Q&A: Wunderman Thompson’s North American CCO Taras Wayner on Shaping the Agency’s Future

The R/GA vet joined the WPP shop this month

taras wayner
Taras Wayner is Wunderman Thompson's North American chief creative officer. Wunderman Thompson
Headshot of Minda Smiley

The past year has been nothing short of a whirlwind for Wunderman Thompson, the global agency formed by the merger of J. Walter Thompson and Wunderman in late 2018.

Since the two WPP shops combined forces, Wunderman Thompson has made a number leadership hires and changes, such as naming Bas Korsten and Daniel Bonner as global chief creative officers. After naming Shane Atchison as North American CEO, Wunderman Thompson made several executive appointments at its New York headquarters.

Toward the end of last year, Wunderman Thompson announced that Taras Wayner would be joining the agency as its North American chief creative officer, leaving his post at Saatchi & Saatchi New York. Prior to his short stint at Saatchi & Saatchi, Wayner spent a number of years at R/GA, where he served as U.S. co-chief creative officer.

During his time at R/GA, Wayner worked on the Emmy-winning “Love Has No Labels” campaign for the Ad Council. At Wunderman Thompson, he’ll spearhead creative efforts for companies including Rolex and Newell Brands, all while helping the newly established entity find its way and set itself up for future success.

“There are so many things that I keep unearthing that are just really, really exciting,” Wayner said.

A week into officially starting his new gig, Adweek spoke with Wayner to get a sense of what will be keeping him busy at the agency.

What interested you in this opportunity?
It’s a combination of amazing pieces. You have the rich heritage of storytelling from J. Walter Thompson, but then you mix it with data and technology. It’s what we have to bring together. It reminds me very much of R/GA, but a deconstructed version of it that hasn’t been completely formed and put together. I think that’s a really exciting thing.

How has your past experience informed your current role and what you hope to do?
You pick up something wherever you’ve worked, right? There’s so much about working with Nick Law and Bob Greenberg that really inspired me to continue this idea of creating a design-centric maker’s culture, meaning we should be closing the distance between thinking and making, and working in more of a studio atmosphere. It’s really why my first hire [at Wunderman Thompson] was Vin Farrell, who’s the global head of content at R/GA. He’s someone who’s not exactly like myself, but someone who can bring action to ideas and really produce an agency, as well as create a new model for how we modernize making.

What have you been tasked with in this role?
Obviously, we need to develop and create a new creative culture for the company. How do we build, nurture and launch a specific Wunderman Thompson culture? It really needs to be work-first. With any type of creative agency, the first thing you do is look at the work. The interesting history that we’re bringing together to create a new, modern type of making and thinking is a culture that I think people will be drawn to.

How will you contribute to Wunderman Thompson’s new business strategy?
It’s going to be important to help clients understand what we stand for, which will take a little bit of time to put together. But there are clients out there that are ambitious—they want to grow, they want to modernize how they’re making their content and how they’re going about doing that—and I think it’s about building teams that can connect with those like-minded clients. Clients need agencies that can help them dream and help them grow, but also be as ambitious as they are and interested in the future of what content or data or strategy is.

What’s a trend in advertising right now that you think has legs or you’re excited about?
I think a trend that will accelerate, and is something that I’m working on now, is that the creative department will take the form of a studio model. I think a separate creative department is becoming harder and harder to sustain, let alone pay for and continue to build. As we talk about shortening that distance between thinking and making, the energy has to move towards the making side of things.

As we all know, content is the language of the internet. It is the language that we speak. If I was going to send you something and go, ‘You’ve got to check this out,’ it’s generally a video. It’s a piece of content. The need for that becomes stronger and stronger, and we have to be able to make it faster. So that evolution of a creative department is something you’re going to see more and more of, and it’s something that we’re building here. You just need the right people to do that.

Considering Wunderman Thompson is a new entity, how do you plan to differentiate it from the many other agencies out there?
My personal approach to how we’re going to do this is, ‘How do we redefine the big idea?’ Too often, that big idea has been around this myth that everything flows from the tagline. We can build teams that will look at that big idea and start from behavior or culture or an experience. We’re not just taking cues from all these decades of advertising, but actually taking cues from culture and taking cues from what people’s behaviors are around a brand. How do we reimagine and redefine what a big idea is?

One of my ambitions for our creative department is to be amazing storytellers on every platform, but that also starts with understanding what those platforms are. That means every creative has to now think like a technologist. If you think about all the time creatives spent figuring out how to do an amazing TV commercial—whether it’s how to manipulate film or how to connect music—we now have to create that connection and understanding of all these different platforms.

@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.