Next Creative Leaders 2021:
Zeynep Orbay

By Laurel Stark Posted on Nov 02, 2021

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She / Her / Hers

Hometown and country:

Ankara, Turkey

Current employer, city and role:

Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, Creative Director


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

My mom is a pianist who loves to create stuff from ceramics to furniture. My dad is a doctor who loves painting, drawing and playwriting. They played a huge part in nurturing my sense of curiosity for all things creative. Still, I didn’t really consider choosing a creative field until I realised my grades weren’t high enough to be a doctor or an engineer (which is probably the best thing that happened to me).

My parents were enormously supportive when I decided graphic design could be an option and they have always been super involved. I still, to this date, chat to my parents when I get new briefs. My mom learned strategy in the last 15 years, my dad knows when he sees a not so good brief. Also, being married to the best and most supportive Art Director I know helps when it comes to pushing each other to be better.


What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?

My story is pretty boring as it is really expected. I studied Graphic Design and followed it with an internship at an agency in Istanbul around 2004. I remember being on a shoot for the first time and thinking that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. It was hectic, exciting and stimulating all at once.

Later I went to New York to study for my masters degree where I had the chance to have experiences both in design and ad agencies. It took me several years to realize what made me the happiest. I kept on switching between designer and art director roles. I finally started working at W+K Amsterdam as a designer and then switched to the creative department one last time. That’s when I found my happy place.


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

I am very proud of ‘Happy Birthday Mr. Vice President’. My former creative partner and I (Macie Solar-Sala) had an idea about creating a political piece of work for Mike Pence’s birthday, which happens to fall at the beginning of Pride Month. To ‘celebrate,’ we reinvented that iconic moment from 1962 when Marilyn Monroe sang a sexy rendition of, ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ to JFK - with a 2019 twist. We then partnered with six LGBTQIA+ organizations to encourage people to donate to an organization that supports the community on his birthday.

Our idea was to turn a day reserved for a man who has spread nothing but intolerance and hate towards the community into a day of love in support of it.

I think we are very lucky to work in an industry where people with similar passions can come together to create a provocative piece of work without the backing of a big budget. This project is an example of that. We were so lucky to have W+K believe in us, a production company that went all in, and an amazing director who shot it pro bono.


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

You won’t always get the best briefs. Not every project will be an opportunity to say something bold about a POV you value. And that’s ok. But when you do find it, know that there are always people out there who will help you.


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

I remember, 20 years ago, leafing through the pages of The One Show Annuals in Ankara and wondering how amazing it would feel to get my work published in one of them one day. I look back and think how crazy happy my 19 year old self would be if she knew I’m being named as a Next Creative Leader. Older and (maybe) wiser now but I still feel that same excitement as I did before. And for the coming 20 years or so, I still want to produce work that would make my younger self not just happy but also proud to be a part of.


Who has most influenced you in your career so far?

The influence on my career is an amalgamation of all sorts of people and places that I’ve experienced. But two names come to mind. Milton Glaser, back from my days as an intern. He was over 80 years old but still came to work every day with a budding energy to create great work. He would take time to chat to everyone about work, life, design, music no matter how junior that person was (which in this case, was me).

The second, Ilkay Gurpinar, the Chief Creative Officer at TBWA Istanbul. When I worked there, she was the one of the very few female creatives in the industry that I could look up to.


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

I think I learned to cope with the creative curve (1- this is going to be great / 2- no, it won’t / 3- I suck / 4- we will survive / 5- this is amazing) a little better in the last few years. I used to get super stressed in the process, now I own it a little better and I handle it in a calmer way.


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

The entire industry is going through an identity crisis. But the ones I see on a daily basis are: Finding ways to collaboratively work with in-house hubs. Focusing on 15” one off spots (and the 6” cut downs and the 5” cut downs of the 6” cutdowns) instead of brand building. Zoom fatigue. Talent crisis. Hot desking.



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

Working from home two to three days a week has been a game changer for me. Being a working mom, it gives me a lot more control over my schedule and allows me to manage my work-life balance better.


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

I started walking a lot in the beginning of the pandemic and it has stuck to my daily routine since which calms me down a lot. I also recently got a desk for myself and having a dedicated space just for me feels like the biggest luxury.


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

I really feel lucky because I think I am learning from W+K more than W+K learns from me. Here we are from almost 40 different countries with totally different backgrounds. There’s always an ongoing conversation about how to create an inclusive workspace for everyone. I’ve found tapping into my personal experiences and where I come from and empathy can be helpful. Especially to newcomers and young creatives settling in.


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?

I’m most passionate about creating work that challenges archaic political systems and hope to create more work that addresses some of the issues facing my country right now. I’m also quite proud of a project about the climate crisis which just launched, for our new client Fortescue Future Industries. The more work that provokes us for the better is what I would love to keep doing.


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

Cooking. Walking. Netflix. Succession Season 3. My sister’s face on FaceTime. My son (Just found out that I really like playing LEGO, at the age of 37).


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

Not so long ago I was the only mom with a baby at the office. There were no women in the creative department - which was an industry wide problem then. Now, almost half of the creative department are women in our agency. There’s paid parental leave and even a mom room with a fridge! I’m not taking credit for any of it - but to have been there and witness where we were and where we are now is a privilege.


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

I once created a piece of work about media censorship in Turkey that got censored during an international award show. Very meta but explains a lot.


Who is inspiring you right now and why?

Phoebe Waller Bridge because I am very jealous of the way she thinks. Arda (my son) because he discovers his own facts about space, dinosaurs, cheese or humans everyday in a way that I envy.


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

Take time off. Take more time off when you have your baby, don’t rush back. Work will be there, you won’t miss your chances. Learn how to say NO. Don’t wait for the perfect brief, write your own about things you care for. Lastly, as Anthony Burrill would say, Work Hard & Be Nice To People.


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



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