Roisin Keown – The Brill Building
20th December 2021
Launching a business can be daunting and exciting in equal measures. For our Women Who Launch December candidate, we hear from Roisin Keown of The Brill Building – a full service creative agency founded by the former DDFH&B/JWT Head of Creative.
THE ELEVATOR PITCH
The Brill Building makes great brands, businesses and people famous by using creativity to your competitive advantage.
We’re a business born into a remote and agile model – pre-pandemic! Head Quarters for The Brill Building is in the West of Ireland and we have a Dublin office working with teams and clients all over Ireland and around the world.
From the outset, I knew I wanted to bootstrap the business.
Our core target market are CEOs with bigger ambitions than the team they have. We’re achieving most for organisations with €1m to €50m revenue but a small marketing department. They want to grow but need long term support.
We also do a lot of brand strategy and creative work for SME’s who need a quick fix. Our model makes great brand and brilliant creative accessible for any organisation and every budget.
HOW HAVE YOU HAD TO ADJUST YOUR WAY OF WORKING IN RECENT TIMES?
In 2019, I set up the agency around a remote model. My instinct was that work was moving too fast for either client or agency to want to devote travel time and all that goes with it to make a 45 minute meeting a 4 hour slog. I also knew there was an abundance of freelance talent in the market with huge experience but for whom the agency employment model was limiting.
So, when the pandemic hit it meant we were already working remotely 40% of our time, we already had the structures in place.
We had to adapt to a fully remote production model which was sometimes a challenge, but we designed the work – like the Champion Green butterfly commercial made fully in CGI with Director Brian Williams – according to what we knew could be achieved. Fortunately, our clients were up for that, willing to be flexible and go with the solution that was achievable.
HAS IT ALL BEEN CHALLENGING OR ARE THERE ‘SILVER LININGS’?
Ha! I would have to say for me – and I think I speak for my team here too – It’s all ‘silver linings’ but you earn those through overcoming the challenges. We have always loved what we do, how we do it and the buzz of working with amazing talent. Setting up an agency means we get to provide the solutions end to end, from research to insights to award-winning work. That also means we get to decide exactly how that happens, in a way that achieves more success for everyone – and that has been exhilarating. I can catch up on all the sleep lost in a couple of years!
WHAT BRANDS/ COMPANIES DO YOU LOVE?
Those who know what they want to achieve, have a clear vision and then trust their collaborators.
In Ireland, we have so many inspiring companies. One of our first clients at The Brill Building, Kilkenny Design, are reinventing themselves to show how their support of Irish design has real relevance to a new consumer. That takes vision, commitment and bravery.
We recently started working with John Burke and the Armada Hotel in Spanish Point and they have a spirit of restless adventure that we love.
Then the new generation of Irish pioneers – Paddy Cosgrove at Web Summit, the Collison brothers at Stripe, artist Maser, designers Jill & Gill or jeweller Chupi Sweetman – there’s so much to get excited about on this island.
BIGGEST ‘WIN’ TO DATE
It has to be getting the endorsement of Ireland’s most prestigious marketing awards – the inaugural ‘EFFIE’s’.
We created The Shop That Nearly Wasn’t, the World’s First shop 100% stocked and staffed by cancer survivors, for Breakthrough Cancer Research. It was the most awarded EFFIE shortlisted campaign, winning 2 Golds and 1 Silver.
For a campaign created with a small budget and a smaller team, giving endless amounts of time and talent to do so well against campaigns and agencies with millions of resources at their disposal was a real indication that we’re on to something.
BIGGEST ‘SLAP IN THE FACE’?
Gosh, I can’t think of one – or maybe I’ve such a thick skin I didn’t notice it!
The advertising business is so subjective that to achieve anything worthwhile you have to have rock solid belief in your vision and instincts. Anything new or truly original will meet more critics than supporters, so you get used to sheltering a great idea to safety out into the world. There will always be improvements that you make along the way based on challenges and feedback but they’re welcome – a necessary part of only making the best work possible.
ARE YOU SOCIAL WHEN IT COMES TO MEDIA?
Our philosophy is about using paid media to win earned media (the stuff you didn’t pay for that is when regular people or editorial organically talk about your idea, brand or campaign). Social media is absolutely critical for this. Our strategy for Champion Green, the support local campaign we created for Kilkenny Design and Visa, was all about generating that organic conversation. So far, Champion Green has 50,000 organic posts and counting, something that has been crucial to the support of small Irish businesses throughout the last couple of very tough years.
IS THERE A BUSINESS MODEL YOU WOULD LIKE TO EMULATE?
We’re creating a new model for creative agencies. It’s creative-led just like the big design houses where you want the vision of a Stefan Sagmeister.
It’s agile and working in multiple fields like production companies such as Ridley Scott Associates.
And it’s passionate about the power of great creativity to transform business, like Droga5. There’s a misconception in advertising that you have to do big and bland work to succeed and grow, but Droga5 proved otherwise.
IF YOU HAD A BLANK CHEQUE
1.Fund environmental solutions not a space race.
2. Build a viable national public transport system beyond the M50.
3. Buy more sleep
YOUR TRAITS – BEST & WORST!
I think your best traits can also be your worst, if you’re not aware of them.
•Dynamism – I can run through walls to make an idea happen, but need to make sure my team and I rest too. I’m getting better at this and encourage my team to challenge it if we’re agreeing to a timeline that’s going to put too much pressure on people or process.
•Vision – I can see exactly what needs to happen, but need to remember not everyone sees the world the same. When we make the time, there’s the space needed for everyone in the wider team to get on board.
•Oh, the third one is just a worst – admin. I find it much easier to focus on what I want to achieve than achieving all the things I also need to focus on!
BEST BUSINESS LUNCH DATE (PAST OR PRESENT)
•Constance Markiewicz the most prominent woman in the foundation of Ireland.
•Mary Wells Lawrence the first female CEO of an ad agency traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
•Sarah Silverman to make us laugh at all the things we shouldn’t, and all my great group of girl friends in Irish advertising to plan what great things we’re going to do next.
IDEAL BUSINESS PARTNER
So far, I prefer to go into business with the people I have – smart, super talented grafters I like and trust where we know we’d do anything for each other.
BEST BUSINESS ADVICE
Do what you love, but be the best at it.