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Keeping People at the Heart of What We Do

How Leo Burnett is creating a culture of ‘Greater Than’ as told by the cross-agency team leading the change.

*This article was originally published on AdForum, written by SVP, Group Creative Director, Melissa Healy, Director of Music Chris Clark, Senior Strategist Lisa Ivy and Executive Creative Director Kerri Soukup. *

“We are Citizens…”
“… of an empathetic and inclusive culture where people and creativity flourish.”

This is our mantra. It resounds with voices of every cadence from people of every kind, arising from deep conversation with each other.

Our work is guided by a principle we call HumanKind: an approach that is honest, transparent and authentic. It respects people and responds to their intuitive thirst for imagination and connection. It drives the belief that creativity has the power to transform human behavior.

And, in honor of International Day of Friendship—a day that advocates and celebrates a spirit of human solidarity—and Leo Burnett’s 83rd anniversary, both celebrated this week, we want to share our story.

Delivering Human Value
There’s a shift happening in the advertising industry, and a call for diversity is at its core. Our global population is larger and more varied than ever before. Fascinating demographic trends abound, and brands today demand that agencies match the makeup of their consumers. At the same time, today’s consumers expect brands to know them intimately, connecting in deeply personal and authentic ways.

The gauntlet has been thrown. For agencies, whose role and responsibility it is to bring audience understanding and consumer insight to their clients, we must rise to the occasion. Our CEO Andrew Swinand said recently, “This is a time when leaders need to be radically transforming their own organizations ahead of the market. The idea of transformation mandate was, for us, renewed purpose and really getting back to this idea and a quote from Leo Burnett: ‘What helps people helps business.’ If our core product is creativity, understanding people is actually the biggest value we can bring to clients.”

As a creative solutions company, we observe the inherent challenges of this era and our industry, and we couldn’t help but feel inspired to innovate. So, we asked ourselves a critical question: What’s the transformation we want to see?

Setting the Standard
Leo Burnett’s leadership presented this creative challenge to our community. Our charge was two-fold: 1. To explore the discounts that affect human value. The assumptions and biases across gender, race, sexuality, family construct, age, physicality and more that leave people feeling disconnected and unsupported. And 2. To learn how we can be a change agent, not only on a personal level, but on a cultural one.

So, we set to it in our own office. We opened doors and opened the floor, embracing opportunities for honesty and vulnerability as we shared our own life experiences. We quickly understood how critical conversation was to this empathic process. “You can’t change it if you can’t name it,” was a common refrain among us.

It was through deep and recurring group discussion that we identified the common denominator to discounting types of experiences: a feeling of “less than.” Maybe it was a time when someone was made to feel less valued, less respected, or less appreciated. Even if the impetus was unintentional, the effects were real.

Once we had identified the idea of “less than,” we were able to create the language of clear discounts and solutions. In a team brainstorm, “greater than” elevated to a much bigger idea, inspired by the notion that—individually and together—we are greater than the sum of our parts.

And so, we put a name to the change we wanted to beget: “Create Greater Than.” This became our rallying call in the agency to spark change.

Now, through digital awareness, neighborhood signage, artifacts and events, Burnetters are daily reminded of our collective strength and solidarity. The “greater than” symbol, proclaimed in bold colors and messages of intent teaches us the power of empathy and consciousness in our words and actions. When we see “Create Greater Than,” we understand that it’s a call for inclusiveness, a way of capturing our differences and unique perspectives, and channeling them to a more meaningful result. Simply put, it’s a way to say that we are at our best when our culture is open to every single one of us.

Better Together
Create Greater Than speaks to the whole—all of us together—so that we might each bring our whole selves to the table to create a stronger product. For us, it is essential.

In today’s high-touch world, the challenges are vast and companies know it. Every day, our clients come to us seeking to better understand the global environment and their role in it, to better know their audiences and how to reach them. As the man Leo Burnett once said, “The work of an advertising agency is warmly and immediately human. It deals with human needs, wants, dreams and hopes. It’s ‘product’ cannot be turned out on an assembly line.”

Our humanness is our greatest creative asset, and when we seek to understand people beyond ourselves, we grow its value exponentially. It’s how we celebrate the sensations of familial love, or empower people who previously had no voice, or address parity in places where it hasn’t traditionally been. When you pull empathy and consciousness into your work, you elevate the life experience, and extend it for the appreciation of others.

For Burnetters, the beautiful thing about Create Greater Than is that it emerges from the ethos of Leo Burnett’s legacy—it manifests in kind with the values of HumanKind, allowing us to take iconic tenets of our culture’s past and transport them into the culture we are looking to build. It’s both a return and a way forward, and the process has been illuminating to say the least. We’ve learned lessons of privilege and assumption, of discourse and discovery, of equity and balance, and ultimately of friendship. Friendship in the truest sense—the type that builds bridges and alliances, that unifies differences not by homogenizing but by honoring what makes us distinct, and participating in that profoundness together.

And we can’t help but feel that this story, of Create Greater Than, is a universal one.

Create Greater Than was, and continues to be, the work of all Burnetters. We’d like to thank the diverse and prismatic group, more than 50 strong, who leant their time, talent and passion to this initiative. We are a collective voice.

August 8, 2018