2 Minutes With … Emily Ward and Jess Hunichen of Shine Talent Group and The Thread

On seeing opportunities in everything

Emily and Jess are entrepreneurs and co-founders of Shine Talent Group, Shine Ventures and The Thread. They are also known for creating The BodCon. Both have extensive experience in PR. 

We spent two minutes with Emily and Jess to learn more about their backgrounds, their creative inspirations and recent work they've admired.

Emily and Jess, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now.
  • Emily: Born and raised in Toronto. I ended up completing my post grad here as well. Toronto has many different pockets and I feel as though I've lived in all of them. As much as I love the city, I do think a new location is in my future.
  • Jess: I was born in Melbourne, Australia, and lived there until I was 26. It's a wonderful part of the world to grow up in! I moved to Toronto just before I turned 27 and lived there for almost 10 years before recently relocating to sunny Los Angeles. 
How you first realized you were creative.
  • Emily: I started piano when I was 3 years old and would memorize songs and play them by ear because I didn't want to read music. I thought I was doing something sneaky. But years later, when my music teacher realized that I could hear a song once and replicate it, she was impressed. I spent a lot of time in the arts, going to school for violin and to university to study dance.
  • Jess: I don't know that I consider myself to be terribly creative in the traditional sense. But for as long as I can remember, I have had a mind for business. As a child I would come up with little ventures and rope in other kids from the neighborhood to take part.
A person you idolize creatively early on.
  • Emily: David Brouitt was the creative director at my first agency, theadlibgroup. He and the two owners, Toni and Michael Abramson, were truly brilliant. From campaigns for truck cargo straps to major hotel chains, their work was consistently sharp, witty and impactful.
  • Jess: I've been fortunate to work with some wonderful women over the years. When I started my PR career in Melbourne, I did multiple internships with boutique agencies and freelancers. The small teams meant everyone was very hands-on, so I got to do things that I never would have done at a larger agency. 
A moment from high school or college that changed your life. 
  • Emily: I attempted to transfer majors in high school from music to dance and was rejected. Later, I was accepted into the York University Bachelor of Fine Arts program for dance. Similarly, I was rejected for the public relations post-graduate program I applied for and went into an alternate degree, yet I got hired for a PR role before I finished school. Both situations reminded me to never let a rejection be anything more than another step in the process.
  • Jess: I had high hopes of becoming a wedding planner, so I wanted to study event planning. But my mum (very kindly) pointed out that perhaps people might be hesitant to hire a 21-year-old wedding planner who had, in fact, never planned a wedding. I shifted gears, majoring in marketing and event management. I started my first agency, Honey PR, about a month before I graduated. 
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
  • Emily: My sister is a musician and plays electric cello for a number of groups. I love seeing her perform. And I've always adored Degas because of his affinity for dancers.
  • Jess: My biggest red flag as a person might be that I don't really have any interest in music.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on. 
  • Emily: The BodCon is another venture that Jess and I started in 2021 and sold to Trafilea Tech E-Commerce Group in 2023. It's a virtual conference for all things in the body confidence and self-love space. I adored the branding, community and overall vibe we were able to create. We brought together incredible speakers including celebrities like Jameela Jamil, and we were able to highlight emerging voices in the space.
  • Jess: Our big Toronto summer party last year. We created a whole brand around a Shine Racquet Club. Plus, we saw over 3 billion social impressions! Here's a mini snapshot.
A recent project you're proud of. 
  • Emily: The Thread is project management software we launched at the end of 2023. As we grew Shine Talent Group, we were on the hunt for a system that would help us to manage volume and provide us insights to steer the business. While there are incredible tools out there, we could not find a tool that had been built from the talent manager's perspective. We decided to build it ourselves and after many years (and many dollars) we are so proud to offer this tool to our peers.
  • Jess: Late last year we launched Shine Ventures, an angel investment firm where we are taking all of the trend data we see and using that to make strategic investments.
Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.
  • Emily: Lynzie Kent. She is a creative force whose artistry spills out over everything she does. I've watched her parlay her singing career into a vibrant wedding-planning company, host a TV series, take on corporate events and most recently delve into painting. She's a constant inspiration.
  • Jess: In 2010, Droga5 was managing the launch of Jay-Z's autobiography, and at the same time, they were launching Microsoft's search engine Bing. Obviously, two completely different brands, but they found a way to connect them. They printed giant copies of every page in the book and installed them in locations across the country. Fans could go to Bing to follow clues and find pages, win concert tickets, etc. Here's the full story
Someone else's work you admired lately.
  • Emily: Jess and I recently started working with the team at Minthub through our investment by Shine Ventures. These women bring issues surrounding sexual health to the forefront with research and innovation. 
  • Jess: Cherub, a platform that connects angel investors with founders, announced a pop-up shop at SXSW where you couldn't buy anything, but you could invest in participating businesses. I hope to be able to do something like this one day with Shine Ventures.
Your main strength as a creative person.
  • Emily: I have a great breadth of experience looking at campaigns from all angles. I love strategy and find it incredibly playful to come up with new concepts and ideas. 
  • Jess: I can see opportunities in almost everything.
Your biggest weakness. 
  • Emily: My ability to compartmentalize. You would think it would be a strength. But, sometimes. my mind gets stuck in one zone and I can't see the other.
  • Jess: Seeing opportunity in almost everything. My mind has zero chill.
A mentor who helped you navigate the industry. 
How you're paying it forward with the next generation of creatives.
  • Emily: We often speak to students in PR and social media programs. Shine Talent Group also has an internship program. Both have been a great way to stay connected with emerging talent and provide access to the next generation of professionals.
  • Jess: I do talks at universities. I also mentor startup founders in the talent management space. 
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising. 
  • Emily: I've joked that I believe Jess and I could have another career as professional mediators. But I would probably end up doing something in the alternative health space. 
  • Jess: I would be an excellent book editor.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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