Nicky Bullard has a lot to be proud of. She was the first creative woman to become chair of a UK marketing agency. She has won numerous awards for her work across a multitude of disciplines. She has been a recognised and respected member of international juries across adland. Given her immense success within the biz, it would appear safe to assume she had strategically mapped out a clear path to the top from the start – but that was not the case.
In this conversation, LBB’s April Summers learns how Nicky’s impressive career, accolades and accomplishments are a result of an unabashedly open-minded nature. Over the course of the last thirty years, she has embraced every creative opportunity that presented itself to her: starting out as a journalism intern turned copywriter; to her position as the head of copy at M&C Saatchi; to chief creative officer at MRM and MullenLowe UK. LBB was thrilled to grab the group chief creative officer for this edition of 5 Minutes with… to talk about her current role and everything that came before.
LBB> Did you grow up in a creative household? Can you remember your very first creative ambition or project?
Nicky> Dad was a police sergeant, Mum cared for the elderly - nobody worked in the creative industries. I wanted to be a journalist, so I carried a clunky tape recorder around and interviewed everyone. I spent a couple of summer holidays working for the local newspaper. I just loved writing, and I’m nosey.
The first ad I worked on that I was really proud of was for Wonderbra. I took two weeks’ holiday from my first copywriting job to work at TBWA for free. Trevor Beattie was running the show which was so cool. Wonderbra was their star account and in those two weeks I got an ad through. It was featured in Cosmopolitan - a full page next to the horoscopes - and the headline (over the model in the bra) read: “Why worry about what’s in front of you?” It was awarded Campaign’s ad of the month. This was the project which gave me the confidence to leave my job – I’m not sure it would run now though!
LBB> What was your first job in the industry and how has adland changed since then?
Nicky> A small, direct response ad agency doing investment ads. It may not sound exciting but for a first job, it really was! Big budgets, but tight regulations. It was the ideal training and I met some beautiful people during my time there. Then I did the TBWA thing and left.
LBB> How has adland changed?
Nicky> There is so much that’s better now from an inclusivity point of view but we are not entirely there yet. Being a woman and having not gone to university, I think I was often underestimated. I decided to turn being underestimated into a strength: it gave me the power to surprise all the time.
LBB> If you could travel back in time to the start of your career and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Nicky> You are enough. Just be you.
LBB> We’d love to learn about your journey to group chief creative officer at MullenLowe Group UK - did you consciously map out a clear career plan for yourself or was it more of a happy accident?
Nicky> Nah, I have honestly ridden the wave. I am not sure I could ever have planned going from 11-year old with a tape recorder to a European Chairwoman making work for some of the biggest brands in the world – it’s been a very, very happy accident.
LBB> You’ve been in this new role for just over a year now – what has been the most exciting aspect of the job? Have you encountered anything unexpected?
Nicky> Oh my goodness, so many new opportunities! Working in one discipline for the previous six years was amazing, but being able to influence the whole picture is marvellous. Creativity is everyone’s top priority here, across the board. It is soooo refreshing.
LBB> How would you summarise the relationship between yourself, as CCO, and Ayesha Walawalkar, CSO and Claire Hollands, CEO?
Nicky> It’s not a business thing, it’s a human thing. We have a deep connection, shared love of the work and to be decent people.
LBB> How does this role differ from your previous position as CCO at MRM? What has this taught you about your approach to creativity?
Nicky> I loved my time at MRM. I ran a very successful business - financially and creatively - and hope I proved that creative people can do both. When I joined, my ambition for the agency was to win Campaign’s Agency of the Year award, because the criteria is everything that makes a great agency. And in my final year we bloody won it! I also won Agency Leader of the Year for Customer Engagement which made me laugh and cry all at once. I learnt that creativity can be applied to all aspects of the business. Creatives like to interrogate, turn things upside down, and that requires bravery.
LBB> What is your approach to setting the creative direction that best aligns with MullenLowe business objectives?
Nicky> Let’s punch above our weight. And never be satisfied.
LBB> What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far? And why?
Nicky> Every time I’ve led an agency that’s won Agency of the Year. Because that’s not about a single piece of work, it’s about all the work and all the people.
LBB> And how do you switch off from work? How do you like to spend your free time?
Nicky> I cook and listen to the Archers… and watch Married at First Sight Australia. I know, rock and roll. I also love fashion and buy a lot of clothes. Not always successfully!
LBB> Finally, who inspires you - both personally and professionally? What is it about them that stands out?
Nicky> My mum and dad for their selflessness. My husband for his patience and how he has brilliantly brought up our two boys as a stay-at-home dad for over 20 years. My two boys’ kind hearts. My kickass sisters. There are amazing people in advertising, but these are my heroes.