26 Agency Leaders Who Are Becoming the Industry’s New Icons

They're building brands, careers and new legacies

Headshot of Justine Armour for Adweek's Creative 100
72andSunny New York ecd Justine Armour has led attention-grabbing recent work for Cheerios and Halo Top. Dasha Pestrikova

Advertising will always have its share of young rising stars, quickly building a name for themselves as they climb the ranks. But rising leaders, while even more important to the health and future of advertising, are harder to spot. Their work often shifts behind the scenes as they privately offer guidance and quietly share in glories.

As part of Adweek’s Creative 100 each year, we take a step back and look at the emerging leaders who are charting a new course for advertising. Some are building new agencies, while others are building on the legacies of globally admired shops.

Read below to get to know this year’s senior agency talent on the Creative 100:

Mira Kaddoura

Founder and ecd, Red & Co

Photo: Jacob Hinmon

Based in: Portland, Ore.
Beirut, Lebanon

Recent work: “Make Room” for Netflix. “Netflix rarely does brand work, but felt it needed to stand up and stand out as a company that can disrupt culture (and the film industry) as much as it’s disrupted the technology with which we watch films and shows. We wanted to talk to everyone marginalized by the film industry (women, POC, LGBTQ, etc) to show how Netflix’s inclusiveness results in amazing stories.”

The most rewarding part of the job: “Being able to connect with, inspire and empower millions of people I will never meet.”

Secrets of being a good creative leader: “Making room for people with different POVs—women, people of color, people from different cultures, LGBTQ, etc. Not being afraid to fail. Being brave. Pushing people, internally or externally, outside of their comfort zone. Enjoying the process.”

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.”

Personal mantra: “As you worship, so you become.”
Doug Zanger

Andrés Ordóñez

CCO, Energy BBDO

Photo: Brian Cooper

Based in: Chicago
Bogotá, Colombia

Recent work: “Prescribed to Death” for the National Safety Council. “It’s the type of work that lives at the intersection between innovation and storytelling—which is something we really strive to do. Plus, it’s not every day that you have the opportunity to save a life and with this project, we did.”

What else he’s worked on: Jeep, while at BBDO Puerto Rico; Ford and SC Johnson while at Zubi

The most rewarding part of the job: “The people. There’s nothing better than feeling the energy of the people around the work and seeing their faces when ideas are out and recognized.”

Side hustle: “Running. I try to run at least 5 days a week because it clears up the mind.”

Personal mantra: “Always trust your gut. It knows what your head hasn’t figured out yet.”

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “Get into this because you love it, because it makes you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a line, because the world is full of stories that you want to turn into something. And never forget that, while you’re at it, you have the chance to make this world a better one.”
Erik Oster

Casey Rand and Karen Land Short

Ecds, Droga5

Photo courtesy of Droga5

Based in: New York City
Montreal (Rand) and Austin, Texas (Land Short)

Recent work: “Class of 0000,” created by agency coalition Potential Energy, is a student-led campaign promoting climate action with graduation speeches demanding action from political leaders. “Essentially, we’re getting high school and college valedictorians across the country to work the same speech into their commencement addresses, all pledging to vote for political candidates who have a plan to get to zero emissions,” Rand says. “I’m most proud of this because, as we all know, the world is ending and our leaders refuse to take action. Karen and I are leading the project with a team at Droga5.”

Also, they’ve helped launch g5, “a small, female-identifying collective at Droga5 that will do free creative work for female-founded start-ups.”

The most rewarding part of the job: “Seeing a really good idea get made,” Rand says. “So many stars have to align for a great concept to make it into the world, so when that happens it almost feels like a miracle.”

Personal mantra: Land Short: “Breathe.”

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “Advertising is by nature an invasion of people’s privacy, a major contributor to our consumerist culture and outrageously wasteful. So, make sure when you interrupt someone, you do it by making them laugh or cry or think deeply about something.”
Erik Oster

Krystle Mullin

Creative director, RPA

Photo courtesy of Bo’s House of Visual Arts

Based in: Los Angeles
 Ontario and Newfoundland, Canada

How she describes her career path: “Drive-in movie theatre popcorn maker, fast-food hamburger flipper, camp counsellor,  Pant-o-Rama jeans seller, sex toy and lingerie seller, dump truck driver, gardener, teacher’s assistant, knife seller (door-to-door), drag queen backup dancer. German restaurant server, writer at advertising agencies in Toronto: The Hive, john st., Doug&Partners, BBDO, FCB Toronto, FCB/SIX.”

Recent work: “Live Life Comfortably” for La-Z-Boy, starring Kristen Bell. “For me, this project is a great example of what advertising should do for people: It makes them feel good and makes them think about something in a new way.”

Advice for aspiring creatives: “Be yourself, no matter what. If the place you’re working doesn’t like who you are, go someplace else. Find a place that loves you for everything you are.”
Doug Zanger

Julie Scelzo

Global ecd, mcgarrybowen

Photo: Dasha Pestrikova

Based in: New York City

Recent work: “Shop Small” for American Express’ Small Business Saturday. “It was a movement created 10 years ago that is still going so strong. It’s inspiring to see how much it means to these business owners to have backing and support and to feel and experience how much they are an integral part of their communities. I helped to launch Lin-Manuel Miranda as AmEx’s ambassador for Small Business Saturday in the U.S.”

Scelzo, who previously built and led the in-house agency at Pandora, also created a Pride Month campaign for American Express for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.

The most rewarding part of the job: “Shaping and mentoring talent, especially young women creatives. There is nothing like the feeling of watching someone you have helped to grow really succeed in their careers.”
Erik Oster

Harry (Bee) Bernstein

CCO, Havas New York

Photo: Francis-King

Based in: New York City
Queens, N.Y.

Recent work: “The First Ad in the Blockchain” for TD Ameritrade. “It was the first piece of work after taking the job that really exemplifies what I came here to do. I like to push an idea into unique executions beyond ads. TV commercials are still important and can really deliver a brand message, but when you can act in a unique way as a brand, I think it really gets people to think about you.”

Also, at SXSW 2019, Havas New York and ADP created an activation letting women literally smash a glass ceiling with hammers.

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “Have a craft, and master it. In the creative industry, there are two lanes: words or images. Pick one, and then be the best.”
Doug Zanger

Shannon Simpson Jones and Yadira Harrison

Co-founders, Verb

Roman Koval

Based in: New York City (Simpson Jones) and Los Angeles (Harrison)
Baltimore (Simpson Jones) and Arlington, Texas (Harrison);

Recent work: “One of the most rewarding was the CRWN Magazine activation in partnership with Netflix at [Brooklyn music fest] Afropunk,” says Simpson Jones. “We built an integrated content campaign, engaging influencers and the broader CRWN community in a very authentic, unapologetic way celebrating the beauty and creativity of black women.”

Secrets of being a great creative leader: “Celebrating diverse ideas and perspectives is key to being a good creative leader,” Simpson Jones says. “It is equally as important to communicate a standard of creative excellence and pushing people to do better and think bigger.”

Personal mantras: Simpson Jones: “What’s the best that could happen?” Harrison: “A sword in the hand of a coward is useless.”
Doug Zanger

Vicki Azarian

Ecd, Ogilvy New York

Photo: Christopher Griffith

Based in: New York
Hometown: Brooklyn

Recent work: The “Drive On” campaign re-launching the LPGA brand. “As the oldest women’s professional sports organization, it was time they give voice to the women who paved the way for so many others. As the creative lead, I put together a small team of smart, passionate, driven women that, along with our fearless client launched ‘Drive On.’ With so much ‘girl washing’ these days it was an honor to work on a brand that has been creating opportunities and supporting women before it was trendy. It was a small yet scrappy team that put every ounce of heart and soul into the work and it shows.”

The most rewarding part of the job: “Supporting and guiding young creatives.”

Side hustle: Writing the upcoming ‘Im/perfect,’ “a story about my crazy journey to who I am today.”

Best advice: “Speak up more. The more questions you ask, the more you participate, the better the work will get. Instead of just taking the direction make sure you understand why it was given. Then push, challenge or build on it. Bring your experience to every situation, it will only make the work and the culture better.”
Erik Oster

Patrick Jong

Vp, experiential, Giant Spoon

Photo: Cowboys and Angels Photography

Based in: Los Angeles
Saint Kitts (West Indies)

Recent work: Experiential campaign for The Happytime Murders. “We created a tattoo parlor-meets-speakeasy sugar den in the heart of Hollywood, complete with unfiltered puppet characters. I was the executive producer on the project. It was amazing to work with puppets for the very first time– nevermind Jim Henson puppets. Learning about the logistics of working with them is not something that people think about, but there’s a myriad of things––from audio and video logistics to their choreography––that had to be coordinated, in addition to the everyday tasks that come with experiential production.”

What else he’s worked on: Working with NBC at Giant Spoon. Produced the inaugural Food Network in Concert at Ravinia and activations for entertainment brands including NBC, AMC, and Nickelodeon while at Conde Nast’s creative and experience marketing agency Pop2Life

The most rewarding part of the job: “Seeing guests’ joyful reactions and hearing them express satisfaction and gratitude. It validates why we do what we do.”

Side hustle: “I find creative inspiration by constantly trying new things, whether it be food, art exhibitions, theatrical productions or experiences.”
Erik Oster

Sean DallasKidd

Ecd and managing partner, JWT S.F.

Photo courtesy of J. Walter Thompson

Based in: San Francisco
Washington, D.C.

Recent work:
Living Wine Labels’ augmented reality platform. “The Living Wine Labels mobile app has become a highly shareable platform for brand storytelling, reaching our millennial shoppers wherever they are—at home, in store or on- premises.”

The most rewarding part of the job: “Working with passionate clients to better understand their business challenges and goals— and partnering with them to develop compelling creative that drives growth.”

Source of inspiration: “I love to travel, which has sparked my interest food culture, turning me into a foodie that loves to cook. Thank you Mr. Bourdain. Cooking for my family and friends, exploring cultures through food is my way of staying inspired.”

Personal mantra: “Stay weird.”
Erik Oster

Marcus Wesson

CCO, Dailey

Photo: Armon Brown

Based in: Los Angeles

Recent work: What Diversity Gives Us for the ACLU. “The project allows people to learn more about the contributions underrepresented groups have made to society, which is becoming more important in the face of growing xenophobia and nationalism. It’s under a year old, but we’re proud of the attention it continues to receive.”

The most rewarding part of the job: “It’s amazing when you feel really passionate about an idea. And, when it eventually goes out into the world, it’s great to see that same reaction when other people experience it.”

Side hustle:
“I’m in the process of creating a graphic novel. I’m chipping away, but it allows me creative freedom.”

Personal mantra: “Borrowing from Teddy Roosevelt: ‘Dare mighty things.’ The best work comes as a result of taking risks.”

Best advice:“In the beginning, don’t focus on the salary and title. Go where you can do the best work. Go where the culture of creativity is healthy and thriving. Go where you can have fun. The money will come.”
Doug Zanger

Josh Fell

CCO and partner, Anomaly L.A.

Photo courtesy of Anomaly L.A.

Based in: Los Angeles
Phelan, Calif.

Recent work: Building up Anomaly’s creative department in Los Angeles into “the weird, dangerous, creatively inspiring place it’s becoming.”

Why he’s proud of it: “A year ago, we were down to a literal handful of uncommonly resilient creatives, and since then we’ve built a crew of over 20. And not a bad one in the bundle. We’re a building full of hyper-talented freaks and weirdos who make each other giggle and occasionally shape the world. Helping them express their creativity in its loudest form and making sure this place stays worthy of their time and talents is the most difficult and most rewarding project of my career.”

What else he’s worked on: Uber Eats and Allbirds

Personal mantra: “I don’t have one. I’ve stolen a thousand. The one that first comes to mind I took from Eric Hirshberg: ‘Care the most.’ About the work. About each other. Do that, and pretty much everything else will figure itself out.”
Erik Oster

Jaclyn Ruelle and Greg Fischer

Heads of Cultural Impact Lab, The Martin Agency

Photo courtesy of The Martin Agency

Based in: Richmond, Va.
Richmond, Va. (Ruelle), and Baltimore, Md. (Fischer)

Recent work: Building The Martin Agency’s Cultural Impact Lab

Why they’re proud of it: “A seedling of an idea to bring earned media further into the creative process, we’ve made The Lab three times greater than its original vision by merging comms strategy, earned and paid media teams together—creating a trifecta of disciplines partnering to enhance the creative process and deliver more impact in culture,” Ruelle says.

The most rewarding part of the job: “I get to be at the forefront of inventive storytelling every day,” Ruelle says. “It’s such a rush to see raw creative ideas get electrified with shareability—being passed around by consumers in such a way that inspires and creates culture.”

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “Live your life in beta mode,” Fischer says. “Keep trying new things and don’t be afraid to evolve as you go.”
Erik Oster

Justine Armour

Ecd, 72andSunny New York

Photo: Dasha Pestrikova

Based in: New York City
Sydney, Australia

How she got started: “I was answering the phone at McCann-Erickson Brisbane in 1998 and wrote funny all-staff emails about timesheets and kitchen etiquette. A creative director told me I was a copywriter.”

Recent work: “Right On Tracks” for Cheerios. “I love it when big, real brands put something on the line and let people know what they care about, and when our work can do something good in the world, not just be good for business.”

Also: “Ice Cream for Adults” for Halo Top. “I also love it when clients just want to get noticed and they let us lean into a dark truth.”

The most rewarding part of the job: “Lately, it’s watching people grow. I’m lucky to work for a company that puts a lot of focus on growing you into the next version of yourself.”

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “Enjoy being new to it. Make mistakes. Experiment all you can. Don’t worry about titles and status; fall in love with the work.”

Secrets of being a good creative leader: “You have to love people, you have to really believe in them, and they have to feel it from you. Big innovative ideas can come from anyone; the leader’s job is to make people believe they can do something they haven’t done before.”
Doug Zanger

Lauren Franklin and Wimberly Meyer

Founder/executive producer and partner/executive producer, Summerjax

Photo: Kate Moore

Based in: Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Melbourne, Australia (Franklin) and St. Simons Island, Ga. (Meyer)

Current clients: Disney, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, Roxy, Vans and more.

The most rewarding part of the job: “Being part of such a dynamic, passionate team and watching everyone learn and grow in their own positions and as individuals,” Franklin says.

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “Stay present and in the moment,” Meyer says. “Don’t let your past judgment or future fear define today.”

Secrets to being a great creative leader: “The human comes first,” Franklin says. “You take care of the team by creating an environment of mutual respect and compassion, treating everyone as individuals who support each other. When there is that trust, the best creative ideas come to life—both independently and collaboratively.”

A celeb they’d love to work with: “The future first female President of the United States of America,” Meyer says. “She’ll be the first, and the creative opportunity will be endless.”
Doug Zanger

Chuck Monn

Executive creative director, TBWA\Media Arts Lab

Photo: Manny Hernandez

Based in: Los Angeles
Appleton, Wisc.

Most rewarding work: “This past year, we helped launch ‘Behind the Mac,’ a global platform that celebrates the stories of the passionate creators who get behind their Mac to make something wonderful. The platform shined a light on the creative process passionate users go through to make the world a better place. I also led the iPad group over the past couple of years. iPad has always had a special place in my heart, since I’ve been working on it in one form or another from the beginning.”

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “Every brand has a truth; no matter what it is, there is a reason it exists beyond all the others. Finding it and telling its story is what we’re here to do.”

How he recharges: “I love to cook. This business can be so subjective, and you can get lost in second-guessing. I love the act of cooking. To roast a chicken and, after two hours, there is no debate: That is, indeed, a roasted chicken.”

A celeb he’d love to work with: “Greta Thunberg is probably my favorite person in the world right now. I am in awe of her conviction and her power at such a young age. Climate change will reshape our world, and we need to be serious about it. Knowing she exists gives me hope for the future.”
Doug Zanger

Meryl Draper and Gaelan Draper

CEO and creative director, Quirk Creative

Photo: Sam Ortiz

Based in: Brooklyn
Andover, Mass. (Meryl) and Washington, D.C. (Gaelan)

Career stops: Meryl: PR in Washington D.C., then Ogilvy in Bangalore, India. Gaelan: An actor in the film Chocolat at age 10 and founder of the largest fast-casual burrito chain in India.

The most rewarding part of the job: “Honestly, working for myself is the most rewarding part,” Meryl says. “And to have worked through the ups and downs of my career to land here now, five years into running a growing agency, is exactly what I had hoped for.”

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “There are no rules when it comes to building your career,” Gaelen says. “[We] built our careers on jumping on opportunities we were way to young to have any business doing—and I believe in the same for any aspiring creatives out there.”

The secret to recharging: “As boring as this is,” Meryl says, “I recharge my batteries by sleeping. Avidly. Frequently. As much as possible. I work really, really hard between 9 and 6, and then I crash.”

A celeb they’d love to work with: Meryl: “Meryl Streep. There aren’t many of us Meryls out there, so I’d get a kick out of collaborating with most famous Meryl of them all.”
Doug Zanger

Whit Hiler

Creative director, Team Cornett

Photo: Victor Sizemore

Based in: Lexington, Ky.

Recent work: “I’ve been really proud of some of the content we’ve been creating for VisitLEX, Lexington, Kentucky’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. We dropped a video called Neigh-SMR—aka horse-eating ASMR—that’s really fun and has been well received. We also created a new product for VisitLEX’s Visitor Center called “Bourbon Camouflage” that’s been a big hit. I was creative director on both projects.”

A man wearing a bourbon camouflage shirt stands in front of a shelf of bourbon.

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “I know it’s cliché to say you’ve got to take a lot of swings to get the big hits, but it’s so true. Learn to rebound quickly from the misses and keep on swinging—and swing often—until you start getting those hits.”

Secrets to being a great creative leader: “Coming up with a great idea is half the battle. Selling that idea to the client is the other half. Teach your team how to sell and fight hard to sell those ideas.”

Personal mantra: “I’m a big fan of saying ‘Hell yeah’ when big absurd ideas come my way. Recently, a friend came to me with this idea of selling turds from a Kentucky Derby Winning horse, encased in epoxy resin. While most people might say ‘Hell no’ to selling horse turds, I immediately said ‘Hell yeah.’ It totally hijacked the Kentucky Derby news. Hell yeah!”
Doug Zanger

Matt Talbot

partner, WorkInProgress

Photo courtesy of WorkInProgress

Based in: Boulder, Colo.
Glendora, Calif.

Career path: “I always liked to write, but I never considered it a viable career path. I went to college for engineering and discovered I didn’t love it, so I finished early to buy myself some time to figure out what I did want to do. I discovered advertising from some career books and friends, and then took night classes at Art Center and The Bookshop. I was lucky enough to make a TV spot thanks to a generous freelance offer when I had no idea what I was doing and the spot got me a job as a copywriter at TBWA/Chiat Day L.A.”

Current clients: “I work across the entire roster, which includes Jimmy John’s, Village Inn, Kit Kat, Nescafé, truTV, 37.5(R) Technology, and a couple major brands I can’t talk about quite yet.”

Most rewarding part of the job: “I love advertising and I love being an entrepreneur, but the most rewarding part of starting the agency has been building a place other people want to be a part of.”

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “Become a student of advertising. Read every book you can. Books like Hey Whipple, Gossage and How Brands Grow. Learn how advertising works, why it works, and what it is meant to accomplish.”
Doug Zanger

Emily Wengert and Emil Lanne

Group vp of user experience and ecd, Huge

Photo: Jack Dylan

Based in: Brooklyn
Philadelphia (Wengert) and Norrköping, Sweden (Lanne)

Favorite recent work: “Hands down its the popup shops I’ve designed for SK-II in Tokyo,” Wengert says. “I think it’s the highlight of my whole career±not just the past year—because I get to play with so many cutting edge technologies: eye tracking, facial recognition, robots and more.”

Best advice for aspiring creatives: “Don’t hold back,” Lanne says. “Get in there and show that you care and have passion and conviction for your ideas and approaches. It might not always be spot on, but that drive will be noticed and harnessed by people around you with the ability to shape it together with you.”

Most rewarding part of the job: “Playing with bleeding edge technologies,” Wengert says. “You’re often at the mercy of their limitations since they’re still evolving. So I love the moment when an execution just clicks.”
Doug Zanger

View the full Creative 100 gallery for 2019 to discover more about this year’s honorees.

This story first appeared in the June 10, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.
@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.