Creativity Squared: Dan Steiner
Dan spoke to LBB about finding fun and goodwill in the high pressure world of commercial creativity.
Dan Steiner was born the same year Oprah’s show debuted.
Did this influence his decision to go into comms? Sure.
Fast-forward 21 years and the Oprah prophecy had been realised: Dan graduated with a Journalism degree from UTS, then swiftly entered the world of publishing. Six years later, that world had gotten significantly smaller. So he stepped into the future and took an agency role heading a social media department. Intrigued as to whether he was still relevant to the youth, Dan then decided to try his hand as a copywriter at student platform UNiDAYS. Having won Gen Z’s respect, it was time to move on. Time to flex his strategic muscles. Time to solve bigger business challenges.
And that’s what he does today, as a senior writer at Interbrand Australia. In his almost three years there, Dan’s worked with Coles, Sydney Fish Market, MLC, Fed Square, NextSense, and has overseen the agency’s annual Breakthrough Brands report. He hasn’t won any awards, but he tries his best. If you’re reading this, Oprah, Dan hopes you’re proud.
LBB> What kind of creative person are you?
Dan> For me, it’s a case of better out than in. I’m generously messy. There are plenty of thoughts and ideas pinballing around in my noggin (varying wildly in quality and appropriateness). Thankfully, what we do is a team sport, so that mess often ends up getting shaped and honed into something clearer and more compelling by people I trust, respect and love.
In terms of whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert, I’d say instead—and more accurately—that I’m a Leo. I defer to Cosmopolitan for a more detailed overview:
“Leos love to lead, perform, talk, be admired and receive the praise and respect of others. They are naturally regal, and always assume a boss-like stance in any relationship or group dynamic. They are confident, bright and sexy people, though they can be jealous, controlling and possessive at their worst.” All true.
When it comes to what I enjoy consuming and exploring, I’m just as influenced by music as I am by words on a page. It always does come back to words, though; I’m very interested in the role of lyrics in the final output, e.g. Taylor Swift painting a vivid picture using her colour metaphor in Red.
Outside of writing for work, Dangents is where I go to “spill my consciousness”, as I say (quoting yourself is the most Leo thing ever; linking to my Substack is a close second).
LBB> How do you judge the creativity of a piece of work?
Dan> Good: It solves the problem in an interesting way. Great: I share it with someone. Amazing: I think about it again the next day. If a solution stays with you, it goes beyond just being work—it’s something spesh.
Looking at industry output right now, from ads to brand voices, I’ve noticed that humour, lightness, playfulness, cheek, irreverence, absurdity, comedy (label it as you see fit) is back on the agenda. I dunno if it’s a post-pandemic thing—perhaps we’ve learnt how to laugh again or we’ve become more self-aware or we’re seeking escapism and it’s a corrective to these anxious times… Whatever the cause, I’ll take it.
LBB> Tell us about how you like to make creative work
Dan> At Interbrand, our role is to give our clients the confidence to make iconic moves. To do that, a few things need to happen:
- Questioning. Are we asking, let alone answering, the right question/s? You need to interrogate that early because the question/s you decide to answer directly affect what you’re going to make. Question your questions.
- Collaboration. Between the team, yes, but also between you and your clients. If you wanna do stuff that solves the problem in an interesting way and even pushes into unexpected places (and, let’s be real, you do) there needs to be trust, respect, understanding, a sense of safety, and common goals between the people involved. It creates the conditions for bravery and informed risk-taking.
- Back yourself. Follow the processes and frameworks that work for you, but you need to try stuff out (is that not what you’re here to do?). Follow your instincts, have a crack, see what happens. Best case: the thing you think is silly might actually trigger something better from the team; worst case: people will see how open you are with putting ideas forward and that’ll make them more comfortable doing likewise.
LBB> What external factors have shaped you and what can make or break a creative project?
Dan> I come from a family that likes to joke (sometimes at one another’s expense, albeit lovingly) and talk shit. We can prattle on all day. That breeds a certain type of thinking and approach to situations. From early on, I had a front-row seat to the unifying power of stories (this is the part where I say that we’re storytellers) and how effective laughter can be at developing connection. Not everything I do is for laughs, but I take making people laugh seriously.
Craft-wise, besides playing with form (mixed results, but I never regret doing it) and writing, writing, writing, the most helpful thing for me has been interviewing people (I used to work in editorial). Whenever you speak with someone—interview or not—you get a piece of them. And people are interesting creatures. Ultimately, you end up with this library of voices and perspectives to draw upon. So listen closely, because every convo you have is a chance to add to that archive of inspo. Long story short, I’m a personality vampire.
Finally, if we’re talking make or break, consider this: you’re creating something. You’re generating something out of nothing. Difficult? Yes. Fun? Hopefully! Because if the creative experience doesn’t get you nodding, smiling, restless-legging, table-slapping, high-fiving, etc, then it might be time to try another line of work.