Creative is Native: “I’ve Always Loved our Ability to Make an Entire Story out of Nothing!”
The Institute Of Advertising Practitioners In Ireland, Thu, Aug 19, 2021
"Pivoting from an artistic background to a creative career in one of Ireland’s top commercial communications agencies, FleishmanHillard, Brian’s passion for culture and creative arts is evident in his contribution to the evolution of creative advertising with his consistently outstanding work,” Charley Stoney, CEO, IAPI
LBB> Looking back, at what point did you first realise that a career in this industry was right for you?
Brian Melarkey> Funnily enough I originally trained as an actor, so during school my focus was getting into the actor training programme in Trinity and eventually conquering stage and screen from there. At 26, it seemed as if that might not have been going to plan, exactly…
So I decided to retire from my glittering career and reassess what I wanted to be when I grew up!
When thinking about what was next, I remembered randomly meeting a team of PR and Ad executives for the (what was then) BT Round the World Yacht Race when I was younger. They were chatting about their work and getting to travel and the industry in general. I remember thinking at the time, “that sounds like a good job”! So when I sat down to think about the rest of the working life and career, it felt like a great option.
And, sure enough, my work in FleishmanHillard has taken me all over Europe, to the US, and Hong Kong, all via a Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi. So I have to say, on occasions like those, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve ended up in the right industry and the right job. I consider myself to be very lucky.
LBB> Who were some of the early influences on you - and do they still influence you today?
Brian> In general, a big influence on my career has come from the various people all over the globe that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. FleishmanHillard is a global agency which has given me the opportunity to work with people in different offices, often from different backgrounds and cultures to mine, which is something I’ve always enjoyed.
It’s always great to hear from and engage with different perspectives and then allow that to inform and influence your own work. I would also have to say that my GM Rhona Blake has always been a hugely positive influence as she has supported and championed me from day one. She gave me the scope to develop and the freedom to build out our creative offering in a really imaginative way.
LBB> Ireland is such a creatively vibrant country. Do you think there is an aspect of Irish culture which makes it especially suited to creativity?
Brian> I’ve always loved our ability to make an entire story out of nothing. We have a great knack for seeing humour in the smallest of everyday things, which is another thing I quite like about us!
Ireland has a tonne of incredible talent working across our industry and in the arts more widely. As a nation we often talk a good game about our creative culture but I think it’s important that people and brands walk the walk and actively explore, engage, and invest in keeping the creative arts and culture alive.
The arts have been put on hold for almost two years now and need support from us all. If we want to continue to trade off the notion of Ireland as a creative nation in an age of globalisation we need to understand what makes us unique and embrace it.
LBB> Given your background in acting - and your degree in theatre studies - would you say that you have a taste for the theatrical in your work today?
Brian> Anyone that knows my work either in events or adverts would probably agree that, yes, I do have a taste for the theatrical. There’s no escaping it! Theatre is a very visual medium, and bringing a show to life requires what I would term as ‘4D problem-solving’. You have the three dimensions where you are communicating text using visuals and voice, and actors’ performances, and then you have an added fourth dimension of the live audience.
This training in theatre means I tend to visualise ideas - be they ads or events - in quite a complete way before drafting anything. This helps to spot any potential issues, and once you see the path it makes the initial write up quite a fast process. For me an idea isn’t fully formed until you can visualise it in a complete sense.
Theatre is also a great way of connecting with what’s happening in society at a given time. I am on the board of the Dublin Fringe Festival, and if you want to know what’s going and get informed and inspired that’s a great place to start. You have hundreds of young talented makers working through society and culture through their art. I think theatre and live performance is a vital resource for anyone working in creativity. Regular trips should be mandatory!
LBB> At FleishmanHillard, I understand you prioritise earned media. Why do you do that, and how does it impact the way you approach a campaign?
Brian> At our core, FleishmanHillard is a PR company. Even though we have evolved, developed, and grown, people still come to us expecting work that delivers conversations and column inches. So earned media is our focus when structuring campaigns. Having this lens in a way frees us up when designing campaigns as they are never just about one thing. We don’t put all our focus, for example, into one ad or an event, there needs to be a multi-layered campaign working across various channels driving our messages to the right audiences in the right way.
This approach leads to a richer campaign, brought to life across different channels and platforms and ultimately delivering those conversations and column inches.
LBB> What do you enjoy most about your job as Director & Head of Creative Strategy?
Brian> I think it’s a really exciting time to be in our industry. There have never been so many ways and channels to tell stories for clients. More and more, we are shifting away from agencies that have a set role, and moving to a space where the best ideas and solutions win. The result of that is a real kind of democratisation meaning that the best ideas can come from anywhere.
This convergence brings opportunities we might not have had in the past, but it also means we need to be on our toes, keeping up and constantly working hard to deliver cut-through creative that gets results.
Staff here want to work on big, bold creative work - it's more exciting and rewarding. So being a part of creating dynamic work and helping and supporting others in doing so is the thing I enjoy most about my role.
LBB> How would you describe the culture at FleishmanHillard, and what do you feel it is about the team that fosters great award-winning creativity?
Brian> Over the past few years, FH has really invested in creative talent across our entire network. I am part of our global leadership team, and getting to regularly interact and work with talent from all over the world is a real joy. In the past 18 months we have developed a global creative ambition which is framed in our ‘Bend The World’ positioning. We have literally developed a scale to rate creative work to make sure everyone across the network understands what creates great campaigns and gives them a shared language to articulate and rate our work so we can always be striving to be better. As someone who has seen creative initiatives come and go for various reasons, Bend The World has really resonated not just with creatives but with people in all departments. People are beginning to understand the buzz you get from working on truly creative, engaging projects and are using Bend The World to help up their creative game.
Here in Dublin, creativity has not only been a huge passion of mine but it’s something that the value of is very much understood and embraced by all the management team. I have been lucky enough and to have been given a relatively long leash when it comes to ideas and creativity - as long as I can get it to fit within the brief!
That freedom has led to some really interesting and different work. I think due to my theatre background and our earned media lens, at times our approach could be viewed as ‘non-traditional’. And I don’t mind that at all. I believe there are so many ways we can be creative and communicate for clients beyond a 30-sec TVC.
LBB> Is there any recent work which has come out of Ireland that you wished the world had heard more about?
Brian> There has been a lot of great work recently, especially when you consider the restrictions and problems caused by the pandemic. I think agencies here have been incredibly inventive and resourceful. I have noticed a stripping back of the work created, partly due to budgets and partly the restrictions. I think it’s forcing us to get sharper and teaching us to make more with less.
The IAPI initiative – Ireland: Where Creative is Native is a great opportunity for Irish work to be pushed and seen by a wider audience. I am really excited to see what comes out of that.
LBB> Finally, what advice would you give to up-and-coming Irish creatives looking to take their work to the next level?
Brian> Get to know what you like, and what you don’t like - then learn how to articulate that effectively. Understand your own strengths and work out how to use them to your advantage.
Most importantly, seek inspiration from everywhere. Consume art and culture, and get involved in conversations as much as you can. Get out there. When it’s possible again, go to gigs, go to theatres, go to galleries, go to a club, get a bus on a route you’ve never travelled and listen, engage and embrace with as much stimulation as you can. You never know when a great idea might be triggered by something you saw months before at a show in the Dublin Fringe Festival or in a gallery. To be able to reflect life in the work you do, you need to live it!