Leo Burnett Chicago chief creative Britt Nolan and chief strategy officer Emma Montgomery are stepping up as co-presidents of the Publicis Groupe shop’s flagship office, the agency told staffers today. Both will also maintain their current roles.
Nolan and Montgomery will continue to report to Andrew Swinand, CEO of Leo Burnett Group in North America. Swinand will still have responsibility for Leo Burnett Group’s initiatives and financial delivery, with Leo Burnett Detroit and Arc Worldwide continuing to report to him.
Under the new structure, Nolan will oversee product leadership, including the agency’s vision, culture and product standards, as well as oversee creative and production functions. He joined the agency in Chicago in 2009 and was promoted to the chief creative role in 2016, working on Allstate’s “Mayhem,” Samsung’s “Ostrich” and the “VanGogh BnB,” which gave people the chance to rent a reproduction of Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom for a night for the Art Institute of Chicago.
Montgomery’s new role encompasses product strategy as well as oversight of the agency’s business leadership function, with the planning department and Chicago business leadership team reporting to her. She joined Leo Burnett Chicago as chief strategy officer in 2017 after previously working at Leo Burnett Sydney.
Nolan said the duo wants to get to work making changes in their first year.
“Our biggest and first priority is to really clearly focus the culture of the place,” he says. “We have an amazing culture as it is, but I think the two of us at the lead, from a real product-centric point of view, is going to provide a lot of focus and, we think, re-energizing.”
He said that will mean “focusing and aligning everything unmistakably behind the product that we create.” It will also include evolving the way the agency works.
“I think the industry has been kind of tweaking its approach over time as we’ve been under more and more pressure,” Nolan says. “There are ways we can more radically reinvent our approach to creativity.”
But what does that mean, really? Montgomery says that could involve looking at team structures and processes, which she says may sound boring but can make a big difference. It also means looking at the diversity of talent working on clients and the makeup of teams.
It’s all in an effort to create lasting, memorable ideas for clients, and not just short-term work that is forgotten, Montgomery says. She says that enduring work is what she thinks Leo Burnett is known for and hopes to see more of that kind of work in the year ahead.
“Legacy” creative shops have gotten flak in recent years for being bloated and behind-the-times. Montgomery says some quote-unquote traditional shops have indeed lost their way in recent years.
“There’s no doubt, if you’re born modern, you work differently,” she says. She says at times she thinks her own agency has felt the weight of its legacy.
But in recent years, “it’s been a modernization of how Leo Burnett works, but also an understanding of what is at the heart of who we are,” she says. “We pull out the Leo Burnett quote book all the time. He was so right. One of his things was, ‘What helps people, helps business.’ That’s the foundation of how we work. That’s enduring.”
Publicis Groupe’s “Power of One” strategy is also helping Leo Burnett to be the agency it wants to be without having to be a one-stop shop for a client, Nolan says.
“It affords us the opportunity to let us focus,” he says. “There was a time when big agencies were trying to become everything.”
Having the holding company orchestrate relationships where clients can tap into multiple agencies for the capabilities they want lets the agency “trim the things that Leo Burnett is not supposed to be and really focus on our core and our brand proposition, which is really liberating.”