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Creativity Squared: Why Tracy Zuto Is Keeping an Eye on the Detail

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Wunderman Thompson Health NY's executive creative director on being an extrovert, simple human truths and why staying well rounded is critical as a creative

Creativity Squared: Why Tracy Zuto Is Keeping an Eye on the Detail

When you work with Tracy, you get it all, and you get it straight. She started in advertising 27 years ago and has extensive launch and prelaunch experience on brands in both the US and around the globe.

Tracy began her career as a writer in consumer and direct response, creating campaigns for M&M Mars, Revlon, Embassy Suites, Citibank, Nextel, Citymeals on Wheels, Kraft, and American Express. About 13 years later, she decided to leave Brooklyn and take her new family over a few bridges to New Jersey. It was there she discovered jug handles and healthcare advertising. It was a bit of a culture shock, but after cutting her teeth on the US and global launches of Gleevec, she realized she could use her creative powers for good and never turned back.

Today, her love of insight-driven creative and collaborative creation of big ideas, as well as her intense curiosity are infectious on every team she’s a part of. Tracy has led her teams to help physicians, patients, and caregivers overcome real struggles in women’s health, haematology, oncology, nephrology, immunology, ophthalmology, pulmonology, and neurology. Her healthcare client roster includes AstraZeneca, Sanofi/Regeneron, Merck, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Therapeutics MD, Eisai, Roche, Shire, Bayer, Emergent Biosolutions, and Ferring, just to name a few.

Tracy believes that healthcare is so much more than data and trial results. It’s about digging deep to uncover fears, expose bias, reveal the undeniable impact to self-esteem and relationships, and deliver hope and solutions. And when you do that, you have the chance to help people do more than just exist with their condition, but really live their lives the way they were meant to be lived.

When she’s not busy doing what she loves at work, she gets to do what she loves at home, which is being a mom to two amazing teenage girls, 3 dogs, a pot belly pig, two bunnies, a bearded dragon, and two crested geckos.


Person

In general, I try to see the best in everyone and everything. I look for the details people miss. The beauty that goes unrecognised. The potential of what could be, rather than what is. So when I look at something, I see how I can work with it. Either by enhancing what is already there or by transforming it into something new.  I love giving new life to old concepts and objects. That’s why I love what I do - many of the challenges we get in this business are the same, but it’s figuring out how to solve them in fresh, new ways that is so exciting, and why after 28 years, I’m still not bored.

As for my personality, I am the polar opposite of an introvert. Give me a room full of strangers, I’ll walk right in. Give me an empty dance floor, I’ll be the first one on. Give me a auditorium full of people, I’ll grab the mic. I talk with my hands and I’m fairly loud, and I love when I can make people laugh. Maybe it’s the Brooklyn. Maybe it’s the Italian. It’s probably both. My favourite part of a meeting are the few minutes before when everyone is gathering and we haven’t gotten to the agenda yet. Everyone is just chatting and laughing and telling stories. That’s when you really get to know people and start seeing sides you haven’t seen before. That’s when you form bonds that last a lifetime. That’s when it goes from team, to family.


Product

When I look at work, I look for the insight, the simple human truth. Everyone on my team knows my saying, “behind every great piece of work is a great strategy.” Yeah, you can make just about anything look gorgeous with the right designer, and sound beautiful with the right writer. But does it make me feel anything? I don’t care if it makes me laugh, cry, get angry, be shocked, or even just say, “hmm, ain’t that the truth.” But if I see it and I’m just looking at it going, “that’s nice,” then you’ve lost me. Doesn’t mean it’s in the garbage - I’ll always try to find the speck in someone’s work that makes it worth pushing. I’m not a creative killer; I’m a creative transformer. I’d rather sit with the team and try to understand why they did what they did, so we can push it until we all go, “now, that’s what I’m talking about!” I love watching people do things they didn’t think they could. It’s my favourite part of the job.

I think the biggest shift for me in terms of evaluating creative now from when I started (way too many years ago) is the experience that goes with it. You didn’t have as many ways to bring your creative to life. It’s really opened up people’s minds and enabled them to think so much bigger. But again, just because a campaign has a great hashtag or virtual experience attached to it, it still has to be simple, insightful, and meaningful at it’s core. You can’t fake it through social and digital. If it sucks on paper, it’s going to suck in the metaverse.

Recently, I worked on a campaign to help cancer survivors cope with their emotional and physical scars. We collaborated with I Had Cancer and Momentary Ink to create a line of temporary tattoos called scART to highlight or hide cancer surgery scars. All of the designs were created by survivors and their stories. Getting to help those brave enough to fight, and in many cases, beat their cancer, was one of the most rewarding things I’ve gotten to work on in a long time. A simple idea to meet a meaningful unmet need. That’s the kind of work that makes me feel blessed that I get to use my creative powers for good.


Process

This is a very on-demand business and quite antithetical to how most creatives would prefer to work, myself included. We don’t get the luxury of just waiting to be inspired to get started. I usually collect things I see out in the world in a file, and go back to it later. Back in the day, I used to physically keep a 'swipe folder,' filled with things I had ripped out of magazines or copied from books. I also run a lot of inspiration sessions with my creative teams. Everything from show and tell to watching documentaries and films and playing creative games. We inspire each other. And we’re all super collaborative. There are no egos on my team, so if people are stumped, including me, we turn to each other for ideas.

I also think staying well-rounded is critical as a creative. There are so many places to pull ideas and inspiration from. So I try to be very eclectic about everything. The shows I watch, the books I read, the music I listen to, the experiences I have. I like to learn at least a little bit about everything. You never know when it’ll spark something in the middle of ideating.

I hate sitting in a brainstorm with a blank piece of paper (or Miro Board lately). I’d rather have something to react to. If people are having trouble coming up with something, I’ll usually go back to the strategy or the brief because it’s usually a sign something is off. But is the work ever really done? No, truthfully, a lot of it comes down to a gut feeling. There is definitely such a thing as over-working creative. It’s like fashion. Sometimes the feather boa is just one thing too many.


Press

It’s funny. I always knew I wanted to do this. I never questioned it. I think being an only child had something to do with it. Lots of time with myself and my imagination. I just always liked anything to do with the arts. Drawing, painting, writing stories, poems, changing the lyrics to songs, making projects. Really anything that required creativity.

Stress is actually a motivator for me. When I’m stressed, creating things relaxes me and takes me away from whatever it is that is bothering me. Even at work. When I’m stuck dealing with something administrative or a client meeting doesn’t go the way I want it to, all I want to do is go to a creative meeting. It sets the world right for me.

Speaking of client meetings that don’t always go as planned: Creatives are easy to make happy. Speak to us with respect, listen to our point of view, thank us for our hard work, don’t schedule reviews the day after a holiday. We know you’re not going to go with our favourite every time. We just want you to appreciate the work and acknowledge all of the sacrifices that go into creating it. The reward? A team that will go to the ends of the earth for you. A team that will miss family dinners, give up a good night’s sleep, and sacrifice their weekends when need be. Easy peasy.


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Wunderman Thompson USA, Wed, 12 Oct 2022 12:56:38 GMT