“Helena’s career has spanned a wide variety of roles which has enabled her to rise up through the ranks to become creative director. It means she can take a broad, balanced view of a problem and come up with solutions that are surprising and unique. Her experience and calm demeanour endears her team to follow her and clients to trust her.” - Charley Stoney, CEO, IAPI
LBB> Having grown up in Ireland, what is your view on Irish creativity?
Helena> We’ve always had a proud history of producing great writers, musicians and artists but nowadays there are even more avenues for creative expression. Ireland has seen huge societal changes over the last 30 years and there’s been a shift in how we see ourselves. I think we’ve thrown off the shackles of being considered plucky underdogs and started to really believe we can compete on the global stage.
I work with a fantastic creative partner called Craig Robinson who just happens to be English and we often find ourselves talking about the cultural differences between the two countries. He reckons we work so well together because of the contrast between Irish directness and British reserve. And maybe that’s at the heart of Irish creativity, we’re not afraid to express our emotions.
LBB> How did these influences impact you and your choice of career?
Helena> I think growing up I was probably not overly aware of the impact these influences had on me. It’s only when you get time to reflect, that you see how they guided you in a particular direction. Art and music were always encouraged in my home though.
In the 1950s my grandfather was the stage manager in the The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, and although I never got to meet him, my father was heavily influenced by being brought up backstage. He passed on his love of literature and the arts to me and my siblings.
I skirted around the edges of doing creative work for a long time, in fact I seemed to be actively avoiding jumping straight in. Maybe it was a confidence thing or that other Irish trait we have of self-deprecation, but since joining Core, I’ve had the opportunity to really embrace it.
LBB> What do you think is the aspect of Irish culture or society that lends itself to creativity?
Helena> It might be seen as a cliché, but I think Irish people in particular know how to tell a great story. And I’m not just talking about the great writers and artists of the country. I worked part-time in a country pub during my college years and I sometimes think I learned more from the hours spent listening to customers captivating the room with a story, than I ever did in a lecture hall. Stories make connections, which is so important in our work. When you take storytelling into the world of brand building, you can communicate your brand’s beliefs and build a community that consumers can be part of.
LBB> You have been at Core for over eight years, how have you seen the company develop and adapt to the changing ad landscape in Ireland?
Helena> Core has always been a company that continually adapts to the market. I joined Core at a time when it was very much a media company. Then in my first couple of years, it launched an educational offering called Core Learning, developed a sponsorship division and invested heavily in a new data offering.
By far the biggest change came in 2018 when Core recognised the global trend of clients demanding full solution services and decided to transform its business. We went from operating as a group of nine separate companies to one company of nine specialist practices with collaboration at the heart of everything we do.
LBB> Core places great focus on embracing collaboration - what does this mean for you personally and how does it run through everything that you do?
Helena> The restructuring allowed new opportunities for creativity to open up right across the business. When you bring the right people together from different disciplines to tackle a problem, you get an elevated creative response. Now when you have a good idea, you have instant access to people who can not only enhance it, but maybe take it off in a completely different direction that you hadn’t initially considered.
Another great thing about working in Core full solutions is that you also have media and creative under one roof working hand in hand. You can have the greatest idea in the world but if you can’t get it to work across the channels you need it to, you will crash and burn and the idea will never see the light of day.
Also one of the most important aspects of collaboration is in the giving and receiving of feedback. If you’ve created a team who collaborate regularly, they build a level of trust with each other which makes having hard conversations easier.
LBB> What are some of the projects you have been most proud of being involved in?
Helena> I don’t tend to look back on work much. Yes, there are pieces myself and Craig have done over the years that I am proud of but in the words of my old MD, “Eaten bread is soon forgotten.”
Agency life is so fast paced that before you have had time to reflect on a job well done, you are on to the next project. Having said that, our recent MeNah? work for the HSE on behalf of the National Ambulance Service was a really enjoyable brief. Because of my background, I’m a sucker for a print ad that makes you do a double take, which is exactly what we were trying to achieve with this work.
LBB> What Irish work outside of Core do you wish the world had heard more about?
Helena> I think Rothco’s Sleeping Flags is a beautiful piece. Also Chemistry’s work with Lidl and the LGFA totally changed the narrative on how we viewed women’s sport in this country. Both campaigns highlight exactly how great creative can create a positive change.
LBB> What advice would you give to up-and-coming Irish creatives looking to take their work to the next level?
Helena> When I first started out I used to think you had to have the answer to a client brief on the spot to be considered a truly great creative. I’ve learned there’s nothing wrong with being the quietest person in the room if you are really listening. You are not expected to nor should you feel obliged to have the answers straight away. You need to nurture the reflective aspect of creativity and allow ideas time to take shape. This is where the magic happens. Some of the best ideas myself and Craig come up with, start over WhatsApp on a Sunday night in front of the telly.
Secondly, embrace the challenge of a small budget. In my experience it forces you to come up with a more creative solution.
And finally, if it takes five pages of rationale to explain your idea, you’ll lose your audience. Sum it up in a couple of sentences, it will mean you’ve got an idea that really works.