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Storming the Gates: how Irene Fogarty moved from Medieval English to Advertising

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With a degree in Humanist studies, Irene Fogarty didn't know what to do.

We can assure you it's a common feeling. There aren't too many practical applications for a degree in Medieval English, especially if you're not interested in becoming a researcher. Plus, some are just not made to do certain jobs; and Irene certainly knows she's not cut up to do any kind of logical work.

And then, one day, Irene ends up writing a brochure for a friend which made him sell a lot of industrial pipes in North Carolina. From there, her life changed dramatically.

Irene is now a freelance creative copywriter and couldn't be happier with how her life turned out. And as you can see from the image below, she clearly knows how to put her Medieval English to practice now.

So don't be discouraged if you haven't found your own path yet. For this Member Spotlight, we are learning more about the story of someone who did – and hasn't looked back ever since.

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How did you get into the industry?

With a Master’s in Medieval English (nice but not very practical), I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just knew NYC was my city. Problem was, I was fired from many basic admin jobs. It seemed that any position that required logic didn't suit me. (One of them ironically was placing TV ads into a system.) Then I wrote a brochure for a friend who was selling industrial pipes in North Carolina. Whatever I did, he sold a lot of them. Someone told me this is 'copywriting'. So, I went to School of Visual Arts (SVA, NY) and won 'Best Creative' and from there never looked back.

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

After 14 years in NYC, I moved to Paris. I did a year and half in London but back in Paris now. I still work for agencies/clients in London and NYC. Thanks to remote working, we can work from anywhere these days!

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If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

Definitely something creative in film, music, travelling... writing. Or maybe a psychologist, delving into other peoples' minds and understanding their issues. I don't know! But I do know what I wouldn't be doing, that's for sure.

Can you explain your creative process?

Not sure I have a set process. I get that buzz almost like it's an exam... in a good way! I write out my initial thoughts and ideas just to get the juices going. Then I go back and see if there's an insight that can direct the ideas. Sometimes it comes fast and  other times takes longer. And most of the time, ideas come when I'm in the shower or away from a desk. So always have a notebook handy. Brainstorming is also when the ideas get better. Two heads are better than one, plus it's more fun!

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How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?

Technology has sped up the process. We have all these tools today and let's be honest they are great.  But at the end of the day, your best tool is your head. Nothing can replace that.

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

For me, reading, writing, travelling. Just living. I also listen to a lot of podcasts. Copywriting is about life. You need to know what's going on in the world. Not just trends but the arts, politics, film, music, etc. Then again when I see what gets posted on Tik Tok I could be all wrong!

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What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

Let me just preface that the work I'm lost proud of has nothing to do with advertising. But within the ad world, in my first 'big' job at Ogilvy NY, I worked on a drug to help people living with AIDS. I wrote about 25 brochures on healthy living using just my own all-natural nutrition knowledge. The drug company was so impressed with my knowledge, they asked me to keep writing them. On a less serious note,  I also loved my very first ad I did at SVA. It was a spec ad for Volvic water to show its purity. It showed Christ at the wedding at Cana with the headline, 'Relax, I can change it back!' My mum loved it so that made me proud! 

How do you recharge away from the office?

Well there's no office now but that means we need to remind ourselves to get away from screens. I do a 3-minute plank every morning before breakfast. I also run (hate every second of it), do pilates, weights and I walk. NYC taught me you have stay active...for your head as much as your belly! But I can also be very lazy lol. Recharging also means interacting so I like catching up with friends (in different places) as much as is possible today.

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What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

Look beyond advertising! How can you use your creative skills in different industries and in different ways?

Creative writing and solutions will always be needed. Just become creative about where you can use these skills. Don't be afraid to work outside your city, country or field. Talk to people. Sounds very basic but show people how your
creativity can help their business. That's how opportunities start.

And be honest! Don't be afraid to say an idea is too safe. Show your boss, client, whoever an idea that's not expected.

Even if they don't buy it, you'll set a standard for yourself.

What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

More diversity and inclusivity. More female Creative Directors, equal pay, less ego, and more respect for the creative process. And ageism is a tragedy. Young creatives could learn so much about the craft from experienced creatives.
As my favourite ad guru George Tannenbaum said recently, “Sage matters. Age doesn’t.”

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If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

What happened to creativity? We no longer value good ideas. There's a lot of eye candy out there with very little substance.

Do pen and ink intimidate you? Find more copywriters here!

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