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Micky Denehy: Marketing is muscle, not fat. Be careful how you cut it

At Prague International Advertising Festival 2012, the reporters of had an unique chance to speak with Micky Denehy, the man who has worked in advertising agencies both in Europe and internationally for 28 years and is now the Founding Principal of EACA International School of Advertising and Communications. We asked him about his views on Czech advertising industry, international campaigns and marketing education. With EACA International School of Advertising and Communications, you organize workshops for students and people working in advertising all around Europe – even in the Czech Republic. Could you tell us something about the differences between Czech advertising and the rest of Europe?

Micky: I don’t want to degrade it in any way, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to help the Czech advertising industry raise its standards, particularly in the area of strategic planning. If you look at the experience of strategic planners in the UK, it is ahead of Czech Republic. Although there is good thinking, some of the campaigns here seem to have unclear consumer insight. They tend to be simply positioning the product without really understanding the key triggers of buying. I spent 5 years working in Istanbul, where advertising was in a similar state – they are trying very hard to become more professional and develop more consumer orientated campaigns. But strategic planning is not something that most countries have as a skill from the beginning, it is something you need to be helped with, trained in, and taught. So one thing is strategic planning and orientation towards customer. What else, apart from these, have you noticed about Czech advertising?

Micky: Another thing is having the creative confidence to break the rules and to challenge the conventions. If you look at some of the best work made in London, Brazil, Argentina or New York, it is work that really has broken the rules. There is still conservatism in the Czech advertising industry, where people tend to be too respectful of clients’ culture. I think there is a need to challenge clients and to say: “Okay, if we do this, I can guarantee a sales increase, but if you really want a multiple increase in sales we need to break the rules and run a really creative campaign”. There is one quote that I use a lot: “Marketing is muscle, not fat – be careful how you cut it”. A lot of people think they can cut marketing out of client budgets. And if you do that, you are potentially throwing the one thing away that can transform your business. My view is that brilliant consumer insight and breakthrough creativity can give you a multiple return on investment. Unfortunately, some of the advertising I have seen in Prague simply says “here is the product”. But also, there are areas where Czech Republic would be on our level or ahead – for example the digital capability is here the same as it would be elsewhere. But the question is whether we are still able to push through our creativity when the strategy is planned for the whole Europe. We think that the best creative ideas still come out from local agencies.

Micky:  I think at the moment South America seems to be the place where much of the most creative ideas are coming from. When I went to Istanbul, I thought there was going to be a huge amount of local creativity – given it’s a rather unique location between Europe and Asia. But in fact many creatives found it hard to create and sell ideas beyond the predictable. The problem with international advertising is that it’s very hard to have something that has the same impact as one has created locally for a local brand. Locally you can use the local cultures and humour and jokes to sell a brand, which doesn’t work internationally. So Procter & Gamble couldn’t run a global campaign that relied on London cockney rhyming slang, but this could work very well for a British beer or confectionary. The advertising people really love tends to be something local that taps into the local culture and cues. There are obviously some fantastic international campaigns, but generally the best are local. Now we would like to ask something about marketing education and your occupation as a teacher – we are concerned about this as we are mostly students. Could you tell us why have you decided to move into the field of marketing education? What does the experience of teaching give you?

Micky: Although I’ve always worked in advertising, deep down I’m a teacher. I love helping people and I love teaching. I really enjoyed giving a presentation here today. I find it very enjoyable and rewarding to present to a large group of people, although I know that many people would hate doing that – they’d be very nervous and apprehensive – but I enjoy talking, sharing stories, sharing my experience, and trying to put it in a way that is practically useful. So that although not everybody in the audience today worked in agencies I think they will have understood what I was saying very clearly because the thinking and the arguments were on a very human level. And how have you decided to set up EACA International School of Advertising and Communications?

Micky: After 5 years if working in Istanbul I worked in Dubai and when I came back, I was somewhat disillusioned about advertising. I found campaigns that basically said “Buy this washing powder and get the chance to win your weight in gold”. This type of advertising frustrates me as it does nothing to help build a brand. When I came back to the UK, I was offered a job to teach in a school in London to be the head of the geography department – a subject that is my passion, I love geography. Sadly, I didn’t take it because the money did not work. So I took a great job with Saatchi & Saatchi EMEA. But I still thought there were so many areas of marketing communications that needed to be better taught. It is a huge shame that many people start their first day in an advertising agency with no marketing education. I recognise that some agencies are still very arrogant, saying “we will teach you everything you need to know”. Personally I would much rather have some graduates coming into an agency I worked for who have studied marketing at university who arrive with an understanding and appreciation of marketing, and who have gone through many case histories – they’re much more valuable to me. And that is why I decided to set up the International School of Advertising and Communications when I was asked by the EACA. All 30 of our EACA School trainers have worked in advertising or communications but are like me they are also passionate about education and training. So you think that for people who want to work in advertising, it is almost necessary to do their studies in the field?

 Micky: I think that if you have a good university in your country that offers marketing communications education and you know that’s where you want to work as a career, it would be a good idea to study commercial communications at university. Personally, I didn’t have a clear vocation, I studied the subject I liked the most, which was geography, and I am pleased I did it. So I am not saying you must do it, but I think that if you know quite early that it’s the line of business you want to go into, it gives you a big advantage. And it also demonstrates that you are prepared to commit three years of your university education towards preparing yourself to work in the industry. In the UK now it’s a big issue, because university fees are £9,000 a year, so you have to be very clear about what and why you want to study a subject at university. Thank you very much for the interview.


Micky Denehy has spent 28 years in the advertising industry working for Ogilvy & Mather, Bates Europe, Saatchi & Saatchi EMEA, and also for Bates agencies in Istanbul and Dubai. He is very passionate about marketing education and raising professional standards of the advertising and communications industry. He did not hesitate to set up the International School of Advertising and Communications when he was approached by European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA) with the idea. The International School organizes courses and workshop all around Europe and is open to students and professionals alike who would like to improve their skills. At Prague International Advertising Festival, Micky gave a presentation on how to win a big pitch. 


How to cite this article?

KUBEŠOVÁ, Eliška. Micky Denehy: Marketing is muscle, not fat. Be careful how you cut it. In: [online]. May 1st, 2012 [cit. 2012-05-01]. Available at:

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Ex-šéfredaktorka webu Absolventka Marketingové komunikace a PR na Univerzitě Karlově v Praze a žurnalistiky ve švédském Örebro. Zajímá se o popkulturu, hudbu, právo, chov koček, dění na internetu a Skandinávii.

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