Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?
I’m a partner in jump! and I head up our UK business. I’m ultimately responsible for the growth of the agency and the team, in our London office.
One of the things I love most about working agency-side and in innovation, is the variety and breadth of challenges we work on and the great clients we get to work with. My brain likes switching between different challenges and ideas, throughout the day; it keeps things fresh and interesting.
We can go from working with a Formula 1 brand on their strategy, in the morning, to working with fashion and lifestyle brands on cultural insight, and gaming and drinks brand on innovation in the afternoon.
A typical day involves a mix of things. We deliver lots of client workshops and consumer insight sessions, which I’d lead with the team. I spend time working on client pitches, meetings and outputs, as well as managing our project sales pipelines and the general, day-to-day running of the business.
We’re also big on coaching, so we spend time, every day, developing people and their skills. Building a coaching culture involves lots of informal, live feedback sessions and I’d typically lead this, with other members of the senior team.
What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?
I joined jump! 12 years ago. We started in Dublin, which will always be the heart and home of the business, and then expanded to the UK about eight years ago. I was responsible for launching and growing the agency in London.
I got loads of help from Paul, our CEO, and the partners in the business, but as anyone who has launched or started a new business, or been responsible for growing an agency in a new market, will know, it’s a steep learning curve.
There were lots of challenges along the way; figuring out our proposition in the UK market, developing contacts and bringing in new clients, finding an office and space to settle, upping my hazy understanding of the Tube and understanding the competitive landscape, to make sure we were offering something different.
I think my biggest challenge was bringing in our first client and making our first hire. We got lucky with both of those; our first client is now our biggest client in London and our first hire, Tom, is now a Senior Innovation Director managing one of our teams.
What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?
I grew up in Co. Meath in Ireland, just north of Dublin, in a town more famous for Pierce Brosnan, Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan and The Hill of Tara, than innovation or strategy. I did a Masters in Marketing in Dublin City University, and it was there that I was exposed to really sharp research, innovation and marketing thinkers.
I got the opportunity to do some part-time lecturing in Marketing in DCU for three years too and that helped immerse me in new approaches and new ways of thinking about brands.
What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?
It’s a cliché, but all client wins are big and important, and it’s really important to think that way. I try to reinforce that point with our teams all of the time. As our clients move around, they tend to bring us with them. We did a small piece of work with a client years ago that opened up six new clients for us over time, directly or indirectly. So, every win matters, regardless of the size.
When we opened in the UK, we had ambitions to work with more international clients. We work with the Heineken global team in Amsterdam and San Pellegrino/Nestle Waters in the US; we’d count them as some of our bigger wins, in terms of profile.
My biggest loss can be tricky one to answer. I’ve had so many losses and speed-bumps over the years – it’s hard to pick out one. But I don’t get too hung up on them; losing is all part of competing. Things will go wrong, but when they do, it’s about sorting them out, learning from them, moving on and being better next time.
Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
I’ve worked with some brilliant people over the years. I don’t really have any heroes in the industry; I enjoy working with people, on our team and outside of our team, who want to do great stuff, who are driven and brave and a bit of craic.
If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?
I would have taken up jiu jitsu earlier. It’s the gentle art of folding clothes, while people are still in them. Not only is it brilliant, physically, but it’s great for the head too.
One of the big things it has taught me, over the last few years is that it’s good to embrace things that are difficult; that ability to deal with adversity is important to me, inside and outside of work.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I’d probably try to be a chef and open my own restaurant. And if that didn’t work out, a food writer. And if that didn’t work out, a food critic.
What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?
The industry is going to be changed and shaped by technology, on a big scale, over the next decade. Just look at AI tools like ChatGPT which are starting to scratch the surface now. I want human creativity, endeavour and ingenuity to be the thing that our clients still want, and buy, with technology helping that process.
I’d love the brightest and best talent to want to work in innovation and strategy in future, to keep pushing the industry forward.
What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?
Work on your craft. There are no shortcuts. You have to put in the time, to get really good.
Read lots of stuff and write lots of stuff. Take inspiration from amazing authors and get into the habit of expressing and communicating your ideas, in writing.
Take feedback on board and apply it. Don’t keep making the same mistakes.
Listen more than you talk.
Get stuck in. Try stuff. Take a chance on things. Get your opinion out there.
What are your top tips for other creative leaders?
I think it’s really important to be open to new ideas and encourage your team to come to you with them. On our team, we’re starting to explore a metaverse offering, a new media way of doing things and a new approach to understanding Sub-Cultures. We have an annual EXPO where we get together to work on our NPD and approaches.
The second bit of advice I have, and it’s a bit of a mantra, is to hire different heads. By having people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise, you get a team that can look at problems in different ways and can help clients in different ways.
When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?
We have a phenomenal team. It’s a great blend of youth, fire and enthusiasm.
It’s really important that they enjoy what they do, they get excited about their work and they find it meaningful. Working in an innovation agency is demanding, so we look for people who are driven and who want to learn and lead. I hope that I can help them be as good as they can be.
Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
Art and Fear is a great book, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I found it really useful for thinking about creativity, ways of working, concept development and ideas for clients.
Doug Holt’s ‘Cultural Strategy’ and ‘How Brands Become Icons’ provides a way for thinking about cultural insight and strategy that we adapt in our Culture Studio.
I enjoy reading for leisure; it’s such an important part of any strategist’s job as a way of developing a writing and thinking style. I love Kevin Barry (City of Bohane, Night Boat to Tangier), Donal Ryan and journalists like Paul Kimmage and Fintan O’Toole, on sport and sociology.
Besides that, The Office and Alan Partridge have taught me more about human psychology and character development than anything else.