Get To Know: TRIS3CT Chief Creative Officer Chris Cancilla

Get To Know Spotlight Series at MarketingLand.comChris Cancilla serves as the chief creative officer of Trisect, a Chicago-based ad agency working with leading brands like Kawasaki and Kimberly-Clark.

Cancilla originally joined the agency in 2011 as its executive creative director. He was instrumental in delivering the agency’s signature Ninja 300 campaign while leading the creative team for Kawasaki. As chief creative officer, Cancilla is charged with expanding Trisect’s creative capabilities and reputation.

For nearly 20 years, Cancilla has been creating breakthrough, award-winning creative campaigns that live across channels. Fluent in offline, online and retail communications, Cancilla says he is most inspired by the challenge of seamlessly integrating these points of contact.

Before joining Trisect, Cancilla was an SVP, group creative director at Y&R Chicago. While at Y&R, he led multi-discipline campaign development for brands as diverse as Sears, Dave & Buster’s, The Red Cross and Hilton Hotels. His “Turf Wars” campaign for Sears Lawn & Garden reversed three years of declining sales and won a Silver Effie.

Prior to Y&R, Chris spent more than ten years at Arc/Leo Burnett, working with leading brands like Visa, McDonald’s and Wonka Candy.

Get To Know:

Chris Cancilla

Chief Creative Officer @ TRIS3CT

  • Age: 46
  • HQ: Chicago
  • Apple or Android? Apple
  • First Job: Stock boy
  • Hobby: Dodging Chicago traffic on a bike
  • First Car: ’86 VW Golf GL

What mobile device can you not live without?

It’s a tie between my phone and my wallet.

Can we take a peek at your phone’s home screen?

Chris Cancilla phone

Which apps do you use most often for work?

Lately I’ve been using the Yahoo! News Digest a lot. It offers an awesome way to stay current on general news topics with a really simple, addictive interface.

What social media network or website do you frequent most when you’re not working?

Facebook. Where else can I get an update on my uncle’s garden, get served “age appropriate” ads, and catch up on the weekend debauchery of our junior staff?

What’s the first thing you check on your phone in the morning?

Weather Channel app – still looking for signs of Spring in Chicago.

Take me through your typical workday.

There really is no “typical,” but on a good day, I bike to work along the lakefront and get in early. Over the years I’ve really come to appreciate the quiet of the agency in the morning — it’s the only part of the day that’s truly your own. Which helps because the minute the day starts, it’s always full on.

Most of my time seems to be split between tasks that build the agency (staffing, structure, client relationships, talent development, etc.) and checking in on our creative work.

While I’ll always get the most pleasure from seeing fresh ideas enter the world, I’ve come to realize that my biggest creative project is the agency itself. It’s about building the environment where great people can do their best work.

What has been the most exciting work development during the past year?

Re-designing our creative department. It doesn’t sound that sexy, but it’s had a huge impact on the way we work, enabled us to bring in new talent, and helped us win business.

How many miles have you traveled in the last 12 months?

Most of my travel has been to LA — where our second office and Kawasaki, one of our key clients, are located.

By far the highlights were a series of trips dedicated to building a partnership between Kawasaki and the Disney Lone Ranger film. Along the way we met Jerry Bruckheimer, presented concepts to Gore Verbinski and shot for two days in the California desert.

What work challenge keeps you up at night?

Usually, I’m out in 5 minutes. I do tend to have these stressful, vaguely work-related dreams, sometimes involving goats.

Can you tell us about a campaign or work project you’d like to do over?

Not really. You can always look back at something and find flaws, but I try not to dwell on them. Just make the next assignment better. With the pace we work at today, the next challenge is always waiting.

Tell me about the people who have been most influential in your career and the direction they provided.

I’ve been blessed to have great bosses and mentors over the years. They were all insanely talented, but they were all genuinely good people who took an interest in my career and gave me opportunities to shine. I’ve tried to embody these traits and instill those values in my teams. A boss once told me to have passion and compassion. I think that’s a pretty simple way to put it.

What traits does a person need to succeed in your position?

Talent. Resilience. British accent.

Can you tell us something about yourself that your team would be surprised to know?

In my mind, I’m the fourth Beastie Boy.

Why did you go into marketing?

I’ve always loved to write, and I originally thought I would be a journalist, but advertising writing seemed to be a way to connect with the other things I loved as well — art, photography, film and music. It also seemed like a way to get paid a decent salary without having to shop at Men’s Wearhouse.

What other career would you like to try and why?

Bike shop mechanic. Those guys always seem cool.

What does your desk look like?

It’s a bit of a mess with a pile of overdue expense report receipts.

My favorite item is this sort of abstract sculpture my son made in an art class. It’s like a silver guy with a telescope standing amidst an electronic circuit board. I like to think it’s a trophy for general awesomeness.

Chris Cancilla workspace

What’s the last business book you read?

A co-worker turned me onto this awesome book published by the website 99U called Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind. Horrible title, but it’s filled with excellent short essays about how to be a more productive creative. It’s the kind of stuff you can act on immediately and see a change.

Outside of your company’s efforts, what ad campaign or video caught your eye recently?

Here are two things on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.

First, an incredibly jarring piece created for International Women’s Day. It’s actually unbranded, but unbelievably impactful:

[Warning: This video contains strong graphic images of domestic violence.]

Second, I’m a sucker for retro and love how these Daft Punk posters perfectly captured the style of their most recent album:

Daft Punk poster

[Credit image:]

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features: Get To Know | Interviews | Top News


About The Author: is Third Door Media's General Assignment Correspondent, and reports on the latest news and updates for Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including,, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy's articles.

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