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Recharging the batteries: Aaron McMinn on side hustles as an outlet for creativity

Aaron McMinn grew up exploring visual mediums and turned that passion into a job when he entered agency land. Today, he’s a creative director at Wunderman Thompson but not all his creative pursuits are for clients. Some are for himself. 

By day, McMinn works for agency clients and by night, he’s curating his photography on Instagram and writing scripts for short films.

BBQ meat on a stick + plastic seats. All time fav combo.

A post shared by Aaron McMinn (@aaronmcminn) on

When talking to him last month, he was directing a short film and had another script in the pipeline.

Referring to the projects as his side hustles, McMinn says he tries to keep himself busy and it also gives his extra creative juices an outlet.

McMinn has long had an interest in exploring visual mediums and credits a trip to see Star Wars at the movies when he was younger as the instigator.

“I have a really distinct memory of looking back at the projector box and I saw a man standing there through the haze of the film being projected out and I had this moment of ‘oh, somebody made this’.”

After that, he was grabbing the cameras of family members to recreate Star Wars battles in the local forest – and his portfolio has continued to grow.

He stuck with it even after being told by teachers that art endeavours probably weren’t something he should pursue after failing fifth form art.

If only those teachers could see him now.

After school, he was into music and toured with bands before his interest in music and graphics came together.

He met Aaron Dustin who was with nzmusic.co.nz as well as owning Wellington agency Morse Media. Learning of McMinn’s interest in graphics, Dustin invited him to join the agency.

McMinn credits Dustin for teaching him how creative works from a commercial perspective and from there, he got stuck into design and fell in love with the medium.

“It’s certainly not as pure as photography but the medium continues to explode with things that aren’t available in any other format.”

This breakthrough was his way of commodifying his passion to make a living off it.

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Screenshots from some of McMinn’s projects

He’s since gone on to work at Heyday, where he climbed up the ranks from senior designer to creative director and became creative director at Wunderman Thompson New Zealand when J. Walter Thompson merged with Heyday.

As his career has progressed, McMinn’s started to fall back in love with the idea of creating without expectations.

In agency life, there are always expectations around budgets, what clients need, and the time it needs to take. While he says those expectations aren’t a bad thing, they do put pressure on creatives.

And while younger members of the industry thrive under the pressure and see it as exhilarating, McMinn says working in the industry “is a marathon, not a sprint”.

“If you don’t have a way to rest and rejuvenate, it can grind you down to a pulp.”

That rest and rejuvenation comes in the form of his own creative projects

“I think having some kind of outlet to express yourself in a framework that isn’t commercial is important,” he says.

“For me, I’d almost say it’s vital to my sanity and my well-being.”

When asked about agency burn out, McMinn says he feels the burn the most when the work he is doing is consistently at odds with where he wants to go.

“Everyone experiences that in slightly different ways but that’s where the tension builds for me. It’s a really good indicator that I haven’t been doing enough just for the joy of doing it.”

While creatives try to put as much of themselves into the work they do, the reality is, that as much as projects may be enjoyable, not all allow for that personal investment and so a creative outlet is needed.

There is also the risk of being swept away by awards when in an agency, with more consideration going to playing the game than the craft.

But not only are his side hustles benefiting McMinn personally, it’s also beneficial for his client work.

McMinn says those outlets give you a better perspective on creativity as a whole.

“If you reconnect with the pure roots of whatever you are interested in, I think it helps the work you do and I think it also helps to give you a little bit better perspective on creativity as a whole, which is going to be good for everyone – where ever you are working, the project you are working on, the clients you are working for.”

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