How I Got My Job: Dena Walker, Advertising Queen And Planning Director

Name your favourite ad campaign, and Dena's probably worked on it.

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Name: Dena Walker

Age: 37

Occupation: Planning Director at Irish International/BBDO

Location: Dublin

Twitter: @curlydena

Guinness, Barry’s Tea, 7Up, and even Disney… Advertising agency Irish International/BBDO works with some of the biggest Irish and global brands around, and Dena Walker‘s the one making sure everything is pulled off without a hitch.

Manchester-born and Dublin-based, Dena has worked her way up the ranks for the last 16 years and is currently a kick-ass Planning Director, working across many different accounts and brands. We caught up with her to find out how she got to where she is, what a day in her busy life is like (it involves many cups of tea) and what makes her tick.

You’re killing it in your current role, but tell us how you originally got into advertising.

It’s been 16 years, which is crazy. My first ever role was in a reproduction house, McCann Erickson, way back in the early days of the internet. I started there as a Production Manager and later Account Executive, then I moved on and became an Account Director, and spent five years in digital before moving into planning and strategy, which I adore.

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That’s a seriously impressive career ladder. Did you always have a plan in mind?

I never had a career plan in my head. I knew that I wanted to be involved in making really famous ads, and to work with exciting companies and brands. But it’s definitely been a lengthy road to get where I am. In advertising we think of it as more of a climbing wall than a career ladder. Sometimes you have to move sideways, diagonally or even backwards to get ahead, so I’ve never had a set path.

In your role you have to play devil’s advocate between brands and creative teams. Is it tough?

It’s definitely not a job that would suit everyone. Creative teams are like artists, and I have to be sure to talk with them in a way that inspires them. But clients and brands want everything to be logical and linear. It’s definitely a balancing act, but I love that mix of using my imagination and also getting really deep into consumer insight and nitty-gritty details.

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What’s a day in your life like?

It’s always different. I’ll often be based out of our office, which is a gorgeous old tram shed on the beach in Sandymount. When I have client meetings I could be visiting anywhere from Cork and Ballina to the UK and USA. There can be some periods of really intense travel, which I can assure you is never as glam as it sounds.

When I’m not at my desk or at meetings, I could be running research groups with consumers or even on shopper safaris which literally involves walking with customers around the supermarket and making notes on their buying habits – what aisles they go into, what shelves they reach for, if they make impulse buys.

Working in an ad agency, you can get lost in a bubble that is just not the real world, so I love that I can get out of it for a while.

What’s on your desk right now?

Aside from a MASSIVE stack of paper and case studies, there’s a big box of peppermint tea, because I’m trying to be good. Also, I’m constantly dehydrated, so there’s Pixi Glow Mist which I spritz on a couple of times a day, plus lip balm and hand cream. I often listen to music when I’m working, so there’s a set of headphones too.

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You’ve worked on some massive campaigns – any favourites?

I loved the EBS Anytime campaign and how viral it went – Hairy Baby even released t-shirts based off of it which was so, so cool to see. And our work with the Road Safety Authority makes me very proud, not just because of how well it’s been received but because it really does have the potential to save lives. Every year we run Christmas ads with Barry’s Tea and Guinness, and I love how they are such a big part of the Irish culture now.

Do you manage to fit in any down time or does work come first?

It depends. This business is definitely not 9 -5, but it is flexible. Sometimes I do have to work really hard and have definitely had to cancel the odd social event or dinner. But it comes back around, and if I’m stuck in the office over the weekend I know I could come in a bit later on Monday morning. The more senior you become the harder it is to switch off. But my boyfriend works in advertising too, so he understands.

Any advice for aspiring advertising and marketing queens?

Plug yourself in and get networking, by doing courses or meeting with people in the industry. Work for pennies, yes, but don’t do free internships. Know your value – if someone’s not willing to pay you, they’re not worth working for. Be willing to do hard graft, don’t pretend, show up on time and ask loads of questions. Be a curious sponge!

Catch Dena’s Style CV in the May issue of STELLAR, on sale April 13th!