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Deirdre Waldron on passionate leadership

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TBWA\Dublin chief executive officer Deirdre 'Dee' Waldron was not born a CEO. And this made her an even more passionate and empathetic leader.

Born a computer programmer, Dee learned from coding a set of transferable skills she still employs to this day, so much that we believe few challenges cause her to switch on panic mode. Apart from maybe when she accidentally spills beer on a client's wife.

This week we are Getting to Know a strong entrepreneurial leader, so passionate about her work and team that she can't wait to get back to the "TBWA family", once this corona-pocalypse is over. And we do wish to both sides that such reunion may happen soon.


Tell us a bit about your current role.

I head up TBWA here in Dublin. My role as CEO is very varied as you’d expect. It’s basically an everchanging combination of meetings – client-facing, internal and network. We have a great team here in Dublin so the running of the agency is expertly handled by our management team, which gives me more time to focus on new business, network opportunities, key client meetings and creative presentations

Nowadays, I do most of that from my home and pop into the kitchen for a caffeine break in-between calls to say hi to whichever family member happens to be in there! But I’m really looking forward to getting back into the office next month. It’s been too long and I’m missing our TBWA family.

How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?

I was on maternity leave in 2011 with my first child. The founder of the company, Chris Cawley, was very progressive in his thinking and offered me the role, wanting to see more female leaders in the industry.

At the time, my biggest challenge was balancing work and life, but over time I’ve got into a routine that works for me. Also, as I was relatively new to the industry when I was promoted my profile was relatively low so it took some time and energy outside of work hours to build that. 

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I went to university, did computer applications and then I worked in the tech industry for over 10 years, moving through different roles from programming to product marketing. However I always wanted to be closer to the consumer end and jumped at the chance to do some freelance work for Agency.com when they were still around. For me it was the perfect mix of the tech and agency worlds.

Having trained as a computer programmer, I learned the skill of always looking for an alternative way through a program or problem. That has stood me well in management. Also, computer programming is inherently creative and stretches the mind on many different levels. 

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

I wanted to do architecture when I left school but didn’t have enough points to get onto the course. I’m still really interested in architecture, as well as interiors and garden design. I am a sucker for an AD or Dwell magazine and love pouring over interior designer accounts on Insta. My go-to happy place is when I’m designing a new room or outdoor space, which I often do for friends and neighbours. 

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Surrounding myself with inspiring and motivating people. We have such a great team in Dublin and I am genuinely inspired on a daily basis when I see the work we create. Also, being part of the TBWA network is hugely inspiring and motivating as we link in with other offices on a regular basis and take the best bits from each office. it’s highly encouraged within the network to productise and scale local innovations, so there is much inspiration to choose from.

What is the one advice you would give to creatives looking to be successful in the industry?

Find your unique voice/style but also find a mentor you trust – there are so many options when answering a brief that experience can often be a great help in finding the right path. Find client relationships that allow you to push creative boundaries because everyone benefits when that happens.

Tell us something about your professional life we don’t already know

Mmm – well I once accidentally poured a pint of Guinness over my client’s wife’s white wool coat. Let’s just say that didn’t end well!

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

We’ve worked with the Health Service Executive since 2010. The first project we did together was a smoking cessation campaign – it was highly successful not just from an advertising perspective but in effectiveness terms too. We inspired 1000 quit attempts a day in Ireland during the course of the campaign

As part of the campaign we were honoured to film Gerry Collins in his final months battling terminal lung cancer. He was so courageous and convincing when speaking about the damage cigarettes had done to his health, that he carried the campaign and we give him credit for the phenomenal success of the campaign. I’m just proud we were there to tell his story. 

How do you recharge away from the office?

Anything water-based – swimming in the sea, rivers, pools, paddle boarding is my new hobby – you need to be water-based in Ireland as it rains a lot!

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

That we provide more tangible proof of the extraordinary impact our creativity has on our client’s businesses and get paid accordingly.  So that’s on us. 


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