Next Creative Leaders 2021:
Emma Barnett

By Laurel Stark Posted on Nov 02, 2021

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She / Her / Hers

Hometown and country:

New York, New York, USA

Current employer, city and role:

Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, OR, Associate Creative Director


How did your upbringing, family or hometown shape you as a creative?

I grew up in my parent’s photography studio in NYC. They did a lot of amazing work for New York Magazine, Milton Glaser, and Heinz Ketchup (the only ketchup).


What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?

I was a designer at W+K, but I wanted to be an art director so I kept annoying the Nike creative directors until they let me work on a LeBron brief with copywriter Jordan Dinwiddie.


What’s the piece of NCL winning work you’re most proud of and why?

Dream Crazier. It came from personal experience and I think a lot of women were able to relate to it.


What’s the lesson another creative can take away from that successful creative experience?

Work that is based on a simple, true insight is the work that will resonate the most with people. If it takes more than 1-2 sentences to explain it to someone, then it is probably too complicated.


What does being named a Next Creative Leader mean to you?

I’m honored to be featured next to such talented women and I’m excited to read their interviews.


Who has most influenced you in your career so far?

My mom. She’s the only one who will answer my calls at 2 am when I’m having a meltdown. And my creative directors Ryan O’Rourke and Alberto Ponte, who have mentored me since I started art directing.


What is your secret (or not-so-secret) creative superpower and how do you flex it?

I text people and say “That’s it, I can’t do this anymore”. And then I figure it out.


What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the creative industry right now and how would you solve it?

Good storytelling is inclusive and our industry is not. It is a white and male dominated field that historically excludes anyone else. “It’s hard to find anyone” is a tired excuse for lack of diversity. We need to deliberately create opportunities and invite people from different backgrounds to have the same chance to grow and build their portfolios, with ample support and community.


How has the pandemic changed your creative process or the way you work?

I trust myself more.


Our jobs can be exhausting even in “precedented times.” How are you caring for yourself right now?

I force myself to take breaks by walking to the convenience store to try mints with weird flavors.


How are you working to celebrate, support, or elevate other marginalized voices and experiences?

It is important to be quiet and listen to people when they tell you about their experiences. Only once you understand what people are actually going though can you have honest and candid conversations about how we can improve our industry


Creativity can save the world. What real-world problem would you want to tackle with creativity, if time, budget, and logistics were not an issue?

World peace.


Where do you turn when you need to spark your creativity?

My friends.


How are you leaving work, the workplace, or the world a better place than you found it?

If I’ve opened any doors for people or held brands accountable for how they show up in the world, then I’ve succeeded.


What is a story you feel uniquely set up to tell?

I try to tell unique stories about other people.


Who is inspiring you right now and why?

My coworkers.


If you could go back in time, what pivotal advice would you give yourself before your first day as a professional creative?

No one else knows what they’re doing either.


Be sure to check out all the winning work for the Next Creative Leaders of 2021!



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