Robert Sawatzky
Oct 8, 2018

Mark Tutssel: Creativity "should not be compromised by numbers"

Leo Burnett's executive chairman and global chief creative expounds on agency brands, on how creative and business goals are linked, and on the state of Asian creativity.

Mark Tutssel
Mark Tutssel

In February, global CCO Mark Tutssel was named executive chairman of Leo Burnett Worldwide, becoming the agency's first creative leader since Leo Burnett himself. Now tasked with focusing on both creative excellence and business growth, Campaign asked him about that balance and more.

What’s changed for you since becoming executive chairman?

Since taking on the role, I’ve been focused on meeting with clients and visiting our offices all around the world, so there’s plenty about it that hasn’t changed. My remit remains making sure our creative product lives up to the standard that Leo Burnett the man set himself, which is to be “Best in the World—Bar None,” as well as making sure that our unique and special culture is thriving in all corners of the globe. I also still have the pleasure of hosting our regular global product committee, which just wrapped in Shanghai.

To what extent does managing the overall health of the business shape your view of delivering on creative priorities?

Obviously, growth is imperative. And in 2018, winning the Samsung global visual display business and the Cathay Pacific global account is a testament to the value that Leo Burnett provides clients as we accelerate into the future. To that effect, delivering on our creative priorities is my foremost responsibility because the overall health of our business depends on it. Our product is creativity, so our success as a network depends on the strength of our work. They’re inextricably linked, and it’s difficult to separate one from the other—particularly at a time when creativity is the most valuable asset in business.

Is ‘data-driven creativity’ overdone as an agency objective? Is data just as likely to compromise creativity as it is to inspire it? 

The debate around data is a bit like the debate around technology—each can compliment our work, but both should work only in service of our creative product. Data can make our work more targeted and effective, but it’s meaningless without creativity. The same could be said of technology. Make no mistake, the modern tools at our disposal are incredibly powerful, but we must remain steadfast that creativity is our magic, and should not be compromised by numbers.

You have a special successful creative relationship with Samsung. What drives it? Is having cool new technology a huge bonus or is it more about the way you work together?

Samsung and Leo Burnett are both driven by purpose, and each relentlessly focused on people and their behavior. Starting from that same vantage sets the stage for great collaboration. Samsung is changing the world with technology that helps people achieve the impossible. We’re fortunate to get to bring that mission to life through rich, emotional, human storytelling that puts people at the center.

That shared mindset has paved the way for remarkable work like Samsung “Ostrich”, one of the most awarded films in our industry this year, as well as a legacy of innovative creative solutions like “Safety Truck,” “BrainBand” and the “Maestros Academy.”

Of course, being named “Creative Marketer of the Year” at Cannes Lions and Spikes Asia is conclusive proof of their belief in the power of creativity to transform their business and play a meaningful and valuable role in people’s lives.

Many can see why the Power of One model makes sense for Publicis and clients. But is the side effect the erosion of Leo Burnett’s culture? Will agency brands continue to mean anything?

The Power of One model is only as strong as the brands within it, so there’s still a critical role for our agency brands. Clients want to work with an agency like Leo Burnett because it’s renowned for delivering outstanding work. Our culture all around the world remains focused on that mission, which make us an even more valuable part of any given Power of One solution.

We just completed our most recent global product committee meeting in Shanghai, which is the interface for our network’s Creativity Without Borders operating system. It allows us to harness the collective firepower of the network to curate world-class teams charged with delivering innovative creative solutions for our clients. You’ve witnessed the results of this unique model with groundbreaking work like P&G Always “#LikeAGirl” and Coca-Cola “Small World Machines,” among others.

Why do you think Asian work has struggled at global awards shows like Cannes Lions and what needs to happen for more winners from Spikes to be recognised globally?

There’s a rich creative tradition that runs throughout this region, and I’ve long appreciated the diversity of thinking across cultures we see each year at Spikes. As we all know, our industry continues to adjust to a radically new media landscape fueled by the digital revolution. The ensuing shift has pushed our work from traditional advertising toward less clearly defined creative solutions. I suspect that the region’s struggle to win in Cannes is connected to the same growing pains, and that we’ll see more Asian work gracing the Palais very soon.

What excites you most about new work you see?

After having the privilege of chairing the inaugural Sustainable Development Lions at Cannes this year, I’ve been most excited about ideas with the potential to change our world. Once upon a time, our industry was charged with helping build awareness about the challenges we face as a planet. Now we have the incredible opportunity to solve real global problems with the power of creativity. I’ve been inspired by a lot of work this year, but ideas like the “Palau Pledge” and the “Trash Isles” stand out in their ambition to change the world.

This interview took place in the lead-up to Spikes Asia 2018.

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