Leo Burnett Australia’s CCO on equal marriage, trolley-pushing and supporting emerging talent
For over a decade Jason Williams has played a key role in Leo Burnett in Melbourne’s creative offering, founding the YoungGuns International Awards to celebrate emerging talent and eventually rising to Executive Creative Director. Then in March this year he was named Chief Creative Officer for Leo Burnett Australia and this year the Sydney and Melbourne offices have been turning out impressive work for clients like Honda, Samsung and the Equality Marriage ‘Yes’ campaign, for which we will discover the results this week. Both agencies seem to be firing on all cylinders at the moment.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Jason to reflect on his first few months heading up the whole country’s creative output for the network.
LBB> What were you like growing up? And when did you first have an inkling that advertising might be for you?
JW> I was a fairly standard kid, always intrigued by creativity. Whether I was immersed in a drawing or watching Star Wars for the first time, I loved the adrenaline creativity generates. Art school changed everything for me. I thrived on the conversation and connection with my peers and began to really understand the creative process. Two extreme choices came my way: do I follow my passion and a degree in Printmaking or try Advertising (which I knew little about)? Fortunately, I was accepted into both courses and my pragmatic brain took over; I chose advertising! Luckily, it proved to be an industry full of amazingly talented creative people that fuelled my hunger. In the last decade, I’ve come to fully appreciate how potent and effective creativity can be and how as humans, we are intuitively creative problem solvers.
LBB> How do you feel about where Leo Burnett Australia sits right now, a few months into your role as national CCO?
KW> I’m proud of Leo Burnett’s creative DNA, it runs very deep in our company. We’re working hard to further evolve our narrative to a creative solutions company, the first being the introduction of DOD (Department of Design). For us, design is an integral part of the creative journey and vital to our clients. A few months into the job I can confidently say everyone at Leo Burnett believes creativity has the power to change human behaviour and we’re collectively on a mission to be one of the most creative companies in the world.
LBB> What's the transition been like, moving from being Melbourne-focused to working with Sydney as well?
JW> I’m very lucky to have been given the opportunity to grow the Leo Burnett brand in Australia and work with such talented people every day. You need energy and focus to add value in both offices and I’m still figuring out the right balance. We’ve had some good wins so far!
LBB> You've been working closely with Melinda Geertz, CEO of Leo Burnett Australia, too. What's the dynamic like between you two? How do you work together?
JW> Partnership and collaboration are crucial components of running a successful company. Melinda and I have genuine mutual respect for each other and a universal belief that creativity can solve any business problem. There’s no doubt, I would not have achieved the things I have without Melinda’s support and patience. She would agree, I’m not the easiest person to work with at times and probably deserves an award for that!
LBB> Your recent work on Honda has been epic. Can you tell us a bit about the strategy and creative thinking there?
JW> Honda is one of the most dynamic and human-focussed brands on the planet. Creative solutions are a natural part of their DNA and they understand the need to break category norms to build brand affinity. The standard is high in the Honda world, with the UK producing some world-class highlights such as Cog, Grrr and The Other Side. Our strategic focus in Australia is slightly different, but we’re working very hard to one day reach those dizzying heights.
LBB> Australia's on the verge of finding out the result of its equal marriage vote. Leo Burnett played a significant part in that. What are your thoughts on the campaign?
JW> It’s a contentious issue down under, so our creative instinct was to connect with Australians on an emotional level. At a time when the argument was Yes or No, we decided to remind people that everyone is entitled to love. One of our young creatives had the brilliant idea to infiltrate The Bachelor with an emotional film as the nation was thinking heterosexual marriage. The agency and partners rallied bringing our young creative’s story to life and the result was an overwhelming outpour of emotion. Fingers crossed, the numbers are looking positive for the ‘Yes’ vote and I’m just glad we had the chance to influence the conversation.
LBB> What prompted you to set up the YoungGuns International Award 16 years ago?
JW> As a young creative I remember how hard it was to compete for briefs and opportunities against senior people. So, we set out to create an environment for young creatives to compete with peers only. YGA grew into a show that not only celebrated innovative work, but it naturally began to educate the next generation of judges.
LBB> What did you learn from the festival over the years and how has it developed?
JW> If you’re a young creative reading this, go hard now! Many of the YGA winners have become leaders of agencies today. In hindsight, I wish I’d been more ambitious at a younger age. It was when the festival made the decision to only recruit jurors under 30, that we saw a profound change. YGA effectively became a training ground for jury members to hone their skills and sharpen decision making. The One Show does a great job in supporting young creatives and with all the YGA founders consumed with larger roles we decided to call it a day. I’m so proud of what we achieved and how the YGA platform has contributed to the industry by developing CD’s of the future.
LBB> I saw a comment on an article online that you "used to push a mean trolley back in the day." What do they mean by that?
JW> Wow, you dug deep there. To get me through university I worked at Kmart for many years, part of my job was to collect trolleys.
Pushing 30 at a time is no mean feat!
LBB> What’s exciting you about advertising right now? And what’s frustrating you?
JW> Increasingly changing the narrative from advertising to creative solutions company is my focus right now. It’s become such a competitive and cluttered landscape with the introduction of consultancies. Everyone’s fighting for a piece of the pie, that’s frustrating and equally exhilarating to be constantly in battle for business. Hence the reason we’re in the process of future-proofing ourselves and evolving the Leo Burnett offering.
LBB> I hear you're a mountain fan. What do you love about high altitudes?
JW> Space to think, time to reflect and self-assess. It’s so important for creative people to do that – actually for everyone, for that matter. Riding or hiking allows me to clear the mind and see things coming.
LBB> Is there anything else outside of work that you draw inspiration from?
JW> Everything! What an amazing planet we live on, there is literally inspiration everywhere. What’s truly mind blowing is we’re one planet of millions and there’s so much we don’t know!
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