A Week in My Life: Tim Irwin, CEO of Essence EMEA

Josh Peachey's picture
by Josh Peachey

At the start of this year, Tim Irwin went from the COO to the CEO of Essence EMEA, an integrated agency with offices across the world. 

The agency's clients include the likes of Nando's, Argos, BT, Google, EE, Subway and many more. 

Working mainly with clients who want to drive transformational change in marketing, the agency's motive is to create campaigns that make advertising more valuable.

Here, Tim takes us through a typical week in his working life...


As I grow older, I seem to be turning into Margaret Thatcher - not so much the orange bouffant and ruling iron fist, but rather the ability to get by on about five hours sleep a night. I bounce out of bed at 6am, having stayed up late watching Line of Duty on catch-up until the early hours.

I share the Victoria line with the London building industry, kindred early risers, and pick up a large latte from Costa (I’m OK for the special Colombian beans though, thank you!) and am at my desk by 7:15am. Looking at the week ahead, it’s an exciting one that leaves me energised and I try to take that spark into our weekly Exco meeting with our senior team. Collectively, we set the agenda for the agency and we have lots going on right now. We discuss the onboarding approach for our recent wins L’Oréal and Argos, and the new operating models and teams we are building together.

North America wakes up at lunchtime, so afternoons are often spent on Hangouts with colleagues in New York or California. Today I have a call with CJ, our global CEO, and the exec team to align on cross-border projects and ensure a consistent approach on delivery, something we're all passionate about at Essence.  

A dark cloud hangs over me at 6pm as it is personal trainer day. One hour of good banter and excruciating pain with Jon, my PT and good mate, ensue. I get home feeling slightly more worthy and achy all over. 


It must be the sunny morning, but I skip out of bed at 5.45am and jump on the 141 bus to London Bridge. This morning I’m attending The Times CEO Summit but have a pile of overnight emails to get through first at a local Pret A Manger, with a coffee and porridge to warm my cockles. 

Being invited to The Times CEO Summit is a real privilege - it’s a different take on business to the usual media conference, but the sessions are fascinating and hugely provocative. The focus is on the next PM, Brexit, the digitalization of businesses in the UK, and the impending environmental disaster that we absolutely have to face up to. Big name speakers include John McDonnell, Michael Gove, Nick Clegg and Martha Lane Fox. I come away with a little more respect for politicians, whose authenticity shows through more in person than it does on TV.

I dash back to Essence for an afternoon of one-to-ones. We’ve all become too reliant on faceless communication, so meetings and chats are fundamental to really surface opportunities and challenges.

At 4pm, I bunk off early to watch my son play cricket. I’m passionate about sport but participate vicariously through my kids. I have two daughters and love the fact that sports clubs are now taking them as seriously as they do the boys. My son gets himself run out for a pitiful one. Feels like I’ve had a wasted journey (just kidding!).


It is my youngest child’s birthday today - she’s 11. I want to wake her before I leave for work but am strongly advised against it by my wife.

Spend part of the morning in our monthly leadership meeting. We have 25 ‘leaders’ in our London office, representing all facets and practices across media and creative. They are an incredibly bright group and we use the time to align on any client challenges across teams, future business opportunities and new people-programmes we are building.  

At 4pm, our ethnicity and cultural diversity team, Essence Village, hosts a lively fireside chat in our London reception. We’ve invited industry big-hitters to have a healthy debate on the challenges BAME communities face in the workplace, including Ogilvy’s Nadja Bellan White, Spotify’s Rak Patel and Engine’s Ete Davies. It’s a brilliant session that highlights the importance of having a diverse workforce in all levels of an organisation and the need to develop programmes to make sure it happens.

Home for birthday celebrations at local Thai street food restaurant (Farang, Highbury - genuinely the best food in North London).


I start the day with a very tasty breakfast in Central London with Facebook, talking about the challenges of managing content on such a vast platform. I’m a big fan of breakfast meetings - fuelling the day in more ways than one. I meet with all our major partners frequently to check perspectives and lobby on behalf of our clients’ needs.

Back at the office, I catch up with BT’s Media Chief, Graeme Adams. We have a 20-minute conversation about DSP contracts and liabilities… not a conversation we would have had when we first started working together eight years ago!

I am well-fed today as I have lunch with a journalist from Campaign - 50-odd years down the line and still the UK’s most influential industry voice. They’re pressing us for news on upcoming pitches, but there’s also a healthy debate about the future state of TV. This afternoon, I sit in a product roadmap and development update meeting. Essence is a product-driven organisation with upwards of 50 engineers who develop and manage our proprietary tools and AI. This feels like a unique agency setup, and one which gives us and our clients a real competitive advantage. 

Tonight we have a big celebration on the back of our L’Oréal win. It’s a huge account and a company that we are delighted to be working with. It’s a fun night and the party's still going strong when I bail out at about 10pm. 


Every Friday I have breakfast with five or six Essentials (as we call them) from every level, to get feedback on the agency, what they treasure, and what we can build on or improve. It’s probably my favourite part of the week as it really helps me prioritise. 

This morning I head over to see Google’s Head of Media EMEA, Emily Henderson. Our relationship with Google is extraordinary - having grown together over the past 11 years, much of our team spend as much time in their offices as they do ours, and we work on tech builds, creative content and have various working partnerships together.

Every Friday afternoon, Essence’s office turns into a bar to ease into the weekend. Today’s Funbar-Friday is particularly special as our Pride team have taken over; there’s a mockup of the iconic Stonewall Inn and a film screening in one of the rooms, as well as stories from LBGT Essentials and 50 years of LGBT+ representation in media printed on the walls. There's a real buzz and a sea of rainbow flags hanging from the ceiling.

The sun is out, so I decide to avoid the tube by walking home. It’s a great way to unwind at the end of the week. And it burns off one or two of those rainbow cupcakes.