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Creativity Squared: Connecting to Your Emotional Core with William Beale


VaynerMedia APAC's creative director on using creativity to escape, poetry and adapting to new cultures

Creativity Squared: Connecting to Your Emotional Core with William Beale

William Beale is an award-winning creative director with 10 years experience in Asia Pacific. He believes advertising is dead and the world needs more heartfelt storytelling and outrageous ideas to stop thumbs and turn heads. That means turning ASMR artists into metalheads and old flashlights into storybooks, or making music videos for dancing foxes, rockstar robots or delicious national anthems. 

As a poet, he’s performed at the Sydney Opera House, co-founded and organised a National Poetry Slam, and published his first book at 25. As a singer/songwriter, he’ll be releasing his first EP, Matryoshka, later this year.


A lot of who I am and what I know is thanks to poetry. 

I started writing and performing spoken word in 2011, before I joined advertising, and after going through these four questions, I can see how much of what I do now is actually inspired by writing, performing and organising poetry gigs. 

See, good poetry looks right into your soul in six syllables. That emotive conciseness is a tool made for aiding copywriters in their craft. It definitely helps me guide others with their words today. Using bold imagery and metaphors in poems can empower your art direction and brand building too. Hosting a gig makes presenting to clients easier. Leading a team of creatives and fostering their growth feels like holding space for young poets on stage. Even hiring the right people feels like curating artists for an event sometimes. And crucially, hearing a wide array of stories, often from minority voices, gives you empathy to unlearn and learn new perspectives. 

No matter who you are or what department you work in, I really believe you’ll come away from a slam or open mic night having learnt something new and invaluable. So go check one out near you. I’m sure you’ll be surprised.

Once I joined adland, I had the privilege of being mentored by a variety of writers and leaders — VJ Anand, Tak Shune Lee, Shivram Gopinath and others. All who taught me sheer hard work, the art of refining an idea, and how to survive pitch seasons (late-night nasi lemak and pillows for the office). But more than anything, they taught me the joys and wins that come with great work. 

All these amazing people, experiences, and the art forms that have held me — I’m mostly made up of them. That and coffee.


When I first started performing poetry, I’d introduce myself on stage by saying “Hi, I’m Will, and tonight, I hope you feel something.” 

That’s always been the barometer for me on judging panels or hearing out ideas in VaynerMedia. A creative campaign is only as good as how it makes you feel. Because the only work you’ll remember years from now are the ones that connect to your emotional core. 

Actually, if you’ve ever been to a poetry night before, you might’ve seen someone snapping their fingers like a pretentious beatnik. But hear me out — snapping means a great deal more. It doesn’t just mean “well done” or “I like what you did there.” It’s actually an audience member’s way of saying “I feel that too” or “I’ve lived that, like you”, which is a powerful thing. It’s instant feedback for the poet, so they know if the stanza or line emotionally connects. It’s also validation that the poet isn’t alone on their journey. 

In the right room, with the right people, I believe both advertising and poetry have the power to make you feel less alone. 

There’s a campaign from the start of my career that stays with me still.

In my first year at TBWA\, I came up with an initiative called ‘Grandfather Stories’ that aimed to continue the art of passing down oral histories by recording and archiving your grandparents' stories on a location-based website. Each story was unlocked when you visited the specific neighbourhood, street, or area that the story took place in. All so you could step back in time with new ears and eyes, while an elder brought Malaysia’s hidden past to life around you. 

We ended up capturing stories of everyday paati's (grandma in Tamil), a grandpa who's a national historian, and even my CCO's own grandmother. I poured myself into the project for months, and even though Malaysia Tourism didn’t end up buying the idea, we still had a website full of beautiful stories. Some were action-packed tales about communists hijacking trains, families hiding from Japanese bombs, and strong matriarchs getting courted by lovers and coerced into marriage. 

While I’d likely bring it to life in a different way today, I still stand by the amount of heart in that campaign. Because behind the idea was a group of creatives trying to preserve the memories of the people we loved, before we lost them forever. 

That’s how I judge someone’s work: Do I feel something? And can I see their whole heart in it?


First, I grab my notebook and head outside. WFH and open-plan offices be damned, being in a different space puts you in a different headspace — and that’s where I do my best thinking. Take a bus or train there too, ‘cos the rush of new stimuli from the window will make your brain fire faster. Or maybe that’s just me. 

Being in the same space as your brief’s “target audience” gives you observational insights and a better view into their world. Also, heading to different kinds of spaces that contrast with your audience can be really helpful to see the brief from another lens too. Try going to an upmarket cafe, then a run-down food court. A park, then a factory. A red light district, then a church. And just let the ideas come. 

Write down the most outlandish ideas or imagery first. Go ape. Then I think about the culture of the audiences around me, and see what impact the product or service can have for them. From there, start digging for an emotional connection – something to make these people care. 

Are there any overlaps? Nope? Well, keep going to new spaces ‘til you find one. 

One of my favourite overlaps between culture and creativity was a campaign I worked on while I was at UltraSuperNew — a documentary series called the Curious Sessions. In each episode, we’d take someone from mainstream culture and challenge them to be curious enough to learn about a subculture that’d been negatively impacted by Singaporean media. 

In the first episode, we challenged a very straight dudebro to try drag for the first time. It was a time when drag queens were still getting lots of hate online from conservatives. Then, in episode two, we took an ASMR Artist and challenged her to join a metal band for a night. She learned how to scream her lungs out on stage during a time when metal concerts were actually being banned by politicians. 

We challenged one person to learn and embrace specific subcultures at a point when no one in Singapore wanted anything to do with them. By connecting cultures with a wild and fun documentary, we gave people the opportunity to open up and embrace ways of life and people they never would have normally. 

In the same way, going to unlikely locations can connect you to a new vantage point or undiscovered idea.


When I was 12 years old, I moved to Singapore. Five years later I moved to Chongqing, China. A few years later, I was in Malaysia. That’s where I started my advertising journey. Living overseas from a young age helped instil a sense of wonder for the world and for other cultures. I wrote a poem called welcome meals that tries to capture that awe, but also what’s lost in the process. Here’s an excerpt:

Moving overseas and adapting to new cultures can make or break you. In the same way, it’s work culture that makes or breaks an agency. 

It’s all about the v i b e s. You need a balance of the right people and right personalities. They need to be happy and healthy. There needs to be opportunities for them to shine. No one wants to suffer or waste time in a toxic work environment, especially after COVID. Creatives are being more real with their mental health and their capacity, while being kinder to themselves. Which feels like a long time coming. 

IMO, the best thing an agency can do is care. Once there’s a real sense of care, the culture, the work, and the people will all come together — in spite of what we’re all going through. 

Another poem I wrote years ago, ‘Art As Escapism’, is about finding comfort in making art during a time of suffering — namely, in the face of pain. I started getting cluster headaches when I was 22, whilst finishing university. While no one should have to go through suffering to make art, I found power in what I could control. Which was making things. 

I think that’s what creatives are interested in these days: Being more real. Making things to spite suffering. Using creativity to escape (if only for a moment). Instilling joy into a space and/or people. 

That’s what I’m most excited about seeing in the world anyway.

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VaynerMedia APAC, Tue, 18 Apr 2023 11:16:00 GMT