Dynamic Duos: ‘This partnership has shaped so much of our lives’

In this week's Dynamic Duos, Riana McKenzie, copywriter, and Zoe Perrin, art director, at Clemenger BBDO, reflect on their meet-cute blind coffee date, funny memories including an explosive hotel kettle, and two years of collaboration and friendship.

In Dynamic Duos, Mumbrella each week asks two colleagues with a professional and personal affiliation to share with readers the importance of workplace relationships in an increasingly hybridised world of work.

Riana McKenzie:

“I’m cycling there, so might be a tad late!” Zoe texted.

Damn, I thought. She rides a bike. That’s cool. She’s way cooler than me.

Meeting a potential creative partner for the first time is a lot like a blind date. Butterflies. Pre-preparing questions. Outfit changes. Quickly packing a book to ‘read’ when they arrive so you appear on par with their cycling-chic…

The ‘blind date’ was the brainchild of my dear friend and mentor, Esther Clerehan. “I think you’ll like this talented Irish art director I’ve just placed at Clemenger,” she allured. So, there I was a week later, performative reading at a coffee shop, waiting for Zoe to arrive.

As soon as I met her, I realised Zoe was a creative inferno. Fiercely confident. Blazingly free-thinking. So, so warm. The only unoriginal part about her was she ordered avocado toast. We dangerously discovered that we burned for the same thing: Uncovering spicy problems, then making the solutions so inspiring and nervously ambitious you want to protect it with your life and are scared to death of fucking it up. Twin flames. We couldn’t not work together.

We quickly coined our band name, ‘RiZo’, (which we later found out is also trademarked by a local ‘premium dessert’ company). And we’ve been blazing forward ever since. In just two years, we’ve redesigned over 3000+ frontline worker’s uniforms to prevent abuse, created the Christmas campaign for Australia’s most-loved retailer, invented wild ideas for international and local brands, won pitches, placed top 5 in Cannes Young Lions, were titled AWARD National Tutors of the Year after seeing many of our students top AWARD School, and have seen our work awarded across the world stage. But we’re just getting started.

Besides the craft, and the name, our partnership’s secret sauce is our values: Constant communication (about the serious and silly things), an unwavering no-dickhead or ad-fodder policy, trusting each other’s gut, vulnerability, and respect for one another – as people, and creatives.

This industry is a turbulent one. Which makes a solid creative partnership all the more precious. Through everything, Zoe has been my diamond in the rough (and in the fields of gold). I think every creative, and human, needs a Zoe. Or a Zoe-adjacent. But until then, I am selfishly lucky to have her as my creative partner, and dearest of friends.

PS. I’d like to add Zoe has also helped me become cooler too… I now own a bike.

Zoe Perrin:

I moved to Australia from Ireland fresh out of a long relationship and determined to be single and independent in my shiny new life. Instead, I ended up in the most committed (less romantic?) relationship of my life. Classic.

Ri and I met for a tentative coffee in a Southbank café after being matchmade by the wonderful Jim Curtis and Ryan Fitzgerald and our constant confidant, Esther Clerehan. I should have known I was in trouble when the barista mistook us for a couple on that very first, water testing, chat (Note. Ri later went on to briefly date that barista so he may have had ulterior motives.)

Post that (not a date but very exciting) first coffee Ri joined me at Clemenger BBDO, and we began in earnest the partnership which has since shaped so much of our lives.

Ri is one of the most intelligent yet shockingly silly people I’ve had the pleasure to know. In fact, she often walks a line of contrast. She is ruthlessly ambitious yet deeply kind and she is terrifyingly strategic yet has little interest in ad land nonsense.

Above all she is a true creative. Innovative creativity pours from her like prosecco at an industry event and she has the craft and care to shape it into the ideas that see us high fiving in a way we hope nobody sees.

It is that creativity which keeps us charging forward together. We established very early on, even in that first chat, that we were in this job for the work. For the desire to create truly great work, work we’re proud of, work that inspires, work that shapes change.

A lofty ambition maybe but made so much more real by the realities of our partnership.

We often joke that our creative partnership is like a relationship, but in many ways it is. We reap the benefits of intense trust, fierce loyalty, and joyful companionship by meeting each other with complete respect for one another and real passion for what we do. I really believe it is this gravity with which we treat our relationship that has enabled us to make, and continue making, great work.

Riana on Zoe:

Most memorable moment with Zoe: Our partnership has taken us to so many rewarding, wonderful, brain-chemistry-altering places. But this one moment is seared into my brain, and olfactory organs… it was 1am. Zo and I were sitting on our hotel room floor, mind-numbingly in the depths of crafting a presentation for the 24hr Cannes Young Lions National Competition. Full flow. Utter focus. When suddenly, our hotel kettle exploded.

From it, erupted our pretentious ‘Energy&Focus Lion’s Mane Turmeric Chai’, which we had the ingenious sleep-deprived idea of trying to boil with oat milk in said kettle, only to obliterate the minibar, hotel carpet and our dignity.

With no spare moment to mentally, or emotionally, deal with it, we made peace with the carnage by chucking all evidence into the shower recess. I still remember trying to write a very earnest insight, with Zoe in my peripherals shuffling back and forth to the bathroom with the various, turmeric-stained leafy materials.

We then had a laughing fit, and put on some hydrating undereye masks to feel a bit better about ourselves.

Best word to describe her: Effervescent.

Most annoying habit or endearing behaviour she has: Zoe moves through the world in a graceful, no-bullshit way. It’s the best thing about her. She also has a loud face. So put together – you see some pretty honest expressions… Oh, the joys of being in an internal meeting, review or brainstorming session and peering over to Zoe to gauge her honest thoughts and witnessing something that can only be described as “a meme-worthy expression”. So authentic. So unashamed.

Zoe on Riana:

Most memorable moment with Riana: Our first time pitching together with Clemenger on a fantastic account we were very keen to win involved us both enthusiastically presenting from the top of a boardroom wearing bedazzled, and I mean really bedazzled, jewel encrusted, chain adorned, very expensive cowboy hats. I can confirm the hats were incredibly heavy and we did win the pitch.

Best word to describe her: Unstoppable.

Most annoying habit or endearing behaviour she has: Ri is like a sponge, which is really a beautiful way to be, it means she constantly absorbs the world around her and channels it back into her craft, it also means every time she watches a movie, I hear it referenced in every conversation for at least a week afterwards. I’ll forgive this though because sometimes they are bang on references.


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