The Top 10 Muse Essays of 2020

Our most-read guest pieces of the year

Every day on Muse, we publish essays from folks in the industry. They're a key part of the lifeblood of this site—bringing in perspectives from all over the world on the topics of creativity, business challenges, ways of working, and much more. Below, check out the most-read essays from 2020. Thanks to everyone who took the time to write this year. And as always, shoot me a note if you've got an idea for a piece you'd like to share. Also, check out the Top 10 Muse Stories of 2020.


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The Creative Soul of Quincy Jones

By Alyssa Lein Smith of Quincy Jones Productions
July 22, 2020

Alyssa, the VP of Business at Quincy Jones Productions, wrote an admiring profile of her boss, the inimitable Quincy Jones, over the summer. "You may know Quincy, or 'Q,' the nickname Frank Sinatra gave him (yeah, let that sink in), as one of the most successful music producers of all time and/or one of the most decorated and legendary individuals in the music industry," she writes. "While all of that is true, I've found two of his most important titles to be frequently, and unfortunately, omitted from the tabloids: philanthropist and activist."

Read the essay here


9️⃣

The Last A-Hole: Jordan and the Leadership Dilemma

By Dhaval Bhatt of Rethink
May 19, 2020

Like just about everyone else, Dhaval Bhatt devoured the Last Dance documentary, about Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls, back in the spring. But he watched with his 9-year-old daughter, and they ended up having an interesting debate about MJ's leadership style, which got Dhaval thinking about his experience working for assholes at times during his advertising career.

Read the story here


8️⃣

The Power of Yes, for Creatives Who'd Rather Say No

By Eric Kallman of Erich & Kallman
June 22, 2020

Agencies have been conditioned to believe they should say no to a whole lot of things—changes to the work they create, short timelines, messaging "mandatories," and even new compensation models. But in this piece, Eric Kallman argues that the reality of the business, as well as the actual work agencies are hired to perform, has always started with saying yes.

Read the essay here


7️⃣

Is It OK to Be Funny Right Now?

By Sean McBride of Arnold Worldwide
May 21, 2020

Brands have never taken themselves more seriously—a trend that only accelerated during Covid, when respect for the crisis happening in the world, and the pain it inflicted on people, gave advertisers pause (and led to a lot of forgettable, interchangeable work). But Sean McBride argues that humor isn't just about goofing off. It can be how we empathize, how we heal, and how we move on, he suggests—and we need more of it in advertising. Not just right now, but always.

Read the essay here


6️⃣

9 Strategies for Naming a Brand

By Molly Rowan Hamilton of Pearlfisher
June 17, 2020

A brand name is a compelling story, reduced to its smallest, but most engaging form. It's your first shortcut as a brand to help articulate who you are and what you believe in. How to make it immediate yet still have a deeper meaning? How to get to the core of what you do, yet leave it flexible enough for the future? How to be clever enough to get through trademarking checks and make sure you've got something unique (and something that you actually like)? In this piece, Molly Rowan Hamilton of Pearlfisher offers nine tips to help you craft the perfect name for your business or side hustle.

Read the essay here


5️⃣

What the Moldy Whopper Can Teach Brands About Authenticity

By Yuna Park of Forsman & Bodenfors
June 22, 2020

A recent Salesforce study found 54 percent of consumers don't think companies operate with their best interests in mind. At the same time, challenger brands are disrupting every category, and advertisers must also contend with the increasing fragmentation of channels. In this environment, consistency and authenticity are the only ways that brands can rise above the fray. Here, Yuna Park of Forsman & Bodenfors explains why Burger King's "Moldy Whopper" was the perfect example of those brand dynamics at play.

Read the essay here


4️⃣

The Beatles Theory of Creative Career Management

By Rob Schwartz of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY
Sept. 14, 2020

Are you John, Paul, George or Ringo? In this piece, Rob Schwartz of TBWA\Chiat\Day offers a theory that if you're in advertising, you're probably one of the four right now—and you'll likely cycle through all of them during your career. But there's also a fifth level, where you can go from creator of an idea to creator of the enterprise. And across the whole process lies one fundamental truth—the secret to creative longevity is transformation.

Read the essay here


3️⃣

Advice From the 6th Best Agency in Canada

By Peter Ignazi of Cossette
Nov. 10, 2020

In 2016, Cossette was named agency of the year in Canada. In 2017 and 2018, the agency repeated that feat. But last year, they were named the 6th best agency in Canada. In this refreshingly honest piece, Peter Ignazi explains how the drop, and the lessons learned, were even more inspiring than the three straight golds.

Read the essay here


2️⃣

WTF Is 'Good Parenting' in the WFH Era?

By Ryan Wagman of 160over90
March 31, 2020

At the beginning of lockdown in March, Ryan Wagman of 160over90 was stuck in his apartment for weeks on end with his infant son, with no outside help, while he also tried to juggle the extraordinary business challenges his clients were suddenly facing during Covid. He soon began to feel like a failure. But in this remarkable piece, he explains why everyone needs to cut themselves some slack—as parents and as business leaders—in this crazy time when it's so difficult to be both.

Read the essay here


1️⃣

Hope for the Unemployed From an Overlooked '80s Song

By Mark St. Amant
March 10, 2020

It wasn't one of Peter Gabriel's big hits. But Mark St. Amant's favorite track from the musician's 1986 album So was "Don't Give Up," a duet with English singer-songwriter Kate Bush. It's a song about losing one's job, and in this piece, Mark explores the lyrics, line by line, to explain how it offers hope to anyone out of work—including so many people laid off in advertising this year.

Read the essay here

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards, editor of Muse by Clio, and host of the podcast Tagline. Previously, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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