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Creative Is Native: “We Are a Tiny but Powerful Island”


The Public House head of design Eimear O’Sullivan on a deep connection to her Irish heritage and a hunger to compete globally, in association with IAPI

Creative Is Native: “We Are a Tiny but Powerful Island”

“Eimear can effortlessly blend creativity and strategy, infusing every project with a touch of brilliance. Among her peers she is known to be genuinely one of the nicest people, a true perfectionist and a leader extraordinaire. In fact, I have seen it first hand while she was on IAPI’s Female Futures Fund programme. She has the innate gift of captivating the audience making her an invaluable asset and a true champion of the art form.” - Charley Stoney, CEO, IAPI 

LBB> Having grown up in Ireland, what is your view on Irish creativity?

Eimear> Creativity is in our DNA. The arts, song writing, the spoken word, music and dance, are all hugely important within our culture and growing up within this has definitely had an impact. I think as a people we have a deep connection to our history and heritage and a real hunger for the new, the contemporary, the unknown. Whether in fashion, the arts, music or literature we are a nation that is constantly pushing the boundaries of who we are. We are a tiny but powerful island that lives and breathes creativity in almost everything that we do. And we are highly competitive! I think being such a small island we constantly see ourselves as the underdog and have a real hunger to compete among our peers globally.

LBB> Did this rich heritage help influence you and your choice of career?

Eimear> I've always been fascinated with art and design. Growing up in John B Keane country of Listowel in North Co. Kerry I was surrounded with traditional storytelling, literature, poetry and songwriting. With a rich creative heart this town has borne many a creative but I was oblivious as to how this could translate in a more commercial world. Growing up I had no idea that advertising or graphic design even existed. I tried my hand at art college and finally found my feet in graphic design! But it wasn't until 10 years into my career that The Public House caught my attention and I went knocking on this then up-and-coming creative agency's door. I wasn’t entirely sure what it was that they did but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Eight years on and I'm incredibly lucky to still be part of this amazing agency creating outstanding thought-provoking work.

LBB> You’ve also spent some time in the UK and Sydney - how does creativity in Ireland compare to what you have seen abroad?

Eimear> If one was looking for a culture so closely linked to Ireland through its sense of humour and wit it would most definitely be Australia and New Zealand - but specifically the Kiwis. Their dry offbeat personality makes for truly distinctive and often laugh out loud creative even when speaking to the most serious of topics. Some of my favourite work comes from the shores of this wonderful island. The Aussies are also big fans of humour and, like the Irish, aren't afraid of touching the odd nerve! We share a love for being self-deprecating. Creatively we are definitely up there with the best of them competing on that global stage and it’s our love of humour and our self-awareness as a nation, happy to poke fun at our nuanced and slightly daft way of doing things, that makes our work unique at an international level.

LBB> What do you think is the aspect of Irish culture or society that lends itself to creativity? 

Eimear> I think a lot of it comes back to the idea of craft that is ingrained in Irish culture and has been passed down through generations. Whether its literature or fine art, stained glass making or product design, street art or ceramics there is a real respect for craft in this country not only amongst creators and artists themselves but throughout the general population. 

LBB> And what does creativity mean to you personally? How do you nurture yours?

Eimear> Creativity to me means pure originality. Whether this is a doodle in your personal sketchpad or a fully fleshed out design concept for a client. It all comes down to the purity and originality of the thought/idea. We live in an age where we are bombarded by creative influences every minute of the day and this is definitely a double-edged sword! On one hand the immense breath of inspiration at our fingertips is phenomenal but it is also overwhelming and hard to step away from. We are so subconsciously influenced by the endless stream of online inspiration through social feeds, blogs, podcasts and more that one has to question how truly original our work is. These days I want to make work that initially makes me feel slightly uncomfortable and by that, I mean something I haven't seen before that steps away from conventions, trends and formulas and carves out a completely new visual/design space. 

When it comes to nurturing my own creativity, without a doubt that means time out, time away from the computer, time away from creativity on demand. We all work at a ferocious rate and if covid taught us anything it was that a good work life balance makes us all a hell of a lot happier! As a mum of two small kids, life is pretty hectic so to nurture my own creativity is to nurture myself and ensure I can make it through the week without falling apart! 

LBB> You’ve spent the last few years as head of design at The Public House, working across print campaigns and branding projects. How have you seen the Irish media landscape changing over the years and how have you adapted your approach to match?

Eimear> I started my career in design working predominantly in print but things have obviously changed dramatically since then. We are spoiled for choice with where and when we consume our media. No longer are we creating one creative asset that might run across several different touchpoints. There is now an ever-evolving list of channels and platforms that we need to design specifically for.  

On top of that, this quick turnaround, easy-to-produce content has definitely swayed some to go for the easy wins and this can result in brands becoming more executional and less focused on the brand building side of things. This can result in leaving consumers with zero understanding of who your brand is and what it stands for. But most damaging is that it can lead to a lack of connection to the brand which can sink it! We are constantly upskilling and trying to stay ahead of the curve ensuring that our clients' brands are being communicated as effectively as possible on the most appropriate (to their target audience) platforms.

Having said that, I think we need to be careful how much importance we put on the channel or platform itself. Yes, we need to remain on top of industry trends but at the end of the day it all boils down to one thing which is great, original, insightful creative.

LBB> What are some of the projects at The Public House that you have been most proud of being involved in and why? 

Eimear> Prior to joining The Public House my background was not for profit and NGOs - (I know how the hell did I end up in adland you may ask!) So, it makes sense that the work that we do at The Public House for our charity partners is some of the work I hold in the highest esteem. After that, it's definitely my role as a hybrid designer/ art director on some of our alcohol brands.  

Not long in the door at The Public House we worked on a piece entitled WeightoftheEighth. As an agency we were united in our stance to repeal the eighth referendum (referring to the 1983 constitutional amendment which guaranteed the right to life of the unborn, making abortion illegal unless the pregnancy was life-threatening.) On the days leading up to the referendum, Ireland was blanketed by graphic imagery, unsubstantiated facts and loud, hate-filled debate. In response we decided to create an activation. We felt the need for a quiet protest, so we projected a ball and chain on one of the city’s few female statues. Forming the shape of an eight, it represented the weight of the eighth amendment on the women of Ireland. We were neither sure how it would be received nor how legal it was but proceeded with the backing of our senior team to create something that truly mattered to our team and resulted in #WeightoftheEighth trending in two hours with national and international coverage in the Irish Times and The Times (UK). Amid the noise, a quiet message made a big impact.

On a completely opposite and indulgent tangent, I'm immensely proud of the 360 campaign we created last year for our friends at Kahlúa! This definitely was one of those dream briefs coupled with a stellar client team which made for an awesome outcome! Once again it allowed me to flex in that hybrid role as designer/art director. We were challenged to reposition Kahlúa in the treat space and as the perfect ingredient for an easy, at-home cocktail. Through a variety of techniques such as puppetry, stop motion and in-camera supers we produced a suite of highly-crafted dynamic assets that drove home these key messages and reinforced a more playful, witty brand personality.

Finally, I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the guys at the Irish Craft Soda Company creating their new brand identity and packaging for their new line of delicious sodas. We set out to create something truly refreshing within the category, that aligned with our boring doesn't sell philosophy and allowed this small company to be a force to be reckoned with on the shelf. With a bright bold pack design that is conceptually driven we are really proud of the final product and can't wait to see the rest of the family follow suit. 

LBB> Is there any work that has come out of Ireland that you wished the world had heard more about? 

Eimear> There's a couple of stand-out pieces of work that come to mind for me but one recent one is ‘The Estate of us’ created as a side project by a Dublin based collective of creatives. A fake estate agent website that draws attention to the state of the housing situation in Ireland. It's always great to see creativity being used to spotlight important social issues and in this case encouraging people to take action. 

From a pure design side of things, I'm a massive fan of all they do over at Red & Grey and especially their work for the National College of Art & Design (NCAD). According to Red & Grey, the fifth province is one of imagination that lives at the centre of Ireland. In Irish folklore this ’otherworld’ is where the citizens of Irish imagination reside. Red & Grey used this as the concept for the college's online prospectus opening a gateway into an otherworld where the user is introduced to the NCAD citizens of creativity. Beautifully executed, this is a pure masterclass in innovative, exciting design. 

LBB> What advice would you give to up-and-coming Irish creatives looking to take their work to the next level?

Eimear> Show up, don’t be afraid to ask for help and try everything! Starting out in any career, especially a creative one, is when you should try as many different things as possible, fail as often as you need to and keep getting back up when you take a knock. 

For new starters my only expectation is that you show up, work hard and try your best. Asking for help is a big one. Whether it's reaching out to someone for advice or asking your peers how to do something - don’t be afraid. There are very few dickheads out there - most of us want to support each other in succeeding so bear that in mind.  I'd also highly advise getting yourself a mentor, someone more experienced than yourself in the industry who you can hit up now and again for advice but mostly to be a bit of a guiding force for you in the whirligig that is the world of advertising. 

And last but not least, a reminder that we are not saving lives. God forbid! I still have to remind myself of this when I get unnecessarily stressed over projects.  Our mental health is of utmost importance so look after it at all costs and enjoy the ride! 

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The Institute Of Advertising Practitioners In Ireland, Thu, 01 Jun 2023 14:48:00 GMT