JWT Folk joint managing director on how wartime propaganda got him into marketing, moving back to Dublin in the depths of a recession and his part in helping Ireland’s homeless get back on their feet
Two Irish agencies came back from the Côte d'Azur this year with Cannes Lions. One of them was JWT Folk, who won a Bronze Lion in the Sustainable Development Goals category for its Address Point Initiative for An Post, the state-owned provider of postal services in the Republic of Ireland.
The project is a deceptively simple one - providing people in Ireland who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation with a digital proxy, personal address linked to a local post office, giving them access to reliable communications, employment, education, health services and social services.
It’s a threshold moment for the newly reorganised Dublin agency, which formed a little over a year ago from a merger between DDFH&B and Target McConnells, not only because international acclaim like this proves the agency’s relevance, but also because the project itself is changing lives for people in Ireland.
Joint managing director Enda Kelly was one of the key figures in the Address Point project. At this important time for the agency, LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with him to get to know one of the leaders at the forefront of the Folks’ creative mission.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what were you like as a kid there?
Enda> I grew up on the mean streets/leafy suburbs of Donnybrook in Dublin. As I remember it, I was a well behaved, studious, delightful young chap. But my parents, neighbours and teachers all seem to remember things quite differently. If there’s a report card that probably sums up my childhood, it was: “lots of energy and potential... if he would just stop messing and distracting others.” Unfortunately, if you asked my wife, colleagues and friends today, they’d probably say that’s still fairly on point.
I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.
LBB> What do you remember about your early thoughts on advertising? Were you interested at all as a kid?
Enda> I was born in the early ‘80s, so grew up with some of the most iconic TV advertising from the likes of John Webster and his Smash aliens in the ‘80s, to the Brit pop/lads mag advertising of the early to mid ‘90s from Tango, Lynx, etc.
I always loved the entertainment of good advertising, but never thought about it in any depth until I was about 14, when someone gave me a book detailing the influence of state propaganda throughout the second world war and the cold war. I was fascinated by how easy it was for the elite few to use the media to influence mindsets of the many. Some of the insightful, manipulative and effective state driven advertising the Soviets were doing at the time was pretty impressive, if not abhorrent in their intentions.
Looking at the recent US election scandal… I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.
LBB> When did you first consider going into advertising as a career?
Enda> In school I was good at art, business and economics. So when that equation was run through the career guidance calculator, ‘marketing’ was the answer I was given. But it was the communications side of things I was interested in. So by the time I was leaving school I had a fair idea it was advertising I wanted to pursue.
LBB> What was the Dublin creative industry like when you first got into it? What are the biggest differences from now?
Enda> I started my career in advertising in London, moving back to Dublin in 2008 just as the country's economy was nose diving off a cliff. It was obviously a pretty scary time for the country as a whole. And for the advertising industry there were a few hairy years when client budgets evaporated, and from what I could see, the fear of holding onto your job meant that both clients and some agencies were less likely to put their head above the parapet and push for brave creative work.
But that didn’t last very long. The advertising industry often has an inferiority complex and gives itself a lot of crap, but I love how dynamic and adaptable good advertising agencies and good advertising people are. They roll with the punches. They reinvent and reinvigorate themselves on an almost constant basis. Often to stay ahead, but in the case of 2008 to 2012, to stay alive.
Obviously the mindset is very different now. The Dublin skyline has been repopulated with cranes and the Champagne flows again down the steps of Café en Seine. We… Are… Back (for now).
When I started working in agencies the role digital played was pretty minimal. So obviously technology has revolutionised how we communicate in that time, and has fundamentally changed agency philosophies, structures, processes, personnel. But the thing I’m most fascinated about at the moment is the impending doom and gloom hanging over us that the consultants are coming. Or more to the point, they are now here. But as I didn’t believe that ‘the era of digital’ was going to kill off ‘traditional’ advertising, I certainly don’t think that new competition into the market place in ‘the era of the consultants’ is going to mean we’ll all be employed by accountants this time next year. New competition into the market is brilliant. It means that everyone in the industry has to adapt, learn new skills and get better. The more healthy and varied the competition locally, the better Irish advertising will be on a global stage.
And what I already admire greatly about the new competition, is how the consultants are packaging up old principles as if they are not only innovative, but potentially revolutionary to a client’s business. Things like CRM, data, loyalty, customer journey mapping, lifecycle comms strategy; these unglamorous terms that agency folk have had decades of experience in, have been repackaged as CX, service design etc.
I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.
LBB> What lesson or piece of advice do you wish you'd had earlier in your career?
Enda> Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Whether personally, as a project team, or as an agency, uncomfortable is where the most growth comes from. If you’re not a little uncomfortable, then you’re not pushing the edges enough and your standards will suffer.
LBB> Address Point is a project I'm sure you're (rightfully) very proud of. Can you explain a bit about how that came about and what was key in making it a success?
Enda> Address Point has been a passion project for many of us in the agency for over a year. And still is. We have worked with An Post for a long time, and recently they have gone through a huge evolution as a business and as a brand. And it has been humbling to be on that journey with them as their agency partners. So doing this type of purpose-driven, brave work for what is perceived as a traditional and safe brand has been very satisfying.
The idea for the initiative was developed by the agency proactively, as a way to bring An Post’s brand purpose to life. From there, two things were integral to its success.
Firstly, the trust and partnership of the client. As soon as we brought it to our partners in the GPO they jumped into the trenches with us immediately and did everything they could to make it happen. Although a very simple idea, as you can imagine there were quite a few moving parts from a technical, operational, legal and data compliance point of view. And they facilitated the agency with access to all key stakeholders in their business far beyond the marketing team, and put together their own internal multi departmental project team to drive the initiative forward.
Secondly, getting all the major Irish homeless charities engaged and on board early meant that we were able to gather invaluable insights first hand from service users and social workers so that the idea could be executed in a way that was fit for purpose.
Winning a Cannes Lion for the initiative was a brilliant result. But the result we are far prouder of is that within the first 10 weeks of the initiative going live, we already had over 10% of the homeless community using the service.
LBB> Is there any other work you think is particularly important for the agency recently?
Enda> We’ve been very active so far this year and have been kept busy putting out big brand advertising work for the likes of Vodafone rugby - Team Of Us, Irish Life, Brennans bread, An Post brand re-launch, etc.
But just a few weeks ago we launched one of the biggest proprietary studies of females ever undertaken. Called ‘Female Tribes’ https://lbbonline.com/news/jwt-folk-launches-female-tribes-study-with-powerful-warrior-women-poem/ the study sheds light on what it means to be a woman today in Ireland amidst a time of significant challenge to the status quo and seismic cultural shifts and gender roles.
A global study done by JWT across 10 markets, we brought the study to Ireland and captured the female view and experience about everything from how they define personal success and what motivates and challenges them, to work, family, money, culture, religion, tech, role models, children, education and gender stereotypes.
Having access to such a large bank of proprietary data has been brilliant for us and our clients. But for a creative agency, we felt that just launching a report based on a quantitative study sounded a bit boring. So we launched it with a piece of creative we developed in partnership with a well known spoken word poet from Dublin.
LBB> What's your day-to-day work like? Which parts of it do you most enjoy?
Enda> As part of the agency’s leadership team, much of my day is spent on agency management, strategic direction, structures, processes, client relationship management and business development. But I’m also an active lead on many of the agency’s accounts. I love being close to the work, as it gives a sense of perspective when discussing more macro decisions.
And although there are well documented issues with the process, I do love pitching. By working on a huge TTL project end-to-end in a matter of weeks rather than months, on a client you previously knew nothing about, means you get to see people develop, step up, and grow right in front of you. Thankfully we’ve been on a pretty good run recently as we’ve won six sizable new clients in the first six months of the year. But even the ones you don’t win, it’s a great opportunity to learn, get better and sharpen your sword for the next battle.
LBB> The agency's gone through a bit of a transformation recently with the merger and rebrand. What have been the biggest changes and your focuses in what you want to prioritise?
Enda> The merger of DDFH&B and Target McConnells happened just over a year ago. The objective was not only to take the best aspects from two competing agencies and put them together. We also saw it as an opportunity to restructure and hire in new skillsets and expertise to differentiate ourselves to the competitive set in the marketplace, and align more closely with what the best agencies globally are doing. All with the intention of creating radical competition in the marketplace.
From a strategic point of view, we built a well-rounded planning team with expertise in not only brand planning and insights, but also research, CX, data, measurement and content strategy. In creative, we have infused technology, data and social with new hires that sit within the creative team and work hand in glove with the copywriters and art directors. And from a production point of view we have invested in software and personnel that means we can provide clients the option of a ‘straight to expert’ model if the likes of client service, strategy or creative concepting is not required. Everything we have done since we've merged, is about creating value for our clients and driving growth.
From a cultural perspective we nurture a flat and friendly environment, but one that is never satisfied with second best. Our ambition is to be the best agency in town. Yesterday.
LBB> What do you like to do in your spare time? Any current obsessions?
Enda> Currently my spare time and obsession is wrapped up in my two-year-old daughter. I was delighted to get a report card from her creche only a few days ago that said “lots of energy and potential… if she would just stop messing and biting others.” Sounds like a chip off the old block.
But you know what they say. The more things change…