Wake The Town
Gear Seven/Arc Studios/Shift
Contemplative Reptile
  • International Edition
  • USA Edition
  • UK Edition
  • Australian Edition
  • Canadian Edition
  • Irish Edition
  • German Edition
  • French Edition
  • Singapore Edition
  • Spanish edition
  • Polish edition
  • Indian Edition
  • Middle East edition
  • South African Edition

5 Minutes with… Lucy Jameson


Founder of Uncommon Creative Studio on making a hair dryer shaped like Piers Morgan’s head, building up a documentary slate and endless expansion, writes LBB’s Zoe Antonov

5 Minutes with… Lucy Jameson

In September 2017, Uncommon Creative Studio’s story began, with its founders - Lucy Jameson, Nils Leonard and Natalie Graeme - and one clear purpose: building brands that people in the real world actually wish existed, either by working with clients or by creating brands themselves.

But this is not where Lucy’s story within the advertising industry began - she started her career at BMP DDB after reading history at Oxford University, and during her 20 years at DDB she worked her way from graduate trainee account planner to global head of strategy. 

Prior to founding Uncommon, Lucy was chief strategy officer and then CEO of Grey London, during which time the agency won two Grand Prix at Cannes, IPA Effectiveness Agency of the Year, Effie Awards Europe Agency of the Year and picked up a coveted Cannes Black Creative Effectiveness Lion for its work with the British Heart Foundation. Another win from her time at Grey was that, there, she met the two other parts of what would become Uncommon - Nils and Natalie.

Since they launched Uncommon, the trio have been working with clients such as ITV, The Guardian, OVO, WWF, Habito, Ecover, Chilly’s, BrewDog and Nike. 

To find out more about her life and career, LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Lucy about building brands with a purpose, why Uncommon is a studio and not just an ad agency, and much more.

LBB> How did your career in advertising start and did you always know you'd be doing this? 

Lucy> Like most people, I fell into advertising. I was in my final year of studying at Oxford and trying to figure out what to do when I graduated. I knew I needed to get a well paying job if I wanted to move to London with all my friends. Beyond that, all I knew was that I wanted to do something a bit more creative than banking or law. So, I went to the Oxford University careers service and went through their library. Luckily, advertising begins with an A.

LBB> Tell me more about the trajectory of your career and how you landed in your specialism? What is special about it to you?

Lucy> I was lucky enough to start as a graduate trainee account planner at BMP DDB, one of two agencies that can credibly claim to have invented account planning. I love figuring out why people do what they do, so brand and advertising strategy always felt like a great fit for me. I find people endlessly fascinating.

Unusually, I stayed at DDB for the best part of 20 years. They allowed me to go from grad trainee to running the global planning group and sitting on the global executive committee of DDB Worldwide. I think that exposure to the global executive then made me far more interested in the business of advertising. That helped when I ultimately became chief exec at Grey London, which was where I met Nils and then Natalie.

LBB> When you, Nils, and Natalie launched Uncommon, you also launched a coffee company? Tell me more about what was behind that decision.

Lucy> I’ve always believed that the best creative people have a vision for the whole brand, not just the ads. That creativity can have a genuinely transformative effect on businesses.  Great creative thinking can change the way colleagues - not just consumers - view a brand.  Great creative thinking can transform a customer experience. It can change the approach to sales, discounting and pricing, or packaging and products. Building our own brands, from Halo Coffee to Sex Brand more recently, is our attempt to put that philosophy into action.  That’s also why we haveinvested in an accelerator programme - UNREST ( - for impact-led startups. To date, we’ve helped build 31 brands who have gone through the accelerator programme. Brands that all have a purpose and are built around the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

LBB> Uncommon's beginning is so inspiring. You guys were named the most 'exciting start-up' in the industry - What do you think made you exciting? And what makes Uncommon exciting today?

Lucy> First off - thanks for saying that! I think perhaps it’s because we always had a different point of view - we wanted to build brands that mattered to people in the real world. And, we wanted to build a studio, not just an ad agency. A fluid place dedicated to making. We have a shooting space in our basement and we’ve made everything from a hair dryer shaped like Piers Morgan’s head, to a fragrance that smelled like a baby, to candles that smelled like the things you missed during the pandemic - ie. the festival, the cinema and the pub. 

Most recently, we’re trying to apply our approach to production and content too. With two feature films out in the world, we’re also building up a documentary slate. We’re always looking for where we can push the boundaries next. At some stage, I’d love to get into whether we can apply our approach to architecture and the built environment.

LBB> You also do mentoring in the industry - tell me more about why this is an important part of what you do.

Lucy> I’m extremely lucky as I came from a privileged background, got a scholarship to boarding school and went to Oxford University. But, I really had no female role models when I started in the world of work. None of the women in my family or family friends had careers. My mother once said to me, ‘what a shame you got the brains not your brother’, as in my parents’ world, women looked after their families rather than working. I think I was very naive about a lot of stuff. So, I’ve always wanted to help people starting out in the industry who don’t have sounding boards for how to navigate the world of work.  

LBB> What are some hard to swallow lessons you've learned in the industry that you wish you knew in the beginning?

Lucy> Advertising is a very competitive industry. New business is one place where strategists really have to prove their value. But, the odds suggest that you will lose more pitches than you win. That’s pretty tough to take when you first start out pitching. You can take it extremely personally. But, it’s where you learn how to get to an idea fast, how to go deep into a business and how to sell your thinking.

LBB> And what was something that seemed terrifying, but turned out well?

Lucy> Leaving WPP and starting our own business was terrifying. Jumping out of the security of big salaries and a clear career path was challenging, particularly with a young family and a large mortgage. Not only that, but we had to take a year out of the industry (half of which was unpaid), we had no idea of when we’d be able to start our business and we couldn’t make plans for the business during that year. 

Actually, that year out gave us a chance to explore things outside of the industry. I worked for charity, a media agency, mentored startups and worked for a start-up accelerator programme. We used a lot of that thinking to shape what we built at Uncommon. If we’d jumped straight out of WPP into Uncommon it might have looked more traditional.

LBB> What would be your professional advice to all young strategists out there - what are the toughest and the best parts of the specialism?

Lucy> I still love being around great creative and creative brains. Seeing the brilliant, lateral leaps they make. Opening up a different conversation around a brand is the best part of the job for me. It’s always really exciting seeing how far we can push it. Fundamentally, pushing it is the only way you do stuff that hasn’t been done before, which in turn is the only way you do something that will really stand out and drive attention and fame for our clients. That could be creating something like our recent ‘Yellow Sticker Cookbook’ which allows people to create recipes out of reduced/left over food, helping tackle the cost of living crisis. Or it could be creating our recent launch campaign for British Airways with 500+ original executions to dramatise our new positioning, ‘A British Original’. 

For me, personally, the toughest part is that in our industry, you are not always in control of your own destiny. Sometimes you can see the right thing to do but you can’t persuade everyone else. Obviously, that’s on us to paint a more compelling vision of what the future could look like. But sometimes you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. That’s why, at Uncommon, we’ve always been so focused around building some of our own brands and projects. We are always so careful to work with clients who share our values and view of the world. I believe you can only do great work together with your clients if you have a shared vision. I think that’s where so many agencies go wrong. They don’t see pitching and new business as a two way street, where both sides have to work out if there's a good fit. They just chase anything and everything, but building a brand is about being true to your purpose and values, that’s as true for us as it is for any of our clients. 

view more - 5 minutes with...
Sign up to our newsletters and stay up to date with the best work and breaking ad news from around the world.
Uncommon, Mon, 13 Mar 2023 16:33:10 GMT