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A post-Brexit view from Dublin

Dublin’s agency scene has been overshadowed by London, but we excel in non-traditional work and untraditional challenges.

The article was first published on in February 2020. Rory Hamilton is executive creative director at Boys & Girls.

It has been interesting watching Brexit from the sidelines in Dublin. We’ve played many roles as the saga has unfolded, sometimes uncomfortable voyeurs, others awkward pawns, occasionally even indignant protesters wielding our backstop against a backdrop of inevitable change.

Like many in the industry, eventually we just wanted the uncertainty that has been halting budgets and stalling clients’ plans to come to an end. Now that it’s finally over, where does Brexit leave smaller markets such as Dublin?

Given its rich creative history, Ireland has often lagged behind its creative potential. This country of authors and poets has seldom hit its creative stride on the international advertising stage. A lack of opportunity obviously plays a part; lots of clients have either taken their work directly from the UK (the theory being that if it’s good enough for Manchester, it’ll do in Mallow) or even run their Irish accounts from London agencies. You can see it in the work – too broad to really hit home, too blunt to cut through.

While a lack of budget also plays a part, in truth it’s more of an excuse than a justification. Like any constraint, a lack of budget should help provide a springboard for bigger, bolder ideas. What’s more telling is the lack of singularity. Smaller markets seldom see briefs for a single product. We might get to advertise a range of cars, but never a model. A suite of products, but never one. Singularity is a much bigger challenge than budget. Imagine Ikea’s famous “Beds” ad cramming in a few kitchens for good measure or Nike’s “Nothing beats a Londoner” having to add a bit about Birmingham. While budget can be a constraint, there is no replacement for focus in a creative challenge.

However, the real challenge has always been one of confidence. Being this close to a market the size of London has long affected the gravity in Dublin. While we have the talent, we’ve been reluctant to step out of London’s sizeable shadow. While we can produce the writers behind amazing shows such as Father Ted, we didn’t have the confidence to commission their work here. And while people like Sharon Horgan hail from our shores, the springboard for their creative success lay overseas.

Brexit is lifting the shadow cast across Dublin and the significant industry changes that are spreading panic across larger markets such as London are feeding our confidence no end. Put simply, we’ve never had the big production budgets that you’re losing and, in the face of in-housing and consultancies, we have less to lose.

More than that, though, a move to less traditional work is to our considerable advantage. In advertising terms, we were trained in guerrilla warfare. We thrive in the unconventional challenge and previous constraint has made us experts in finding opportunities where others never bothered looking. Others’ uncertainty has given us focus.

As a result, many clients are moving their business here. More still have started running their global business right here from Dublin. Obviously, our low corporation tax is helping (funny, that!), but more and more clients are seeing the benefits of agencies on their Dublin doorstep rather than those across the water.

You can see this newfound confidence in Ireland’s recent successes at international awards. While we still aren’t winning traditional categories such as film or outdoor, we are finding opportunities in newer media and categories that are less reliant on scale. As the industry continues to evolve, it’s making our independence and our flexibility more important than ever.

We are finding success outside traditional responses to briefs. One Irish agency, JWT Folk, found that the answer to a brief from our national postal service – An Post – was to tackle the homelessness crisis plaguing Dublin by giving homeless people an address. Rather than awards engineering, it was a lateral answer to a pressing problem.

At Boys & Girls, we’ve been pushing further too. In answer to a brief from mobile operator Three, we set off on an ambitious mission to save a small island off the coast of Ireland from imminent extinction. By transforming Arranmore into “the most connected island in the world”, we’re proving its brand purpose while protecting a way of life. It doesn’t look much like advertising, but that’s a good thing.

Hopefully, by uncovering the potential in a forgotten Island off our coast, we can remind the industry of the untapped creative potential in this small island that lies just off yours.