New Talent: Isabel Harvey & Ivona Poljak

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Less than a year since they joined the BBDO Dublin team permanently, the creative pair tell LBB’s Alex Reeves about their restless creative drives and luck finding each other
New Talent: Isabel Harvey & Ivona Poljak

Although they self-identify as weirdos, creative duo Isabel Harvey and Ivona Poljak from BBDO Dublin must have something that chimes with the Irish public. Having started at the agency as interns in 2018 and being taken on permanently at the start of 2019, the pair have already out their names to work for big brands that’s provoking a response. 

Their sumptuous ‘Choose Pleasure’ out-of-home campaign for Galaxy graced billboards across the country, catching eyes with its distinctive style. And they had a bit of fun with people’s hometown, sports or college pride in their playful Snickers billboard campaign. Both of these pieces were even shortlisted at Kinsale Sharks this year, not bad for a team fresh off of their placement. LBB’s Alex Reeves was keen to find out more about this dynamic pair.



LBB> Where did you both grow up and what were you like as kids? Any clues about your creative futures back then?

Isabel> I grew up in Laois, Ireland. I spent most of my time outdoors or creating weird short films and sketches with my little brother. I suppose I do the same now, just swap my brother for Ivona. 

Ivona> I grew up in Zagreb, Croatia and moved to Dublin when I was 19. I was an overly emotional weirdo as a child and not much has changed since. I was lucky to find an equally weird copywriter that I get to be on this journey with. 


LBB> How did you first get interested in advertising?

Isabel> I always knew I’d do something creative, so after my undergraduate I did the MSc in Advertising in TUD [Technological University Dublin], which allowed me to fine tune my creative skills to work in an agency. 

Ivona> I always tell people advertising found me before I found advertising. I moved to Ireland to study journalism. After I finished my degree I was looking for jobs in PR and during one of the interviews I was told that PR wasn’t for me because I was a creative. I didn’t know what that meant at the time but my interviewer, to whom I’ll be indebted forever, told me I should do a course in advertising. Two and a half years later and it was the best decision I have made and the best advice I’ve been given.


LBB> You both started as interns at BBDO Dublin. What attracted you to the agency?

Isabel & Ivona> The work that we saw coming out of BBDO Dublin was always amongst the best in the country. The opportunity to work with some of these superstars of Irish advertising and to be mentored by our ECD, Dylan Cotter, made the opportunity invaluable. We still pinch ourselves that we actually get to be a part of this place. 


LBB> You recently worked on Galaxy, which was shortlisted at Kinsale. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Isabel & Ivona> We bonded over our love of classical art, so to be able to create something in the ‘accidental renaissance’ style meant we could stay true to who we are creatively. The ‘Choose Pleasure’ platform allowed us to dramatise the mundane, and combine 21st century life with a dramatic painterly vibe. When we found our photographer, Gemmy Woud-Binnendijk, we knew the idea wouldn’t be lost in execution because she came from a fine art background and she knew how to translate the rules of classical painting, through composition and light, into photography. The moment we saw her work, we knew she would be the perfect addition to this campaign to bring it to life. 


LBB> What were the challenges in launching that campaign and how did you and the team overcome them?

Isabel & Ivona> All of the stars aligned for us on this one. The creative idea was really well received within the agency. We also had a brilliant client who loved it from the get-go and decided to see it through without any changes. We had the opportunity to work with an amazing senior art director, Fionan Healy, and we found the perfect fine-artist-turned-photographer Gemmy Woud-Binnendijk who brought the concept to life in the way only a fine artist could. This was one of the very first briefs we worked on, so to be able to create something that the client was so receptive to and was as excited as we were about was a brilliant start to our time in BBDO. 


LBB> What other projects that you've worked on are you most proud of?

Isabel & Ivona> Our Nuts about Snickers OOH. For Snickers, we really wanted to create a kind-of physical embodiment of the famous line ‘you’re not you when you’re hungry’, so we captured that feeling of not quite concentrating when you’re hungry and brought it into the physical space of billboards, messing with people and tapping into that love and pride for their hometowns, colleges or sports teams. This is an Irish spin on the iconic line ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’. We misplaced big, bold billboards with place names in various locations around Ireland. They were real place names - just in all the wrong places.

Obviously, you always hope for a big natural reaction to something on social, so when that happened for this campaign, we were really excited. These were the two pieces that were shortlisted for Kinsale. They’re always going to be our first ‘babies’. We’re also working on something that we’re extremely excited for in January 2020. 


LBB> So far, what have been the biggest lessons from your time at the agency?

Isabel> Always trust your instincts and have confidence in those instincts. It sounds cliché, but be yourself, as your ideas will become an extension of that. 

Ivona> Always trust your creative partner and be honest with them. Criticism is never negative and it shapes thoughts into something beautiful. Never be afraid to ask questions and always full-heartedly stand behind your ideas. 


LBB> What's your opinion on the current state of Ireland's advertising? It used to be a problem that a lot of young Irish talent was lost to other countries. Why do you think more are staying now?

Isabel & Ivona> The first batch of fresh Irish talent that we were lucky enough to work with were our classmates from the MSc in advertising, and every one of them were hungry and excited about the industry in Ireland from the moment we enrolled in the course. The industry has and is continuing to produce work that successfully competes with what we see happening internationally, and that comes as no surprise as Ireland has always been home to some of the world’s best creative minds. 


LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Isabel> Everything and anything that’s going on in the world right now, and how people are reacting to it. Also, personal experiences and how I perceived them emotionally, it’s important to draw from that, overall, it’s about keeping an open mind really. 

Ivona> I was always a lover of all things classical, especially when it comes to art and literature. It inspired our first creative in this agency, and there are always subtle nods and references to it in every idea we submit. What I love about that time period in particular is that it’s the most empathetic and dramatic period of them all. The raw manifestation of emotion that can be found in those pieces almost stayed the same throughout centuries. There’s something incredibly human and flawed in it that always speaks to and inspires me.


LBB> What do you do outside of work to cool off?

Isabel> I love nature, the gym, art, film, music.  

Ivona> I always have at least five unfinished books that I dip in and out off. I also love what I do, so even when I’m ‘cooling off’ I love to make stuff. Writing down ridiculous ideas that I’d love to realise one day, drawing, writing music… anything that helps keep my brain thinking creatively, really.


LBB> What tips would you give to somebody hoping to break into the creative world?

Isabel & Ivona> Find a good partner, or find the way to work most efficiently with someone you may have been assigned to in your class or internship.

There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing through something that you’ve created together and having a deep level of understanding for each other. To have a creative partnership where you’re comfortable to be completely honest with each other, where you value their ideas and where they’re the biggest supporters of yours is something that makes this journey so much more enjoyable. It also produces great work.

Find a good mentor and ask them questions. And ask more questions. And then some more. You’ll never stop doing this. Show them your work and get used to being critiqued. It’s the only way of always learning and improving. 

Again, we were so lucky to have been mentored by the best people in the industry, in particular, Des Kavanagh, Dillon Elliot, Clayton Homer and Dena Walker.

We were taught so much by sharing our work with them and it always improved it.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, be patient with your ideas and don’t let criticism get you down, it only makes you better. Don’t be afraid of throwing yourself into something, always put your hand up and say you’ll have a go at something, because no matter your age or experience, ideas are always valid. 


Main Photo Credit: Dave Sexton. Isabel Harvey (Left) and Ivona Poljak (Right)

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BBDO Dublin, 7 months ago