to write because everyone has a story. It’s just a matter of putting yourself into it. When I’m interested in something new, I tend to become a little obsessed with it. Being a copywriter gives you the freedom to feed that part of my personality. 

LBB> And how did you get started on the copywriting path?

Clara> I’ve always been interested in culture – what drives it, and what creates new culture. Studying fashion, my thesis was around the psychology of why we choose the things that we use and what interrupts our decision-making processes every day. The career switch seemed natural enough. I find a lot of parallels between the two industries even today. 

LBB> In your opinion, what makes a good copywriter? How much of that skill is learned versus innate?

Clara> Anyone has the potential to write but honing your skills and craft takes time. The more slog you put in and the more you learn to be self-critical of your work, the better it will be. I always try to push past the “sure, it’ll be grand” to “how can it be great”, without losing too much sleep over it. 

Above: Nike

LBB> Tell us about a few of the projects you’re most proud of - what makes them special to you?

Clara> Work that makes the world better is always something I’m drawn to and that’s what’s so great about TBWA\. There are so many opportunities to fill that need to make that work. One example of that is Metal Shop, the agency’s proactive arm. It’s the chance for anyone in the agency to roll up their sleeves, get their hands a bit dirty to make work that stands for something strong. I’m passionate about tech and innovation too so getting the opportunity to develop a game from scratch for a global brand is one I can mark off the career checklist soon too (watch this space). 

For me, the best work isn’t worthy – those ones where you can’t see ego in the executions. It works because it’s honest or it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Another one that stands out is the rebrand we did for Heineken, where Orchard Thieves became Tortured Thieves for Halloween. It was one of those projects where everyone in the gang was all in to make it come to life.  

LBB> Do you ever experience writer’s block and, if so, how do you deal with it?

Clara> Go for a walk. Change your surroundings. Read or watch something that’s completely unrelated helps unlock new ways of seeing the brief differently. 

Playing with my daughter (she’s three and half). Even before kids, I was a huge believer in the power of play and how it unlocks new ways to communicate in deeper ways. And now, I’ve even more of a reason to love it. 

LBB> You’ve lived in London and New York before returning to Ireland. What made you go back - what’s special about Ireland to you?

Clara> I loved New York and I was in the middle of getting my O visa there. I’d done the paperwork; I’d paid the lawyer, all that. Then I went home for Christmas and Ireland called me to stay. Sometimes you listen to your heart.  

LBB> Finally, What does creativity mean to you? How do you nurture yours?

Clara> It sounds corny as hell, but I’d say creativity is a bit of a way of life. It’s how I choose to see the world; it’s how I decompress but it’s also what can keep me up at night. It’s what I try to encourage in others, including my daughter. Although, kids are naturally more creative and lateral in their thinking than adults so if anything, she encourages me. I do try to facilitate ways to help grow her imagination and problem solve on her own. We create stories, art and explore together. When she was a baby, I dusted off my sewing machine and made custom toys for her. It’s funny how skills have a way of coming around full circle.

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The Institute Of Advertising Practitioners In Ireland, Fri, 26 May 2023 09:56:00 GMT