Friday 28 October 2016

When the ad man got mad - at bullying

Local heroes Irish advertising firm Boys and Girls is developing a plan to prevent bullying

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Boys and Girls co-founder Patrick Meade Photo:David Conachy
Boys and Girls co-founder Patrick Meade Photo:David Conachy

Turning a child's idea of a flying robot with a camera attached to it into something which could work in the real world isn't something most of us get to do on the day job - yet Dublin advertising agency Boys and Girls got the opportunity last summer.

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One of its co-founders, Pat Stephenson, was approached by Dublin charity the Solas Project, to work with some school children and help them come up with a solution to a problem experienced in the children's daily lives.

The school in question was St Audeon's in Dublin 8.

"The idea wasn't for the children to come up with something brilliant," says Patrick Meade, managing director of Boys and Girls. "It was to teach them confidence and how to interact with people - so that within them, they could have the capability of joining a business."

The children in St Audeon's, however, did come up with something brilliant. With the help of Boys and Girls and the app developers of 8bytes, the children invented a wristband to stamp out bullying.

The original idea behind the wristband, known as Bullybug, was a flying robot with a camera on it, which would help tackle bullying in the schoolyard.

"The schoolchildren had a brief to come up with an idea they thought would be useful," says Meade. "We mentored the children on their original idea of a flying robot to help that idea work. That's where the idea of the wristband came in."

Bullybug is essentially a ladybird-shaped wristband, which allows children to report bullying anonymously.

The child presses a button on the wristband when he or she is being bullied to alert a nearby teacher, guardian or parent. As long as the teacher, guardian or parent has downloaded the Bullybug app onto their smartphone and is near the child, he or she will receive the warning.

"If a child is being bullied and a teacher is within 30 metres of the child, the teacher will know what's happening," says Meade.

"Children are often afraid to say they're being bullied. This wristband is an anonymous way for children to report bullying - and to report the bullying at an early enough stage for the teacher to intervene. The wristband should also work as a deterrent."

The wristband is currently at prototype stage. "We want to trial it first - after that, we'll examine rolling it out on a national, or even international basis," he says. "We've already got a few enquiries from Britain."

Working with a charity to develop a prototype of a product isn't what you'd typically expect from an advertising agency - yet according to the Dubliner, this is a direction that many charities are taking today.

"So many of the ideas that advertising agencies are coming up with today are being driven by work with charities - not just businesses," he says.

He set up Boys and Girls in 2009, along with five others working in the advertising industry - Pat Stephenson, Margaret Gilsenan, Chris Upton, Rory Hamilton and Fiona Scott.

All six worked with major advertising agencies before founding Boys and Girls - Hamilton worked in McCann Erickson, while the other five worked in McConnells. Apart from Scott, all founders are still working with Boys and Girls.

"Before we set up the company, we were having a conversation about where the industry was going," says Meade. "Because of the recession at the time, there was a push to put more and more information into communications - and ads. Communications were becoming too cluttered as a result."

The business was set up on the premise that it is simple ads which are most effective.

"The founding principle behind the agency was daring simplicity," insists Meade. "The less you try to say in an advert, the better your chance of getting your message across.

"It works like tennis balls. Throw one tennis ball at someone and they've a good chance of catching it. Throw five tennis balls - and they may not catch any."

Boys and Girls has developed some well-known ads, including the 3 Mobile 'perfect surprise' ad, which was aired last Christmas. The ad, which must strike a chord with anyone who has a loved one working abroad, shows a father working in an Arctic landscape - and tracking down a present for his daughter before flying home to Ireland for Christmas.

"It's a perfect harmony of beautiful pictures and an amazing piece of music," Meade muses.

Boys and Girls is also behind the 3 Mobile 'all it takes is everything' ad, which depicts the dedication of Irish rugby players, Paul O'Connell, Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw.

"We are a creative agency, so we do more than just traditional ads," claims Meade. "We're starting to come up with creative solutions to problems - that is, solutions that don't just involve TV ads and billboards. More and more we are working with our clients on apps, wearable technology and so on."

Along with Three, other large clients of the company include Dulux Paints and Nissan Ireland.

The 37-year-old Meade is married with two children - a six-year-old and a two-year-old. He is originally from Terenure in Dublin and now lives in Churchtown. He worked in McConnells for four-and-a-half years and before that, in Rothco. He started his career in Cawley NEA.

"I did marketing in college," he recalls.

"The one area I found interesting was advertising. I was determined to get into an advertising agency after I left college."

He believes that his love for advertising was instilled in him from a young age.

"My Dad is a carpenter," he explains. "I was always interested in building and fascinated with Lego. What I drew most from my Dad was his sense of satisfaction after completing something.

"I always enjoyed creating something when I was young - and advertising is a lot like that. You get a sense of satisfaction when you see an ad on TV or on a billboard."

Meade is not a fan of Mad Men, objecting to the depictions of those working in a US advertising agency in the 1960s.

"I never really got into it," said Mr Meade. "All the smoking in it put me off!

"It's an image of days gone by. Advertising is still an amazing industry to be in and we manage to walk the line between fun and hard work - but the Mad Men image is only that."

In Meade's company profile, he's described as "incredibly lucky".

"I've been incredibly lucky to meet the people I met - and to set up a business with them," he explains.

The company currently employs 40 people. Six years ago, it was only the six co-founders who worked for the business.

"We've grown steadily every year," he says. "Turnover has grown every year."

With the economy recovering, he expects 2016 to be busy. "There is certainly more growth in the advertising market and there is more spend being put into online communications," says Meade. "Most of it at the expense of print media - but the market as a whole is also growing.

"I think digital offers smaller businesses greater opportunity to compete, which is great for the economy. I hope we will be busier as a result. We're lucky to be growing all the time and we're really excited about the opportunities that may come our way in 2016 and beyond."

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