Next Creative Leaders 2019: Hannah Smit
Posted on Nov 07, 2019
She / Her / Hers
Hometown and country:
Current employer, city and role:
Wieden+Kennedy, Amsterdam, Creative Director
How did your upbringing, family or hometown shape you as a creative?
I was born in a small town in Southern Ontario, Canada. Like most Canadians, I played a lot of ice hockey and growing up, the women on our national team were my heroes. But when it became clear my skills on the ice weren’t taking me to the Olympics anytime soon, I started to focus on my other passions - art and design. My high school was very academic and athletics focused, and I never dreamed I could have a career in a field that was creative. Luckily, I had a very supportive and influential art teacher in my final year, who saw my potential, and encouraged me to apply for art and design colleges.
What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?
I stumbled into the world of advertising while studying at The Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. I’m incredibly lucky to have started my creative career in the city, in a time when a lot of the best agencies had female ECDs at the helm, giving me many talented role models to look up to. And early on, I had the opportunity to work for brilliant women who nurtured my strong point of view and desire to create meaningful creative.
I owe a lot of my early success in the field to women like Nancy Vonk, Janet Kestin and Nellie Kim. And I know that working in such an encouraging and safe environment was a huge privilege and remains extremely rare for most women in our industry.
What’s the piece of work you’re most proud of and why?
I’m very proud of the work I did with Nike and the Netherlands women’s national football team during the 2017 European Football Championship. For 46 years the team had been called The Orange Lionesses. And they'd earned the name - playing with fierce determination and strength in a country where women's football still received little funding, attention or support. The largely unknown team was hosting the Women's Euros for the first time ever. So to garner attention around women's football and honor these amazing athletes, we worked with the team, the KNVB, and UEFA to change the national crest from a Lion to a Lioness, permanently.
I am proud of the work, because of the light it helped shine on the team, the collaborative way in which we executed the the crest change with the athletes themselves, and the permanent role in culture it now has (check out the Netherlands crest in the latest EASport FIFA release).
Seeing the Orange Lionesses, who were ranked 13th going into the tournament, win the tournament for the first time in history was also pretty special. And seeing Shanice van de Sanden score a game winning goal then kiss the crest on her shirt that I designed, was one of the best moments of my career.
What is your secret (or not-so-secret) creative super power and how to you flex it?
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past year?
Being a great creative, doesn’t mean you’ll be a great Creative Director. I’m still figuring it out, but I am learning that I’m a better leader when I listen more and talk less, and when I am more expansive and less reductive. Anyone can be a critic, but finding the good in my team’s ideas, and helping to inspire, guide and protect those ideas through the creative process is where I’ve learned I am most valuable to them and the work.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career so far and how did it pan out?
4 years ago, I turned down a CD role in Toronto, to move to Amsterdam with no job. At the time, I worried that not taking the promotion was a mistake, but my gut told me stepping into a management role (as flattering as it would be to my ego and wallet) wasn’t going to make me happy. I still wanted to make the work, and felt I had not yet made my best. I also knew I needed a change. So with a suitcase, 3 months of savings, and plenty of irrational optimism, I moved to Amsterdam, jobless but hopeful.
In the end, it was the best decision I could have made for my career. Over the past three years, I have had the opportunity to work with brilliant colleagues and clients at both 180 Amsterdam and Wieden + Kennedy, and with their help I’ve created some of the most impactful and awarded work of my career.
How do you “fill up your cup” creatively?
Early in my career, I didn’t make enough space for the things that fed me creatively. I was spending so much time at the office trying to prove myself by getting to better ideas and better work, that I forgot to make the experiences that inspire that work, a priority.
Today, I am better and making time for the things that inspire me like art, design, film, music, and of course podcasts. I’m evangelical about the mind-blowing effects of Radiotopia’s 99% Invisible, and NPR’s Radiolab. And I occasionally dabble in my own (very) amateur art, with screen printing and illustration.
It’s a creative cliche, but my favourite rainy day activity is getting lost (and ducking tourists) in one of Amsterdam’s many galleries and museums. Foam and Stedelijk are two of my favourites for photography and contemporary art respectively and offer a constant hit of inspiration for me.
When I travel, I also try to check out local galleries and exhibits. Recently I visited Sao Paulo and had the chance to visit a beautful and affecting exhibition “Feminist Histories” at MASP, which featured works by 21st Century artists and collectives who work from feminist perspectives. Seeing the exhibit in a museum located in the Global South, in a city that’s been a stage for political, social and economic struggle and activism was powerful.
What’s currently inspiring you?
I am blown away daily by the creativity within the walls of W+K AMS. We have humans from over 34 different countries in our office and the brilliance and unique perspectives that these people bring never ceases to inspire me. Whether it's a new banging R&B track that our comms planner Kieran drops, or an Eartha Kit quote inspired painting by Art Director Anyaa Dev - the people I work with everyday make me feel both wildly inspired and incredible untalented at the same time.
Who’s your (current) woman crush every day?
I have too many woman crushes to list them all, but here’s my current top 3:
I’m following everything the unstoppable Cinematographer, Rina Yang touches. London based, by way of Japan, I’m in awe of the arresting visuals and poetic perspectives Rina brings to her work, whether it’s a FKA twigs music video or an episode of Netflix’s Top Boy. I was lucky enough to collaborate with Rina (and director A.G Rojas) on a Nike commercial last year, and watching her talent, poise, relentlessness, and humility in person has made me a life-long fan girl.
2. King Princess
Im also crushing hard on Brooklyn-based musician and bourgening queer idol, Mikaela Straus (Aka: King Princess). Her debut album “Cheap Queen” is dripping with swagger, bold lyrics and catchy stoner-pop melodies. I’ve got it playing on loop.
3. Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
I just finished rewatching Season 2 of Fleabag, which I will argue (to anyone who will listen) is the perfect television series. It’s written so open and honestly, cast and performed so masterfully and filmed so beautifully. As a result, I’ve fallen madly in love with the writer/actor/producer/creative-phenom that is Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
How are you leaving the work, the workplace or the world a better place than you found it?
I love my job as a Creative Director at Wieden + Kennedy, but there’s a lot about our industry that I don’t. I feel a responsibility to use every brief, production and client relationship as an opportunity to do better.
I try to champion diverse stories and voices in the work, that are grounded in truth not stereotypes. I also push myself and my teams to work with diverse production partners and to think of how we can become more environmentally conscious in our productions as well. (For example, we decided to film our last two Milka campaigns in Amsterdam, versus flying 10 people around the globe).
We have a lot of work to do, but seeing how conscious and passionate the next generation is about addressing the many issues within our industry, I’m deeply hopeful it’s about to get a lot better. We just have to get out of their way.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to women embarking on a creative career?
My advice to women embarking on a creative career, would be to embrace your personal experience, your voice and your style. It can be tempting to emulate the creative and professional approach of those “successful” creatives around you. But being true to your style and your point of view will make your work honest, and relevant and unique. For too long we’ve had too few examples to look up to. Your creative voice is exactly what our industry needs more of.
Next Creative Leaders 2019---Click any headshot to view their interview---