Michael O'Neill
Jan 27, 2011

Creative profile: Leo Burnett's collaborative approach

Agencies are opting to eliminate the regional ECD role and instead have focused teams of creatives working across a number of sub-regions.

Leo Burnett's 'multi-headed' creative team.
Leo Burnett's 'multi-headed' creative team.

Looking across many of the creative networks in Asia-Pacific, it would appear the age of the regional creative is almost over. 

Less and less agencies are relying on an individual figurehead for their creative focus, and are instead building internal mechanisms that best exploit the region-wide talent at their disposal.

In the latest move, Leo Burnett has introduced what it calls a ‘multi-headed’ creative approach - officially known as the Internal Product Committee (IPC) - that taps into the network’s creative talent with the intention of spreading the agency’s creative culture across different offices.

Leo Burnett is not alone in moving in this direction. DDB has a Regional Executive Creative Council made up of ECDs from around the region. Similarly, BBDO does not believe in having a regional creative. Rather it focuses on having a collection of the very best creative talent market by market, resulting in an environment where they can work together collaboratively on cross-border projects.

Does this mean the regional ECD role is redundant? Jarek Ziebinski, president, Leo Burnett & Arc Asia-Pacific appears to think so.

“At the speed of the fast-changing world that we live in, it is difficult for one person to devote the same level of  energy and attention to all offices and every issue that arises,” he says. “I have always believed that there had to be a more innovative and efficient solution to the problem.”

In Leo Burnett’s case, this has meant charging additional geographical responsibilities to four of their leading creative heads - Andy DiLallo, ECD for Sydney, Jason Williams, ECD for Melbourne, Chris Chiu, group ECD of the agency’s Singapore office and Shapoor Batiwalla, regional CD in Hong King.

So far at least, it could be argued that the system is working, and working well. Leo Burnett was the most awarded Asian agency at this year’s Cannes Advertising Festival, and was a major recipient at several other award shows.

But the initiative is not all about bringing home award show metal. A key aim of the IPC has been to reach out to more employees, particularly those who may not be directly involved in the creative product, to enhance the agency’s culture of creativity.

“Jarek insists that all local management sit through the entire IPC and ‘encourages’ agency staff to sit through for as much as they can,” says Chiu. “We even had a major client attend one of our sessions one time. The team ownership they have becomes glaringly obvious and one can sense the level of pride that each might have with the final product. It keeps everyone on their toes - all for the greater good, naturally.”

An obvious question though, is the potential difficulty of managing four creative egos all tasked with a similar objective. 

Ziebinski argues there have been no problems with this at all. 

“What it has brought is a wonderful collaboration among the four creative leaders, other creative directors and the local offices,” he says. “The new scheme and the regular creative interaction have resulted in a heightened sense of comradeship among all the offices.”

It also means that the creative leadership team is able to spread itself across more markets at any one time, and as such have a much greater involvement in the full creative process.

“One of the good things about this process is that it is more thorough. We get to see work in progress and can get constructive with the base ideation and creative strategy at the earlier stages,” says Chiu. 

“This hopefully leads to stronger work that will resonate with people and eventually juries.”

This article was originally published in the January 2011 issue of Campaign Asia-Pacific.

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