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Uncompromising on Craft: Shayne Millington on Why You Must Lead Through Empathy to Support Creativity


McCann NY’s co-CCO speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about using communication and honesty to support creative teams’ crafts and how she collaborates with co-CCO Pierre Lipton to push boundaries

Uncompromising on Craft: Shayne Millington on Why You Must Lead Through Empathy to Support Creativity

Audio post production company 750mph has partnered with Little Black Book on a new interview series called ‘Uncompromising on Craft’. The series is dedicated to learning from the sharpest minds in adland who transfix eyeballs, set the industry benchmark and make the work that we all wish we'd made. 

Participating in this edition is Shayne Millington, co-CCO at McCann NY. Shayne was promoted to co-CCO of McCann NY in November 2021, adopting this new creative leadership role alongside Pierre Lipton. Both Shayne and Pierre previously served as EVPs and global ECDs for McCann. Shayne is one of the most awarded creative directors in the industry and in 2019 won an Immortal Award for her work with Microsoft. She is commended for her keen eye for detail and a passion for craft, working throughout her career on brands such as Microsoft, Macy’s, Verizon, Target and Nike.      

LBB's Ben Conway caught up with Shayne to discuss how communication and honesty is the foundation of supporting a team’s creativity, how she used technology to develop her own craft and how her new role has influenced her perspective.

LBB> ‘Craft’ in this industry often focuses on the production side of things - but there's plenty of craft talent in an agency. What, for you, are a creative’s most important crafts?

Shayne> I think the best thing one can do to create a healthy creative environment is to focus on the tools that come from within, rather than the tangible craft. It is so important to build a community that has trust and honesty at its centre, while encouraging bravery and fostering education. With tools like those, you continue to build and grow while pushing the work.

LBB> Since being promoted from EVP, global ECD to co-CCO of McCann NY - how have your responsibilities changed? What new aspects of your craft are you now involved with? Has your view of good craft changed?

Shayne> My responsibilities have grown in so many ways - and I love it. Overseeing all the accounts instead of a select few gives me much more access to the massive talent pool here at McCann. I’m so inspired it’s hard to stay still. And no, my high standards have not wavered at all. If anything, my standards have gotten stronger since I can see all the potential that lies within these sometimes (virtual) walls.

LBB> The craft of communication and organisation must be paramount when you’re working as a co-CCO, what skills or strategies have you learnt to maintain a successful creative partnership at the highest level?

Shayne> Anyone that knows me knows I’m a people person. I came from a big family with a lot of loud opinions, so I thrive on being part of a collaborative environment. I actually seek it out. It keeps me honest and pushes my thinking. And I could not have been paired with anyone more talented and collaborative than Pierre - I lucked out. In our first conversation, we promised we would always be honest and push each other. Since then, we have not only been able to take on more challenges, but we push the creativity even farther than we ever could alone.

LBB> McCann NY and McCann, in general, have one of the deepest and most talented rosters of creative talent in the world - do you notice a variety of approaches to people’s craft and how do you ensure your teams’ creative processes and ideas are supported and, if necessary, protected?

Shayne> This is such a great question. Creative people are so inspiring and fun to be around. Every person is so unique and driven in their own way, although it is always expressed differently. When leading any department, and especially a creative department, one must lead through empathy. We have such a range of diverse backgrounds, no single way works for all. However, communication and honesty are usually the first steps in supporting that creativity.

LBB> When you see a brief or piece of work for the first time, what is something that keeps you thinking about it or re-watching it? What elements of the craft and storytelling get you excited?

Shayne> I know we are all starved for time and we try to be efficient. Communication is often just sending things through email. But what gets me the most excited about work is when I get to talk about it. It may be a brief, an idea deck or a produced piece of work. There is an electric energy when you get a group of open-minded people in a room, building off of an idea and challenging the thinking. Most likely the result will be better than when it came in. 

LBB> How did you hone your craft when you first started in the industry - were you interning at an agency? Did you take some risks or have a mentor? 

Shayne> I’ve always been self-taught. I started in this industry when the technology that was applied to design was quite new - and I was obsessed. I loved finding new hacks and tricks and everything in between. This was all before YouTube and a robust internet (cringe). I lived at bookstores, flipping through all the photographers, designers and the annuals from ACD, OneClub and D&AD. Whenever I switched agencies, I would have the new agency help me ship all my books which they agreed to until they saw the amount, it never made for a great first impression. 

LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why? How have they influenced your craft? And how important is it to walk your own path as a creative?

Shayne> I don’t think I’m walking my own path, but often I’m told that I am. I’m really just myself - open, pretty humble, very flawed and loving what I do. You will rarely find me in a meeting not laughing or challenging something. It’s who I am.  I don’t know any other way.

LBB> You once told us a story about phoning up a company to point out all the mistakes in their instruction manual - which was then reprinted. How important is a close attention to detail to your craft? And is it difficult to sustain a healthy relationship with perfection as a creative?

Shayne> Attention to detail can be a blessing and a curse. It is so important to be detail orientated, but it can make you feel overwhelmed, especially with the amount advertising agencies are being asked to do with shorter turnaround times. When my work runs for the first time, I usually watch it through squinted eyes and a sick stomach - and without fail I notice something I didn't notice the first time. So, as for the healthy relationship, I’m still working on it. 

LBB> You studied design as well as advertising - but admit to your shortcomings when it comes to drawing. How important was technology in developing your craft? 

Shayne> Technology was the only way I would have gotten into design. It was my secret superpower. I often knew the tech better than others and found workarounds to hide my ability to create with my hands. This shortcoming most likely made me more creative in the long run. And now, more than ever, I believe technology is one of the most important pieces to this industry, but nothing can substitute for an amazing concept. There is no cheating that.

LBB> Are there any other pieces of recent work that have taught you new things about great creativity and/or craft? 

Shayne> I learn something new every single time - it’s so exciting. I’m a sponge. Right now, conversations are revolving around the metaverse, NFTs and crypto. It’s exciting! I remember the confusion and awe we all felt around the birth of the internet and now we are entering this new virtual world and I love it. It is just as exciting and fascinating.

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750mph, Wed, 13 Apr 2022 13:17:00 GMT