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Opinion and Insight

Ireland’s Agents (and Agencies) of Change

IAPI’s new CEO tells LBB’s Alex Reeves about path ahead for the Irish advertising industry, fuelled by the country’s progressive spirit

Ireland’s Agents (and Agencies) of Change

Charley Stoney has a uniquely commanding view of the Irish advertising industry. When she joined as the CEO of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland in June 2018, she had actually spent the past ten years outside of the agency world, taking what she calls “a bit of a detour”.

She started her career in agencies during the pre-recession years, and eventually rose to head up Dublin agency McDonnells Fusion as managing director. And then, Charley stepped away from agency life in 2007 to run a business she found interesting in sales consulting. “It turned out I’d chosen well. Six months later the recession hit,” she says. “We were wonderful because we knew how to sell. While all the agencies were floundering throughout that terrible period we were doing exceptionally well. Unbeknownst to me I had jumped ship at the right time and managed a sales business throughout the recession that really seemed to hit home.”

In 2013, the crisis still hurting, Charley came back into the marketing world to run a marketing consultancy for talent, Alternatives. Her experiences there were eye opening. She became very familiar with all the chief marketing officers in Ireland, hearing about what they were looking for in recruitment and the struggles they were having.

Industry leaders would tell Charley not only what they were looking for in people for their own teams, but would also discuss their own career objectives with her. It was an inside track on how Ireland’s CMOs were thinking.

“CMOs are unfairly labelled non-commercial beings,” she says of the insights she gained over five years. “Ireland is really under-indexed in terms of CMOs with a voice on the board, or even board-level CMOs. So the big thing for me at Alternatives was how to gain more gravitas at board level for the CMOs.”

That’s a mission she’s carried through to her position at IAPI, applying that thinking to agencies. “I believe that the leaders in the agency world are all running businesses, are all highly commercial and actually do understand what CEOs are facing. They understand where each other are coming from.” 

Helping to bridge that gap through the agency leaders is, Charley feels, a more achievable goal for a small market like Ireland. She’s vocal about targeting brands’ C-suite and, in particular, CFOs, through a series of events, seminars and a symposium next year. With the dreaded procurement becoming an ever more present force felt by agencies, she feels those who hold the purse strings are more important than ever.

“If procurement understood better what we could do for the bottom line of the business, and how brands should be at the heart of your financial strategy, I think that’s a win-win all round,” she says.
She’s not doing this alone. One of the first things she did when I joined IAPI was to set up an advisory panel of the contacts she’d made through Alternatives. “They’re a great unofficial sounding board that includes probably 12 of the top CMOs in the country,” she says. “We meet once every three or four months. They give me great insight into what they need from their agencies and I can bring that back to our members. That closes the loop.”

IAPI also has aims to work more closely with bodies like itself on the client side - the AAI and MII. With Charley’s view from both sides she’s learnt how vital these are. “We need to work together as opposed to in isolation,” she says. “2019 will be a massive year for collaboration across the Irish industry. We’re too small a country to work in parallel. We need to be much more joined up in our thinking.”

Ireland’s size is a huge boon in this sense. With Charley gluing the different communities together, the structure of the industry itself could become more tightly interwoven than many other markets. But the new IAPI CEO has a more human argument to make for on behalf of her country’s creative industries. Working with her marketer friends, as well as the creative agencies that make up IAPI’s membership, the Institute is guiding Ireland’s reputation abroad. Unlike any other country, she believes the nation is “able to understand what the new society needs from its leaders and from its cultural environment.”

“If you think about where Ireland has come over the last 20 years, we’ve completely left the Catholic dogma behind us and leapfrogged over some very progressive countries,” she says. “We could be seen as the most progressive country in Europe right now. Ironic given our Catholic background.”

Charley believes Ireland has amazing consumer insight we’re because it’s a “people-oriented” nation. “We understand what our people need from us.”

Ireland’s recent record of leading the way on progressive issues speaks for itself. On environmental issues, it was the first country to introduce a plastic bag levy in 2002, promoting the use of paper bags for shoppers. Promoting public health, it was the first country to introduce a smoking ban in public places back in 2004. More recently it was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by a popular vote. “We just had a massive referendum on the eighth amendment [granting women the right to access abortions], which is huge given our background. We’ve got a gay Taoiseach [Prime Minister]. Who’d have ever thought?,” says Charley. “We stand for centre- and progressive-thinking people. We’re so far removed from what happening in France, Russia, America; we are holding the centre ground here. I think that’s very reflective of how we feel collectively as a society.”

Charley knows this narrative holds power for marketers. Firstly, she believes this spirit is key to attracting the world-class talent that is flowing towards Dublin. “People want to work in Ireland and be part of the progressive society we belong to,” she says. “But also because they feel - through advertising, some of the charitable work we do here and the advertising for good - that they can really make an impact on society. That gen-Z generation, the 18 to 25 year olds joining the industry - that’s what they’re all about.”

The results of this rise in innovative, purposeful Irish creativity are already beginning to show. Perhaps the most obvious evidence is Ireland’s success at Cannes Lions this year, with Rothco’s ‘JFK Unsilenced’ project for The Times bringing home Ireland’s first Grand Prix from the festival. But Charley would like to highlight one example that involved IAPI more directly as a signal for where she hopes Irish adland is heading.

IAPI is the festival rep for Cannes Lions in Ireland, so runs the national Young Lions competition for up-and-coming creatives every year. This year’s winners did something Charley believes encapsulates everything the latest generation of Irish creatives promises, creating a campaign for Concern that the charity has actually taken up as a global piece of film to help them fight poverty. 

The brief was aimed at engaging with 15 to 25 year olds, who otherwise may not have heard of Concern and certainly didn’t feel that it applied to them. Kieran and Eric, the creatives from Guns or Knives, turned a classic charity brief on its head and talked about the volunteers as opposed to what Concern do in each country they work in. Working with a sneakerhead vlogger called Seth Fowler, the campaign neatly exemplifies what Charley believes this young Irish creative energy brings to marketers. “That’s what I mean about being at the forefront of societal change and being able to understand what 18 to 25 years olds in particular need. That’s an example of a campaign that demonstrates the way we think, our futuristic societal viewpoint.”

She’s optimistic about this because, having got to know the CMOs of today, she knows the kind of thinking they’re looking for. “They need agents of change, they need innovation, they need progression. Sometimes when they’re working with agencies in a more traditional marketplace (dare I say the UK), they don’t get that. They don’t get the groundswell that’s coming up, influencing the creatives and planners within their agency environment.”
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