Imagination is a tough and cheeky beast to tame. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes it works just enough to get you annoyed for not coming up with a full-rounded idea. In other cases, it starts really early-on – with a tree looking like a reindeer and exotic dreams of Arctic adventures.
Shnoosee Bailey is the managing partner and ECD at HeyHuman and she defines herself as a 'shepherd of ideas,' the person bringing the right people together with incredible team spirit and love for creativity. The fact she never set off to become an ECD in the first place is quite amazing – proving that the best things always happen by pure chance.
We've had a chat with her to try and grasp what it means to be a beloved ECD at a creative communications agency.
We have already dug "Behind the Idea" of one of HeyHuman's latest campaigns a few weeks back.
Tell us a bit about your current role.
As managing partner and ECD at the transformative communications agency HeyHuman, I have the interesting task of blending organisation with creative inspiration. I act as a sort of shepherd for ideas, bringing the right people together to create something great, and fostering an environment in which creative work can thrive.
At the root of everything we do is HeyHuman’s core tenet: Unusual Everyday™. Born out of neuroscience insight, it tells us that the most memorable and connective creative work comes from a mixture of the novel, divergent and unexpected; alongside familiar, everyday concepts.
As an ECD, I act as a sort of shepherd for ideas.
For a business to truly live Unusual Everyday, it has to be embedded across the whole company - from the CEO, to the account director, to the artfully yappy office dog! It’s part of my job to make that happen.
Whether I’m working with Rio Ferdinand and Guinness for a project in Nigeria, where the public were invited to play football inside a neon-spattered aircraft hangar, or unleashing Natures Menu’s Poo Bag Challenge (Google it!) at Crufts, it all comes back to that balance of ordinary and extraordinary.
How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?
Ironically, I never set out to be an ECD - it just kind of happened. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some very talented and generous people who’ve given me the time, tools and training to grow into the role I now hold.
There were times, early on, where I struggled with juggling management and responsibility with just being able to focus on doing the work. But over time, you make peace with it and find a balance that works for you; for me, that means ensuring your key focus is delivering brilliant work and nurturing the talent that creates it.
That blend of organisation, responsibility and creativity is essential for any ECD - but especially for me, as I have to wear my managing partner hat, too.
What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?
I had a bit of an unconventional upbringing. I grew up in Australia with hippy parents, so that meant no TV, no chocolate... but tonnes of lentils. It also meant I was enveloped in a creative community from the start - everyone from musicians to basket weavers.
That kind of environment naturally feeds your imagination. I used to spend my time writing and putting on plays with the other kids. There was a tree nearby that, to me, looked like a reindeer. I used to spend hours sitting in it, going on adventures, flying to Lapland and seeing what was up.
Looking back, there were very few boundaries. Growing up in such a creative environment, I was probably always destined to head into the creative industries.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I always loved designing and making clothes up until my late teens. I thought I was going to end up in fashion design or theatre design - those plays we put on as kids were top notch, honestly!
But then I fell in love with graphic design and, more specifically, typography, which then led me to advertising. It was Neville Brody and The Face that sealed the deal - leafing through that magazine and absorbing every line meant I had less time for Arctic adventures with my trusty tree steed.
The Poo-bag Challenge
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
The answer’s people, isn’t it? People nourish each others’ creative minds; you bounce off them, you argue about what works and what doesn’t, you fall out, there might be shouting, the work gets better and then everyone’s happy again.
People nourish each other's creative minds.
It’s clichéd, but I also believe it’s so important to get out of your advertising bubble to find inspiration. Walk down a street you’ve never visited, people-watch, read, visit a gallery or walk in a forest!
What is the one piece of advice you would give to creatives looking to be successful in the industry?
Be open-minded, accepting and adaptable. So much has changed and so much will change again - you need to be ok with that. You need to embrace it and adapt. It’s the only constant in life, and one we have very little (if any) control over. Just look at the impact the pandemic has had on our industry, media, technology, politics, the world.
In a creative role, you have to keep your mind open - that means feeding off other people, finding new ways to tackle a familiar problem, listening to different points of view - all in service of making the ideas better. ‘We’ is stronger than ‘I’. How much that matters has been brought to light now more than ever.
Tell us something about your professional life we don’t already know.
Why is this question so hard!? I really don’t know! I’m a morning person, I guess.
Shnoosee, managing partner and ECD at HeyHuman.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
I could list off campaigns I’ve worked on throughout my career, but on reflection, the thing I’m most proud of is being part of shaping and owning an agency with my other two partners. We set out with the vision to create an agency that does things differently; one that recognises how much the world has changed, and is constantly changing. It’s been a rollercoaster ride: stressful, challenging, emotional, and dare I say fun. We haven’t always got it right, but that’s part of the journey.
How do you recharge away from the office?
Nature is so re-energising. Gardening does the trick. I love my flowerbeds and veggie patch - though I don’t grow lentils. My little whippet, Nelson, is also partial to the odd walk or seven.
What’s your one big dream for the future of the creative industries?
That we remember we are a creative industry. We’re not here to create the bland and expected, but to create ideas that are distinctive, effective and memorable - ideas that connect with real people and contribute to culture and the world. Unusual Everyday ideas.