2 Minutes With ... Wayne Best, CCO at VMLY&R NY

On building a work culture remotely, Cliff Freeman and those Walmart for the Oscars ads

During his career, Wayne Best has built Mars, blown up a Yugo, had awkward conversations with Donald Trump, and waited countless hours for Sean "P-Diddy" Combs to show up on set. He joined VMLY&R in August 2019 as chief creative officer, New York. In addition to overseeing work in the New York office, he is the global creative lead on Dell Technologies.

Wayne has a history of creating engaging work that is entertaining and effective. While on Verizon, he helped create the Cannes Lions-winning "First Responders." His Walmart work for the Oscars and "Famous Cars" effort for the Super Bowl helped shift perceptions of the brand. For Macy's, he created the 30-minute animated holiday special "Yes, Virginia," which has been running on CBS during primetime for the last 10 years. And the New York Post called his Virgin Mobile "Chrismahanukwazakah" commercial one of the best holiday spots of all time.

We spent two minutes with Wayne to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.

Wayne, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Southern California and moved to New York a year after graduating from college. The minute I stepped off the bus in Manhattan, I knew I was home.

How you first realized you were creative.

I won a ribbon in a second grade pumpkin carving contest—although it's possible my mom helped me win that one.

A person you idolized creatively early on.

I always admired Walt Disney because whatever he did, he did well. He went from being a pioneer in animation to doing live-action films to making award-winning documentaries to creating the modern-day amusement park. He stayed restless and curious. 

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

I lived near CalArts. In high school, we would go to the campus and hang out with all these guys in the sub-levels of the school. They were creative, nerdy and trying to do something called computer animation. We found them fun to hang with and inspiring. They ended up being the people who created Pixar. I'm sure none of them would ever remember me.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

David Byrne. He's a bit of both and truly unique.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

Maybe it's because it was the last show I watched, but "Severance." It was beautifully acted and had great art direction and smart writing. It was weird, yet familiar. Slow paced, but went by quickly. And it was deeply insightful, yet incredibly simple. 

Your favorite fictional character.

Elon Musk. Creating an online bank in college, building Tesla from the ground up, beating NASA at rocket design, boring holes underground that transport people places faster than a jet, hosting SNL and devising a diabolic plan to take over Twitter? There's no way that guy's real.

Someone or something worth following in social media.

My mom. (If you have Friendster.) 

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

When I joined VMLY&R, we were a newly merged company and needed to build the culture. Then a few months later, the pandemic hit. We've been able to do it but building a culture through a computer screen isn't easy. You miss those accidental moments where you run into somebody on your way to the restroom and have a great conversation. Working remotely means nearly everything must be scheduled.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.

I never thought I would say this, but the Walmart Oscars work. Walmart? Oscars? Really? We were the uncool kid going to the cool kid party, so we had to bring a friend to give us credibility. We came up with the idea to partner with big Hollywood directors and give them an assignment like something you would do in college. Year one was "The Receipt," where they had to create a film based on six items on a receipt. Year two had to be centered on a Walmart delivery box. We partnered with Dee Rees, Melissa McCarthy, Seth Rogan and others. It was one of those moments where you're on set and can't believe how lucky you are. 

Walmart-Oscars Case Study
Walmart Oscars-Bananas Town
The Walmart Box
A recent project you're proud of. 

"I Will Always Be Me." It's not often you get to build a brand, do something truly creative, tap into new technology and, most importantly, help people with a disease live better lives. It took a huge team of amazing people over a year and a half to bring it to life, and it couldn't have been done without Liz Matthews and the team at Dell Technologies, John Coyne and the team at Intel, Nick Goldup and the team at the MND Association, and Stuart Moss at Rolls-Royce. I'm so proud that everyone stuck with it, even when it looked impossible, and made it real.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

Cliff Freeman. I had the privilege of working for him for many years, and he taught me so much. He had such a gifted view of the world. He always found a way to tap into human insights in ways that were completely fresh. I asked him how he came up with such wild, unexpected ideas. His answer was that he simply killed all the expected and obvious ideas he had immediately so he could get to the good stuff. For those who don't know who he is, Google him.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

I admire what Maximum Effort is doing. It's nothing they've done in particular. It's just that they are having fun and not taking things too seriously. As an industry, we have progressed to a point where there is way too much deliberation and overthink. It makes it hard to tap into popular culture in the moment and do things that hit the zeitgeist. I like that they react swiftly to things happening in culture. Of course, it also helps when you're Ryan Reynolds.

Your main strength as a creative person.

I am easily bored. I am always searching for something exciting. Creatives are people who grew up not wanting to do things the way everybody else has always done them. We are malcontents. We challenge the expected. So I push those around me to do something fresh. If you're going to be funny, make me laugh. If you are going to be emotional, make me cry. Everything else is wallpaper. Media is expensive, and clients can't afford to put work out into the world that will be ignored. 

Your biggest weakness.

It's such a cliché, but my ADD. As I said on the question before, I get bored easily, and when that happens, my mind wanders. I say it is a weakness because when I lose focus and tune out, I'm sure others often find it disrespectful. 

One thing that always makes you happy.

Watching my kids play sports and do theater. I know that's not an advertising answer, but hey, nobody dies wishing they had time to do one more ad.

One thing that always makes you sad.

I went into this business to help clients solve serious business issues using creativity. My sole focus is always on the work. So when I see people doing things for political reasons, out of selfishness or insecurity, it makes me sad. Why don't they understand that security and success in our business only comes from being part of doing something amazing for our clients? Great work is your only insurance policy.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

Selling snake oil. It's really some amazing stuff. And not easy to extract.

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.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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