14 Young Agency Creatives Whose Work Is Far Ahead of Its Time

The emerging talent behind stellar ads from 'Fearless Girl' to 'Evan'

McCann's Tali Gumbiner and Lizzie Wilson, makers of 'Fearless Girl'
Headshot of Tim Nudd

Up-and-coming creative teams may not always hit for average, but they can sometimes slug home runs seemingly out of nowhere. And the 14 below have turned in some truly mind-blowing work over the past year.

From the “Fearless Girl” statue, to the viral Sandy Hook Promise ad, to Emerald Nuts “Yes Good” campaign, to Old Spice’s animatronic S.Q.U.I.D., these creatives brought fresh ideas to the business that broke through in a major way. Read below for more on their impressive exploits.

Note: Instead of one big list of U.S. creatives, this year we’ve divided it into smaller lists based on rank. We have 1) chief creative officers, 2) executive creative directors and group creative directors, 3) creative directors and associate creative directors and 4) art directors and copywriters (this list). We’ve also gone international with a separate list of 10 global creative chiefs.


Tali Gumbiner and Lizzie Wilson
Senior Copywriter and Senior Art Director,
McCann New York

Gumbiner and Wilson (pictured above) are the masterminds behind the year’s most culturally breakthrough piece of advertising—the “Fearless Girl” statue on Wall Street, created for State Street Global Advisors. A conceptual and physical marvel, it turned a financial brand into a paragon of corporate feminism, and its creators into overnight rock stars.

“From Girl Scouts to cops, Fearless Girl resonates deeply with women, and I’m extremely proud to have been a part of it,” says Wilson. Adds Gumbiner: “It’s probably the most beautiful thing I will ever be a part of.”

Gumbiner is committed to making work that adds value to the lives of others, “whether it’s entertainment value, emotional value or the simple value of briefly enjoying a moment,” she says. “I feel that whenever a creative puts something out into the world, they’re asking the world to invest time into that experience. And if I can’t give people anything in return for their time, the work feels pointless to me.”

Wilson sums up her approach this way: “Stay curious, and kind. And push to give your work depth. Shallow is easy.”


Martins Zelcs and Bryan Stokely
Senior Art Director and Senior Copywriter, BBDO New York

These Miami Ad School grads spent a year as a junior team at Droga5 before jumping to BBDO. Working with creative director Peter Alsante, they made one of the most celebrated viral ads of the past year, “Evan” for Sandy Hook Promise, in which a high school love story turns out to be anything but.

The pair, who’ve also worked on Twix and Foot Locker, picked up three gold Pencils at The One Show for “Evan.” They’re still reeling from how widely the work broke through.

“Viral videos happen naturally. It’s an organic process that’s not predictable,” says Zelcs. “In our case, I think the key to success was that the viewer got surprised while watching the video. It was that ‘WTF just happened?’ moment. We wanted the viewer to have this feeling of something unexpected happening, and it seems like it worked.”

Stokely is humbled by how the PSA moved so many people. “We received numerous emails, in and out of the ad world, from people thanking us for making the spot. We had never expected that kind of response, and it was amazing to see how people connected with it.”

Their creative philosophy? “I think creativity comes from curiosity and observation, so be curious and pay attention,” says Stokely. Adds Zelcs: “Unique ideas come from new experiences. Try out things you haven’t done, and you will have new stories to tell.”


Molly Wilkof and Zoe Kessler
Senior Copywriter and Senior Art Director, Barton F. Graf

These young ex-McCann creatives came up with one of the more delightfully offbeat campaigns of 2017—the “Yes Good” campaign for Emerald Nuts, which made inspired use of the Amazon reviews section, including one terse bit of praise that became the tagline.

“We were scouring Amazon reviews for insights on their products when we happened upon one that simply said, ‘Yes Good.’ It was perfect,” says Wilkof. Adds Kessler: “People are hungry for authenticity, and brands aren’t really delivering. We knew we wanted to make something that felt real and honest. ‘Yes Good’ let us have a conversation with our consumers rather than talking at them.”

This story first appeared in the June 12, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.