The Cheil UAE senior copywriter on the multiculturalism she experienced in the ‘90s and why “being nice is just as important as being good at your job”, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani
“The kid who was always up to something,” Irene Lily Phillip had an adventurous childhood; playing with friends, “living wild in the not-so-wild outdoors, making things with my hands and hoarding books at the school library,” as she puts it. From a young age, literature caught her eye and made her keen to learn more, but her other hobbies kept her rather busy too. From that point, her curiosity grew into a love of stories and she tried her hand at writing her own thoughts in numerous diary entries. In her adult life, looking back on her thoughts, this was the first indication of Irene’s current career path.
At a young age, however, her bookworm tendencies didn’t mean she was tied to literature; Irene was into sports, music, dance and the arts too. “You could put me on a track and challenge me to a sprint, or throw me on a football field and tell me to go long,” she says, while also reflecting on her hopes of being in a girl band with her friends. With her varied set of interests, Irene thanks the “multicultural community” she grew up in, as this shaped her ability to “learn to appreciate the differences and the similarities in everything.” As a South Asian growing up in the Middle East in the ‘90s, multiculturalism certainly impacted her worldview and influenced the way she sees things.
With her interest in the arts, it’s not a surprise that Irene studied fashion design and technology, beginning her creative career as a textile designer at a fashion house and apparel company. It was from this point that an editor approached her to do a feature and she began her journey into writing, creating a piece for a magazine. “This experience reinforced what my English teachers had said to me through school: ‘start writing’. From there on, I joined a fashion e-commerce business which was the formal, full-time leap into content creation, writing and production,” says Irene.
When she was in textiles, Irene worked on her first professional project, “designing for a line of bed linens, which thankfully turned out profitable for the company I was working with.” But it was in Marie Claire where the aspiring copywriter wrote her first fashion feature, “The task required me to use my design/styling abilities to come up with a look and curate a collection in partnership with a designer store, and style a flat lay shoot with a photographer within the day, and return everything back to the store, and start on writing this piece.” Through the process, both her writing and fashion experience were in perfect balance to allow her to conceptualise and curate her writing during what she describes as “an invigorating experience.”
During these first experiences, Irene learnt the most useful lesson that, “Being nice is just as important as being good at your job,” she says, reflecting on the most useful lesson she’s learnt so far. As someone who continues to learn and develop from every task, she says her skills are still “a work in progress.” Because of this, she spends her time listing, reading and subscribing to everything that catches her attention, spreading her hobbies far and wide. Within the industry, being a sponge is perhaps the easiest way to not only stay fresh on new aspects of craft but also allow growth to take place at a much faster pace, which is the path Irene has chosen.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to work on projects of all scales and forms, but one that is particularly important and fulfilling for me is a campaign we did for Energizer Japan,” Irene says. Perhaps the most significant campaign she worked on, this particular spot was part of the effort to both create awareness and increase sales for Energizer Lights during disaster season in Japan. She says, “We zeroed in on manga as the best approach to appeal to our target audience there. So there started my story development process with my assistant creative director and art team. The outcome was a seven-chapter digital manga called ‘Let There Be Light’, which was translated to Japanese, and starred Mr. Energizer and friends.” Part of what made this significant is that as a result, the brand became the second most trusted in the region, “and increased their market share to 17%, with over 200,000 readers and a reach of over 20 million.”
Within her work, Irene hopes to have the opportunity “to do something new and possibly change perceptions.” She reflects on people she’s met who have a natural ability to see things “and just know what needs to be done”, which is something she aspires to achieve one day. However, part of what makes the industry a challenge are the barriers many of us face - and for Irene, it tends to be the uninspired feeling which comes from things going wrong. “I believe I work hard and am mostly thorough in my approach towards most things I care about, so I tend to sometimes get deflated when my efforts don’t pay off,” she says, but also acknowledges how learning lessons from this process has ultimately made her better at what she does.
Creatives do what they do for the love of it, and this is what truly inspires Irene in her day-to-day life. She looks up to Dan Nelken, Liz Fosslien and Eddie Shleyner as “people I take daily notes from for creative and personal inspiration.” This is particularly true when it comes to justifying her particular word choices or coming up against the criteria of being ‘native English speakers’. Irene explains her frustration with this, “in most cases, that means, copywriters from select countries/regions only,” not only this, but the layers upon layers of internal approvals in addition to this can mean that copywriting winds up being “undervalued and overlooked.”
Alleviating these frustrations through physical exercise, cooking her heart out and travelling, Irene takes her mind off any stress by allowing herself to relax. “I cook whenever I can. Dance wherever possible. Work out at least five days of the week. Read and watch TV as much as possible. Learn languages. Food. Music. Dance. Travelling. All the things I’ve loved since I was little,” and all the things she continues to do. Some of her favourite food content creators are “Padma Lakshmi, Anthony Bourdain, Joanne Lee Molinaro (aka The Korean Vegan) and Kylie Kwong.” And you can often find her watching content creators and artists such as Karen Cheng, Arimura Taishi and Sarah Andersen, to name but a few.
With many inspirations and hobbies, Irene says, “There are many things I want to do, places I’d like to be, people I’d like to meet. That’s how I tell myself there’s more to come and keep going. Also… food.”