Interview with Emma Riley, Senior Director of Lonely Whale, United States

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Emma Riley

As Senior Director of Lonely Whale, Emma plays a pivotal role in the development and implementation of strategies and conceptualization throughout all their campaigns.

Interview with the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards Winner - Emma Riley

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your creative background.

I am the Sr. Director of Creative Strategy for Lonely Whale. In 2015, I was the first employee of Lonely Whale, an incubator for courageous ideas that drive impactful, market-based change on behalf of our ocean. I’ve played a pivotal role in the development and implementation of Lonely Whale’s Strawless Ocean and Question How You Hydrate campaigns, and my eye for design, art and strategic marketing was key in the execution of the experiential Museum of Plastic.

2What made you become/why did you choose to become a creative?

I’m not really a true creative. I oversee the strategy and scope of projects that cross both sectors and mediums. Ensuring these are successful is something of a creative endeavor, but I wouldn’t be considered a traditional creative. I just love working with them and amplifying their visions!

3Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do

As mentioned, I oftentimes sit at the intersection of our strategies and our scopes across our campaigning efforts. I ensure teams are working cohesively together and supporting one another. Lonely Whale was launched in 2015 by Lucy Sumner and Adrian Grenier. A small group of us have been with the organization from its inception, and I’ve been playing that role (and sometimes others) for years! Every day is different from the next, which I love.

4What does “creativity” mean to you?

Creativity and strategy are synonymous to me, which is a bit taboo, but that’s my truth.

5To you, what makes a “creative” idea and/or design?

Innovative thinking defined by trend forecasting, then pushed into motion and fulfilled.

6Tell us about your creative and/or design process.

It’s always collaborative. That’s the most important piece of the puzzle. Again, as I’m not a creative in a traditional sense. I rely heavily on others and ensure that the engine is running smoothly. I always start with the big picture. So much so that sometimes it can be a challenge to get grounded and begin to execute.

7What's your favorite part of the creative process and why?

The moment before the launch of a new idea, new stunt, new campaign, etc. The energy in that moment is unmatched by any other experience I’ve had.

8Describe your creative style and its main characteristics.

Five to ten years in the future -- where are we then? The characteristics should be that forward thinking.

Personally, I’m a bit of a minimalist with a passion for art books. My partner is an artist so most of our home has his work speckled on our walls throughout the space: black and white photography, pop art, portraits, even a couple of tables he built. The minimalist mixed with his vision of a bright, bold universe is a wonderful world to live in.

9Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your creativity process?

Sure. Creativity and strategy are synonymous, remember? It’d be nearly impossible not to reflect on current events and how we got where we are while building initiatives and campaigns.

10Congratulations! As the winner of the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?

We are so proud to receive this honor in two categories and be in great company with brands like BMW, Dell Technologies, Disney, IKEA, National Geographic Society, Nike, Spotify and many more.

We have an intentionally small team at Lonely Whale, and it’s amazing to receive recognition for our hard work from the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards to expand our reach to get in front of even more creatives, scientists, brands, influencers and organizations that share our growth mindset to launch inspiring, data-driven campaigns that echo around the world.

11Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

Between our Question How You Hydrate campaign and corresponding “Plastic Service Announcement” (PSA) and Museum of Plastic, we took home two 2020 MUSE Awards this year.

Following the framework of our viral campaign against plastic straws, Lonely Whale launched Question How You Hydrate to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles. With creative direction from Young Hero, the campaign addresses a seemingly unsolvable problem: 500 billion single-use plastic bottles are used around the globe annually.

Through the campaign, together with our friends at Young Hero, we really demonstrated what’s possible by partnering with the gatekeepers of the plastic industry and creating change. It’s because of those remarkable results that we chose to enter this campaign for this award. In less than one year, Hydrate created real traction in the water bottle industry, and Facebook, the 2019 Global Citizen Festival and the San Francisco International Airport banned plastic water bottles.

12What was the biggest challenge with this project?

Our biggest challenge was engaging corporate stakeholders who had the ability to launch sustainable products quickly and creatively. Unlike conversion from single-use plastic straws to alternatives, we learned, the lead time for a brand to convert from single-use plastic water bottles to a more sustainable choice is much, much longer. It is an extremely tedious process due to long-term contracts with bottling companies and the significant revenue generated from plastic water bottle sales.

However, through work with brands S’well and Ever & Ever (from the makers of Vita Coco), we are beginning to see corporate conversions. For one example, Pepsi and Coca-Cola made drastic changes to Aquafina and Dasani, moving from plastic to the more sustainable alternative championed by the campaign which is aluminum. That was really amazing to see.

13What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?

The people, the places and the passion.

14What makes your country specifically unique in the creative industry?

I think we will see a unique tipping point in creativity based on our struggle with the reality of the climate crisis over the next few years. This will span individuals, brands and organizations, and I’m looking forward to tracking how those in the U.S. respond.

15Where do you see the evolution of creative industry going over the next 5-10 years?

This depends on the cultural, economic and environmental climate, but I suspect creativity will become more radicalized similar to what we saw with the feminist art movement in the late 1960s.

16If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Design Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?

You don’t need that afternoon coffee.

Winning Entries

Lonely Whale’s Museum of Plastic | 2020

Lonely Whale’s Museum of Plastic | MUSE Creative Awards

Lonely Whale creates comprehensive marketing strategies and tactics, including experiential activations, to drive positive, quantifiable impacts for...
(read more at MUSE Creative Awards)

Lonely Whale

The Lonely Whale Foundation was inspired by the power of creating community, so that together, we can care for each other and begin to positively impact the health of our ocean.