Action Woman


While the traditional full-service agency in Ireland prided itself on having creatives tucked away on one floor and ‘suits’ some distance away nearer reception, Tania Banotti is none of that. She was appointed chief executive of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) last February after a hard-fought competition agency members would have admired.

But while Banotti’s CV rests easier among creatives, there is nothing hippy-dippy about her executive prowess. She may not wear a Mad Men-style power suit with shoulder pads but her intelligence, stamina and affable personality more than make up. And she needs to call on her powers of rhetoric as she tries to increase IAPI’s profile among various publics.

All of Banotti’s management and lobbying skills – along with her media experience – are used to spread the word about the major questions facing Irish advertising and help provide positive answers. Her remit is to increase IAPI’s profile within government, members, media and industry partners, not least the Association of Advertisers in Ireland (AAI).

After years of having ‘insiders’ in the job, there was a general consensus among agency members that it was time an ‘outsider’ was appointed. Not an ‘outsider’ in the sense of someone with an MBA or marketing degree, who had climbed a greasy pole in FMCG, but someone who could articulate advertising needs and would work tirelessly in doing so.

How did someone in the arts end up as boss of an advertising body? A year before the job came up, Banotti had talks with Genesis director Gary Joyce about running an arts group on “no money”, where you just beg, borrow and steal. From there, she was contacted by recruiter Barry Herriott, who asked her if she might be interested in going for the IAPI post.

She was not aware at the time that she was a “surprise choice”. She knew if IAPI wanted someone who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of advertising, she was not the person they needed. But setting up trade associations in the creative area she could do with her “eyes closed” and she was strong on lobbying. From what she could see, IAPI needed an overhaul.

Since she joined IAPI, her priorities have in tacking the pitching process and trying to get various events sorted, not least Adfx, which are awarded every two years. But one thing is for sure her lobbying skills will be called upon as the issues of drinks advertising and sponsorship get a going over from government. Advertising’s poor image needs attention.

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IAPI chief executive Tania Banotti says industry research is a bone of contention these days. Agencies are frustrated by having to pay out a lot of money to get the various media reports, while the media contend that the agencies are not making enough use of the data provided.

“When I first started at IAPI, I was surprised how badly advertising is perceived by government,” Banotti says. “Having gone in with artists, I didn’t realise we were getting a great reception in comparison to the advertising industry. Ministers and civil servants were saying ‘now you people are part of the problem and we’re going to sort you guys out’.”

They accused advertisers of having nothing to contribute. Banotti was shocked the impression of advertising was as poor as it was. It is not something that can be changed overnight. IAPI needs to be more engaging, even on issues which may not seem of “massive interest” to institute members, but at least they are seen as being a responsible partner.

With Aegis Ireland boss Liam McDonnell as president, IAPI launched new guidelines on pitching. Pitches are still the industry’s lifeblood but cost €10.6 million in agency time. With ad spend under massive pressure, agencies need to make sure the process is executed as efficiently as possible. Banotti says 80 per cent of creative presented at pitches is never used.

Chemistry meetings should be held to make sure the client-agency match is right. Advertisers must limit the number of agencies on the short list to three, maximum four. They must go for a strategic-only pitch whenever possible. What annoys IAPI most is an advertiser asking for creative work to be “put in an envelop”, without any chance of having a face-to-face meeting.

IAPI members are looking for more integrated media research. At the moment, agencies are coughing up a lot of money for newspaper studies on one side and TV and radio reports on the other and none of them talk to each other. The Genesis Report which IAPI commissioned called on a more unified approach by all the marketing services representative bodies.

Banotti was born in Rome. Her mother, Mary Banotti, former Fine Gael MEP and the party’s presidential candidate in 1997, married an Italian. Her aunt is Nora Owen, the former FG TD and Minister for Justice. Another aunt, Una O’Mahony, was Frank Young’s PA at Wilson Hartnell, but died suddenly in the 1970s. Banotti is a great grand-niece of Michael Collins.

As they say, the apple never falls far from the tree.

She studied politics and economics in TCD and did a masters in film and TV at DCU. Ask her to name her favourite movies and she stalls, as she goes to the cinema once a week. But documentaries are her favourites and since she worked for the UN in Gaza for three years she cherishes Promises by BZ Goldberg and Broken Camera by Emad Burat. Her favourite Irish film is Hobo by John T Davis, a story about hobos on the trains across the US western states.

Before joining IAPI last May, Banotti was chief executive of Theatre Forum Ireland (TFI) from 2003 and helped grow the organisation as the voice for the country's performing arts. She was founder and chief executive ofScreen Producers Ireland (SPI) and secretary of the National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA), where she still remains on the board.

Her love of the arts knows no bounds and she sees huge benefits from links with business. Since joining IAPI, she has tried where possible to stage events in artistic spaces rather than in hotels. She has used the RHA, the Factory, the creative hub on Barrow Street (“they could use a few shekels”) and Smock Alley, where the recent IAPI Rant night was staged.

Banotti expects Rant to become a more regular event and several agency candidates have sought time on the soap box. At the Rant in Smock Alley, Publicis director Jimmy Murphy said Irish advertising is poorer for not having more women in top positions. Every effort to help advertising become the best industry in which a woman can work should be made.

Women quit advertising to start a family. Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg says women even anticipate an early exit in advance by taking their foot off the pedal. Irish advertising needs to reverse the trend and make sure more women stay in the business; women like McCann’s Orlaith Blaney, DDFH&B’s Miriam Hughes and Deirdre Waldron of Cawley Nea\TBWA.

Agencies should go out and “steal” the best female talent available – from Google, not-for-profit, the government, wherever. Agencies must do things differently. Instead of clients being charged by the hour, agencies should get paid for output – the ideas they produce.

Worth considering is the thorny issue of women quotas on boards, something which Murphy himself admits to being in two minds about. But people can judge an idea by the company it keeps. Given that Sweden and Holland, which are high up the social charts, have women quotas on boards – while Saudi Arabia and Myanmar don’t – it might be worth a shot.

Banotti prides herself on her feminist views. Murphy tends to agree. People in Irish advertising should talk more about women taking on senior agency roles. By avoiding the issue, adland may be is missing out on a competitive advantage. When he told some people in adland about his rant, he was astonished by the look of “abject horror” on their faces.

IAPI One to Watch winner Jess Majekodunmi ranted about how adland treats interns. “Your internship programmes are a joke,” the NGO executive with hopes of working in an agency insisted. “Stop pissing on the industry, many postgrads are angry. How can you work for nothing? Adland, put your houses in order. We’ll come back to haunt you,” she warned.

Banotti says IAPI wants to recruit more members, digital agencies being the prime target. For her rant, Aegis director Shenda Loughnane hammered home the need for adland to address the dearth of digital talent in Ireland. Loughnane said that by the end of next year, Aegis expects digital to account for half of all its billings. But finding talent is fraught with fear.

Loughnane said adland is on “a mad merry-go-round” where agencies hit on whatever talent is available. While there may be 4,000 digital vacancies out there, the business could fill 10,000. “People don’t want to come here. The industry has grown so fast. We made a spectacular success of making digital uncool, creating a part monster,” she added.

Banotti appreciates only too well that adland requires young digital blood. Loughnane calls on parents and secondary schools to teach students about subjects like real time bidding; the future of advertising rests on it. Agencies should take on one graduate every year for the next five years and train them properly. IAPI should be at the forefront of nurturing talent.

When she does find some time to call her own, Banotti enjoys nothing more than heading off on weekends to Connemara and going off on treks with sheep farmers in the Maumturk mountains, not far from where her mother has a house in Leenane. “It’s a complete change of scene and it clears the cobwebs – I love it,” she says with her usual contagious enthusiasm.

They say one should never “bullshit a bull-shitter”. The same could be said when IAPI needed to hire someone who would sort out agency problems. Needed was someone who would not be slow in tackling issues – with the help of able accomplices alongside. Banotti has her work cut out in the coming years, but she appears to be eager to get the job done.

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