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Creativity Squared: Wayne Best’s Optimistic Malcontent

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VMLY&R’s CCO, New York on the sliding scale from mediocrity to creative brilliance and why getting bored easily isn’t necessarily a bad thing

Creativity Squared: Wayne Best’s Optimistic Malcontent

According to creativity researchers, there are four sides to creativity. Person (personality, habits, thoughts), product (the thing that results from creative activity), process (how you work), and press (environment factors, education and other external factors) all play a part. So, we figured, let’s follow the science to understand your art. Creativity Squared is a feature that aims to build a more well-rounded profile of creative people. 

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During his career, Wayne Best has built Mars, blown up a Yugo, had awkward conversations with Donald Trump, and waited countless hours for Sean ‘P-Diddy’ Combs to show up on set. 
 
He joined VMLY&R in August 2019 as chief creative officer, New York. In addition to overseeing work in the New York office, he is the global creative lead on Dell Technologies.
 
Wayne has a history of creating engaging work that is entertaining and effective. While on Verizon, he helped create the Cannes Lions-winning ‘First Responders’ work. His Walmart work for the Oscars and ‘Famous Cars’ effort for the Super Bowl helped shift perceptions of the brand. For Macy’s, he created the 30-minute animated holiday special ‘Yes, Virginia’, which has been running on CBS during prime time for the last 10 years. And the New York Post called his Virgin Mobile ‘Chrismahanukwazakah’ commercial one of the best holiday spots of all time.
 
Wayne has served as a judge many times, including being the jury chair for the Art Directors Club Hybrid awards, which honours the most innovative and game-changing work. He also spent years as chair of the Ad Council’s Creative Review Committee and has been on panels at the 4A’s.
 
Get to know he approaches all of that below. 
 
 
 

Person

 
I am an optimistic malcontent.
 
I think most creative people are malcontents. To be creative in any business, you need to look at things differently, challenge the norms and seek something different. So naturally, you aren’t content with the way things currently are. It’s this view of the world that pushes creative people to bring fresh thinking to the table.
 
Being an optimist means I look at every assignment as an amazing opportunity. While this is good because it means I’m always motivated, I’m trying to be a little less optimistic these days. You can’t boil the ocean, so sometimes it’s best to say no to certain assignments.
 
I believe in being open-minded, yet opinionated.
 
Great ideas come from everywhere. You don’t need to have the title ‘creative’ to have a creative idea. Some of the best work I’ve been involved in wouldn’t have come to life without a smart strategist, collaborative account person, brilliant director or daring client. Collaboration is good. Debate is good. I like a culture where we can challenge each other, no matter what level or title you have. That said, a creative leader must have good judgement and be decisive. Listen, keep an open mind, debate, then make an informed and clear decision.
 
It's also good to articulate the thinking behind the decisions you make so everyone fully understands why you made those decisions. That’s how people learn and improve, and how the whole team gets stronger together.
 
 
 

Product 

 
If you get so excited about an idea you are petrified it will die, you’re onto a great one.
 
Usually those are the ideas where everything makes complete sense but the solution is totally unexpected. The answer seems so simple you can’t believe it hasn’t been done before, but it hasn’t. You know when you’re thinking, “How can the client let us do this?” and “How can the client not do this?” at the same time, you’ve stumbled on something fresh.
 
I get bored easily.
 
It’s a good trait when it comes to judging work because it pushes you to get through all the expected work and get to something that will break through better. While the message in advertising is important, if you don’t get people’s attention, it doesn’t matter. And if it’s boring me, it will undoubtedly be ignored by consumers.
 
Does it make me feel anything?
 
It sounds like a simple question, but when you look at most advertising, the answer is no. Great advertising doesn’t tell you what to feel, it makes you feel it. If an ad isn’t making you think, it’s probably not going to be something you remember. It’s a constant battle to keep work from becoming explain-y. When you’re explaining things to people, you’re most likely not making them feel anything. Advertising is persuasion, and that takes a deft hand.
 
While I love what I do, I hate advertising.
 
By advertising, I don’t mean the profession. I mean work that feels like ‘ad speak’. Consumers love brands, but they don’t love advertising. Anything that smells of marketing is usually bad marketing, so the minute I see anything that is cliché or ‘ad speak’ or smells like bullshit, I kill it in favour of work that makes a real connection.
 
 
 

Process

  
The most inspiring thing in the world isn’t another ad, a person or an award. It’s a deadline.
 
Unlike other professions, in advertising there is no right or wrong answer. There is only a sliding scale from mediocrity to brilliance. In my experience, creatives keep trying to improve things right up to the deadline, so without deadlines, nothing would really get done.
 
To get the most out of the time you have on a project, you need a tight, motivating brief. It is the foundation of the house. Without a solid brief, things will collapse repeatedly, creating swirl.
 
I suggest you read the brief carefully, then throw it in the trash.
 
As soon as you have a brief, read it, then forget about it for a while. Jump on a treadmill, take a walk, ride a bike. If you’ve absorbed the brief, your subconscious will be working for you and an idea will pop out of your head at an unexpected time.
 
I am quick to kill. 
 
One of the biggest obstacles for a creative is themselves. You tend to fall in love with your own ideas too quickly. When you do that, it stops you from moving forward. I kill ideas quickly so we can get to the less expected stuff faster.
 
Ask your creatives at the end of a meeting if you’ve killed anything they love.
 
I always like to give my teams a chance to fight for an idea that didn’t make the cut. This demonstrates your respect for their opinions. It’s also possible you missed something good that they will resurface. Normally they say, “No, we agree with the feedback,” but on occasion they resurrect something good that I missed. Occasionally a team fights for bad ideas, which tells you a lot as well.
 
 
 

Press

  
Advertising shouldn’t be the centre of your world.
 
As marketers, we sit at the intersection of popular culture and brands. To fully understand what role our clients’ products or services will play in people’s lives, we need to understand how people live. Great brands feel more like friends than companies. They have distinct personalities and respond to what’s happening in the real world. So, we need to have lives outside of the business.
 
Be a sponge.
 
Mark Fenske once said that you need to get out of advertising to get into it. He’s right. Watch movies, read books, listen to podcasts. There’s so much great stuff out there, and access to it all is easy. I’m personally a big fan of biographies and memoirs because you get a glimpse inside people’s minds, learning about their motivations and how they overcame obstacles. You learn about how they failed again and again before they broke through to success. It’s hard to really get anywhere without banging up the car a bit.
 
In our business, we spend a lot of time trying to make things perfect, but sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do because you never do anything fresh enough to break through. The risks need to be calculated, but to not take them results in a brand that doesn’t break through. And we all work too hard, clients and agencies alike, to serve up mediocrity.

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VMLY&R New York, Tue, 20 Sep 2022 13:16:39 GMT