Interviews

Get set for the new ‘roaring twenties’ of creativity

Shirin Majid, Executive Creative Director Europe at Virtue on the electricity that comes with being at the start of something new and the power of resisting routine.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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“It’s going to be the roaring twenties of creativity.” Shirin Majid, Executive Creative Director at Virtue is describing the creative possibilities of being on the cusp of a new era of accelerated change. While our interview may be taking place within the four walls of the now obligatory Zoom meeting, it is clear that for Majid these walls are far from closing in; instead, these virtual walls are opening up new opportunities for creativity.  

“Yes we are still in the pandemic but there is this electric excitement about being at the beginning of something else,” explains Majid.

For the creative industries this ‘something else’ is not just about one single grand campaign or gesture. Nor does it automatically sit within the much-talked-about ‘great resignation’, a shift which Majid believes is more of a ‘great awakening’ as people reassess what really makes them happy and consider how they spend their time. 

The great awakening

This awakening also brings with it fresh creative opportunities. “The opportunity is in the synergy of all these changes that are happening,” explains Majid. “We have to go more upstream to have inclusivity baked in, it’s not just grand gestures, it is the single everyday decisions like casting. It's the micro-decisions you make as well as the macro.”

The fact that Majid shares that she is coming through the pandemic with a ‘renewed faith in human nature’ is testament not just to her naturally optimistic nature but a reflection of the success of her creative leadership. As Executive Creative Director Europe at Virtue Worldwide, the creative agency of Vice Media Group, Majid’s creative star has long been on the ascendancy and she was named one of the Future Leaders by Campaign and Creative Equals in 2019. 

Majid’s squiggly career saw her join the agency from VCCP, where she was Deputy Executive Creative Director, where she worked on brands including the British Red Cross, Unilever and TikTok. She previously co-founded the New York office of Splendid Communications and was the first creative director of LADbible’s creative agency, Joyride.

Brands inside culture 

Describing her decision to join Virtue as equal parts ‘thrilling and daunting’ she describes Virtue’s proposition as being rooted in building brands from the ‘inside of culture’. An approach that she believes is based on helping brands make a positive cultural impact.

She explains: “If there ever was a time to focus on making a positive impact on culture, it’s now. But I don’t just mean purpose driven work, I mean work that makes you feel good or makes you feel connected to others or just makes you feel seen. Anything that can cut through the apocalyptic vibes of the past couple years.”

Those apocalyptic vibes are also evident in the seemingly never-ending line of marketing commentators lining up to call peak purpose. So are we on the cusp of a new era of purpose driven marketing, or is it all just hype?

Majid takes a typically nuanced approach to the unnecessarily binary purpose debate. “Having a positive impact does not always need to be about big purpose driven work,” she explains, pointing to the way in which brands can make someone feel seen, or simply make someone happy.

She explains: “Gone are the days where brands can just make product-first work and nothing else. The evolution of purpose-driven marketing is that it won’t be about a pillar in your marketing strategy. Everything that has happened over the past couple of years says that we have to behave more responsibly. The past two years have been this great awakening and brands recognise that.”

The biggest untapped creative opportunity isn’t to jump into the Metaverse or anywhere else. It’s in the hearts and minds of those who are underrepresented and misrepresented. It’s in challenging our unconscious biases. Not being tokenistic, not commodifying cultural movements

Shirin Majid, Executive Creative Director Europe at Virtue

Post pandemic creativity  

However many times we write it or will it to be over, it is clear that we are far from post pandemic yet. Majid is superstitious when talking about post pandemic creativity, yet she notes that adversity in itself can be a creative fuel. She explains: “It gives you empathy and a new perspective. We have a chance to refresh how we approach creativity - which to be honest was getting a bit stale and samey in our industry in the last few years - and not just iterate on what came before.”

But this innovation isn’t simply about adopting new technologies or platforms. She explains: “The biggest untapped creative opportunity isn’t to jump into the Metaverse or anywhere else. It’s in the hearts and minds of those who are underrepresented and misrepresented. It’s in challenging our unconscious biases. Not being tokenistic, not commodifying cultural movements.”

For while the industry at large might equate innovation with technology; the truth is driving diversity forward is a key component of creating work of value. As Majid explains: “Brands still have a huge opportunity to focus on inclusion and reach audiences they haven’t considered.”

Creatives are taking a great big pause to reassess how they want to spend their valuable time and energy. I’ve always placed huge value on my time and energy - particularly after I had my daughter - which is why my path has been so non-linear

Shirin Majid, Executive Creative Director Europe at Virtue

Resisting routine and driving creativity 

This focus on inclusion also extends to the workplace, Majid explains: “Understanding what people are passionate about and if people are happy and excited about what they are working on is key,” she explains. 

She remains open minded about the trial of the 4-day week in advertising and remains focused on reducing time-draining long meeting cultures in order to drive creativity. At Virtue Wednesday mornings and Friday afternoons are designated meeting free times. 

“Creatives are taking a great big pause to reassess how they want to spend their valuable time and energy. I’ve always placed huge value on my time and energy - particularly after I had my daughter - which is why my path has been so non-linear. You have to create an environment where creatives can thrive,” she adds, 

It is clear that creating that environment - whether as an agency leader or an individual is a work in progress. If creativity is a muscle; you need to exercise it everyday.  

“You have to resist routine. You have to find other ways to fill your brain with references. You have to read everything you haven’t read on your shelves. Treat your home like a library or a shop or a gallery,” explains Majid. 

It’s an approach which means she remains focused on learning something new everyday. A habit which sounds so simple; yet in our always on marketing ecosystem is a radical creative act in its own right. An act which not only helps build her expertise, but guards against the omnipresent cynicism which comes hand in hand with feeling so comfortable with the status quo that you believe you have nothing left to learn. As Majid’s successful and squiggly career underlines, constant curiosity is vital to both compelling creativity and empathetic leadership.

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