Jason Wincuinas
Feb 17, 2014

Behind the scenes at Leo Burnett's global creative review

SINGAPORE - Leo Burnett invited Campaign Asia-Pacific for an exclusive inside view of its Global Product Committee (GPC). Kicked off some 20 years ago, the company positions the quarterly conference as a business tool for honing talent and sharing best practices within its network.

Leo Burnett's Singapore Office
Leo Burnett's Singapore Office

The 20th century’s unspoken contract between brands and passive TV viewers went out the window with the old millennia. Communicating brand image and core campaign ideas means marketers have to craft more than just a message. The multiple screens consumers use everyday are a source of both challenge and opportunity. The real target for the foreseeable future has to be relevance to people’s lives. Leo Burnett’s GPC is just one of the agency’s tools for tackling that difficult task.

Four times a year Leo Burnett embarks on a comprehensive review, with worldwide chief creative officer Mark Tutssel at the helm. He describes the assessment as a way to make 98 global offices act as a single creative department. “Creativity isn’t an option any more,” he says. “As advertisers we don’t have a divine right to people’s time.”

This quarter the global agency picked Singapore to host its GPC. “It might be costly to fly people from all over the world to one location four times every year,” commented Jarek Ziebinski, the agency's Asia-Pacific president, “but this is an investment. Creativity is our product and this process is quality control.”

Creative heads from around the world gather in front of a large video screen to view, critique and rate work from every corner of the agency’s network. “It’s not an awards show,” said Tutssel, “but it runs a bit like one.” However, the prize in this case is constructive criticism. “We want to produce inspiration as well as education.”

Tutssel’s reputation in the industry is luminary and he takes this global creative role seriously, travelling to all the agency’s offices throughout the rest of the year when he’s not running a GPC. But when he is at one, he sits at the head table with a sharp focus on the whole room. He expects everyone to be prepared with thoughtful discourse on any piece of work. “If you stare at your phone or look like you might be nodding off, you can be sure you’ll be the next person called on,” said one of the creative heads during a break. “But it's good,” he added, perhaps speaking from experience.

After viewing a case study all GPC participants rate the work and hash out both effectiveness and shortcomings. There’s no fluff allowed and new ideas arise out of the discussion. When the “popping excuses” breast cancer event came up for review, which Campaign Asia-Pacific previously reported had nearly doubled mammogram appointments in the Singapore, the panel was unsatisfied. Panel members wanted more “connective tissue” between the physical act of popping bubble wrap and getting women to sign up for, and actually go to, mammogram appointments. Suggestions followed about how to extend the idea to more platforms and places.

“This is what lets us punch above our weight,” Tutssel explained during the course of the day. The agency has also run similar formats with single clients to help refine what a brand stands for and to better develop a company’s sense of purpose. “It forces them to look at their brand through a human lens,” Tutssel said.

The goal, he explained, is to always strive for a connection. “Consumers no longer tolerate brands talking at them.” Maybe that worked in the TV age but “unless you give people something that’s instantly rewarding, they’ll be off somewhere else.”

The GPC wrapped up last week but in the midst of it Tutssel sat down to explain the meeting’s purpose, history and results. He also shared his views on the industry as a whole along the way, giving insight about brands, social media and the enduring need for good storytelling. Read Byravee Iyer’s full interview with Tutssel tomorrow.

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