Power of Agency Brands: In Conversation with MullenLowe



“Positive change comes from positive dissatisfaction”

Creativebrief’s Stephanie Nattu speaks to MullenLowe UK duo Claire Hollands, CEO and Nicky Bullard, CCO in the latest interview with agency leaders on the power of agency brands.

MullenLowe UK has launched its new proposition recently and looking to continue to build on it as we rapidly approach the new year. Claire Hollands explains that the octopus, which many know the agency for, embodies the agency’s spirit to adapt, change and thrive.

Nicky Bullard, CCO at MullenLowe UK, complements this sentiment by explaining that “it’s not enough” and that positive dissatfication in action is applied to everything the agency does.

When giving their expert advice to other agency leaders to build a strong agency brand, the MullenLowe duo explain that “you have to live and breathe it.” An agency’s people are its ambassadors of its brand and in order to exist in such a challenging market, you have to put your stamp on it. This means building your brand internally and living and breathing those values through your agency everyday.

It’s no good having [your agency brand] sit in your manifesto and in your creds, you have to live and breathe it through your whole agency

Claire Hollands, CEO at MullenLowe UK

Watch the full interview to glean more tips, learn more about which agency brands Claire and Nicky admire (spoiler alert: it’s inhouse!), and discover how positive dissatisfaction translates into ESG frameworks:

Power of Agency Brands interview series

As the agency landscape continues to shift, change and become more complex and the industry grapples with a state of permacrisis, we set out to distil the power of agency brands: why every agency should dedicate time to developing their brand to cut through the noise, win big and just how they can go about building it.

As part of this, we’ve been chatting to some of the top agencies in the industry to get their thoughts, insight and future plans. Our own Stephanie Nattu has interviewed agency leaders about their own approach to building a strong agency brand, why they personally think it’s important to build up their brands, which other agency brands they admire and more.

You can visit the Power of Agency Brands hub here to check out the other interviews.

Interview transcript

Steph:  Hi, I'm Stephanie Nattu, Associate Board Director and Business Director at Creativebrief. Welcome to another episode of The Power of Agency Brand interview series. Today we have Claire Hollands, CEO and Nicky Bullard, Chief Creative Officer of Mullenlowe UK. So to get started tell us a little bit about your agency brand and your proposition.

Claire: We're really excited about our agency brand because actually it's very new to us. So lots of people might know us for our octopus but actually what people haven't realized about our octopus is that actually embodies our spirit and that spirit is all about the fact that we adapt and change and thrive. So we believe that positive change comes from positive dissatisfaction and that's really about challenging the status quo and making an active decision to change what is there in front of you or things we're not actively happy about.

Steph: What makes your agency unique in three words only?

Nicky: it's not enough. And I'm not talking about the agency. It's not enough is positive dissatisfaction in action so it's those three words that we apply to everything we do. So when we get a challenge from our clients we'll say it's not enough for us just to do that or it's not enough for the brand just to say that. We think about what is it we can actually do to affect positive change and it actually applies across to the creative work as well saying it's not good enough or it's not enough pushes you to be better and better and the work just gets better and better.

Steph: What would be your number one tip to other senior agency leaders to help them build their agency brand?

Nicky: I think it's the same when you're creating work for your clients and building their brand it's that absolute belief that what you're saying comes from a point of truth and authenticity if you try to do something that isn't quite correct nobody else is going to believe it and I think that's why that's very important

Claire: and I think to build on that I would say you have to live and breathe it. It can't just be sitting in decks and presentations our people are our ambassadors of our brand and I think they have to really understand it and believe it and live it in terms of how they're showing up day to day with our existing clients not just new clients.

Steph: Tell me, why is it important to continue to build your agency brand?

Claire: I think we exist in such a challenging market place, every agency is out saying they're an integrated creative agency and I think it's really about how you put your stamp on that how you show up and actually we've talked a little bit about it is an external thing but it's actually also an internal thing. So I think it's very much about how you live and breathe those behaviours through your agency because actually it's our teams on the ground that are our brand so it's no good just having it sitting up in a kind of a manifesto of your creds you've actually got to really live and breathe that ethos through your whole agency.

Steph: and in your opinion, in both your opinions, what is it exactly that makes up a strong agency brand?

Nicky: I think it's two things, consistency and inconsistency which sounds a bit strange, the consistency point is about consistency in your values about how you show up, about what you think is good and the bar that you set yourself.

The inconsistency bit plays back into our octopus, I don't know if you said this Claire, but it's the only living organism to continually re-edit its DNA which is kind of crazy but it does that to thrive and adapts to thrive and we have to do that we have to be inconsistent in what we make and what we do but do it through a consistent lens of our values and how we want to show up in the industry and in the world.

Steph: Is there a difference from say 10 years ago in terms of what makes a strong agency brand compared to today?

Claire: I think so, I think one of the things that we've always done is kind of adapt and thrive and I think what we've actually done in our new positioning is really capsulate actually what that positive dissatisfaction is and I think actually we now want to hold on to that and make that an enduring brand platform for us because I think although we've always done it we possibly haven't defined it and I think I'm excited about that now being our sort of enduring thought. We build them for clients all the time and actually, I think this for us now is about us for the next 10 years and how we will continue to evolve under that platform.

Steph: What are the plans for the rest of the year for you to continue to build your agency brand?

Claire: I think we need to get out there and talk about it more to be really honest I mean it only got really launched just before Cannes I think we really wanted to make sure that we've unpacked our own story and are really clear about that. So we're excited about kind of closing the year and getting that story out but I think there's lots more we plan to do next year in terms of telling that story further.

Steph: and now I have to ask for both of you, what agency brand do you most admire and why?

Nicky: So there could be some obvious answers here which I'm sure there are some very popular agency brands. I think one that I particularly admire and because they've stuck true to their brand is McCann if you think about truth well told is 80 years old and they stuck to that and I think the work that's come out of that agency in the last 5 years especially the work for Microsoft has had that consistency they've kept their bar up and all their briefs and all their work are built around truth and I love that. I think you know there's integrity to the work it's not the next cool thing to put out there, you know that it's got that deep strategic thinking that is true to their brand as well as the brands they're working for

Steph: thank you for that, Claire?

Claire: I'm going to give an answer to that that I don't know if it's really allowed but I'm going to actually say the in-house agency at Channel 4 because we don't always talk about in-house agencies and actually I think the Channel 4 in-house agency is creating culture and I think that's an incredible thing to be doing and I think they often set the creative bar. Actually you know whether it's idents or whether it's the content they're creating I think it's amazing and I think we should aspire to look out to the entertainment category more as agencies in terms of the type of work that we create.

Nicky: I've actually got another one as well Apple in-house you think the work that was in Cannes product demos done in the most incredible way the work that's coming out of Apple internally their agency is off the scale and I think if you said five years ago about in-house agencies you'd have been a bit like really? Yeah now we're saying really!

Steph: And that's because they've been massively recruiting from agencies right?

Nicky: absolutely absolutely

Steph: great answers, thank you. And my last question for you is, how important are ESG Frameworks when thinking about building an agency brand?

Claire: hugely. I think actually one of the things that I like about positive dissatisfaction is that we can take it through into that ESG framework. Some people might know us for the Invisible Powerhouse which was all about talking about over 50s within our industry but also within our client world and I think that's just one example of actually we weren't satisfied about something and so we kind of made it our agenda and we've applied that to lots of different things. We're one of the first agencies to be part of the Bloody Good Employee periods initiative, we've done The Ship which is our big apprenticeship because we wanted to bring a different type of more diverse talent into the industry so I think it's again that sort of restlessness that's meant that we apply that just also through that ESG framework and then actually we also have our purpose and sustainability consultancy that's been with us for over 20 years. I feel like they were talking about purpose and sustainability before any marketeer was and again I think that's a really different string to our bow maybe to compare to some other agencies out there.

Steph: Thank you very much for being on the show.

Claire and Nicky: thanks for having us.


You may also be interested in

Read more

Power of Agency Brands: In Conversation with Digitas

By Creativebrief

In the final interview of the first ‘Power of Agency Brand’ series in conversation with some of the top leaders in the industry, Jen Berry, UK CEO at Digitas, talks to us about people, culture and positive impact.

Read more

Power of Agency Brands: In Conversation with Quiet Storm

By Creativebrief

Culture, consistency and integrity: building Quiet Storm’s strong agency brand, Creativebrief’s Stephanie Nattu speaks to Rania Robinson.

Read more

Power of Agency Brands: In Conversation with Edelman

By Creativebrief

Matt Brown, Managing Director at PR agency, Edelman talks to Creativebrief’s Stephanie Nattu about trust, change and growth in the latest episode of the power of agency brand interview series.