Leo Burnett's Andy Fergusson: Respecting audiences and the need for cut-through creative

By Ruby Derrick | 28 March 2024

Leo Burnett Australia’s chief creative officer Andy Fergusson says the industry needs to respect its audiences more. 

“We’re putting work out into the world - It's disrupting people's daily lives,” he told AdNews.

“We owe it to people and to society to make sure that what we put out into the world is clever, insightful and well crafted, while while still working hard to build the brand. It’s always a balance between those two things.”

Fergusson became CCO of Leo Burnett in January, leading the agency of around 70 people.

He started his career in advertising at Tequila Digital, before landing a job at Droga5 in 2009 as senior art director. He worked his way up to group creative director at the agency in 2017.

He joined Leo Burnett in January 2020 as ECD, and was then promoted to national ECD in August 2022 before becoming CCO.

Times are tough client side, says Fergusson. The agency is seeing brands cut budgets across the board.

“What we’re hearing a lot is that ideas need to work harder,” he says. “In some ways, I think that’s a good thing because they’re realising that we do need more cut-through creative.

“We need creative that’s going to stand out from the competition. We’re doing a lot more creative workshops with clients. We’re having global clients tell us they want their work on the world stage. So there is that positive to this type of a market where the competition pushes you to make more creative work.”

There’s a lot of things also happening in the pitch market, says Fergusson, with much more project work than there was in the past. 

There’s also a lot more agency panel models that are on the rise, he says.

“That's happening a lot more than it used to. As we saw with Telstra, there are really different models that clients are looking for now. 

“With Publicis, when it created the one P&L across the country, that actually makes those types of briefs a lot easier because we're seeing that type of work where you can put multiple agencies on things and connect it without the hassle of actually working with lots of different agencies.”

Fergusson says there’s been a lot of emphasis on marketing theory in the last few years.

That’s a good thing in part, he says. It holds creative agencies more accountable to the work they're producing, making sure they’re delivering results whether it's through testing or research afterwards. 

“I think sometimes it has been used as a crutch to not actually having an idea at the heart of things,” he says.

“We’re starting to see more of a shift back towards people believing that's not enough and that we really need to cut through."

But Fergusson thinks that's partly because people have been so used to bad advertising, they switch off.

Leo Burnett will be welcoming Clare Pickens as its new CEO, starting within the next month, says Fergusson. 

Emma Montgomery, the former CEO of Leo Burnett Australia, last year became CEO of DDB Chicago, two years after returning to Australia from the US.

“We’ve been without a CEO for a little bit so it’s going to be great; it sets a new vision going forward,” he says. 

In terms of other major business developments within the agency, Fergusson says there will also be a new GCD starting in the Melbourne office in April.

“That’s someone we’ve been looking for for a long time and we’re really happy with who we’ve found," he says.

The other shifts for the agency, says Fergusson, are happening since ex-Google APAC head of creative Dave Bowman joined as CCO of Publicis Groupe ANZ in March last year. 

“That’s starting to shape things in an interesting way for the group, putting creativity much more to the forefront of the group offering and connecting the dots a little bit better,” says Fergusson. 

Fergusson’s mission as CCO is focused on creating conditions for great work to happen. 

With Leo Burnett’s key clients being Suncorp Insurance, Suncorp Bank, Diageo, Destination NSW, Superloop, Craveables (Red Rooster), HBF, Twinings, Kellogg’s, Vitasoy, Saputo and Nintendo, Fergusson is leading the agency to continue to build these big behavioural ideas. 

“Where you can set groundwork for multi-year executions. We're seeing it with a few of our clients like Diageo and Superloop where we’ve created these big platforms that we can continue to make more and more creative work off the back of them. That’s my intention,” he says. 

“I see every brand we have as a creative opportunity, even if every brief isn't. It sometimes takes more time to get there, building it in, but that’s the intention.”

The agency’s mission is to continue to grow its existing clients. It will continue to pitch, says Fergusson, but there are lots of different things happening in-market. 

On the biggest challenge to navigate in ad land at the moment, Fergusson questions where to start. 

“Competition, so many agencies, AI. One of the things we’ve been talking about as an industry for a long time is really what the future is for young creatives, making this an industry where people want to get into and where more diversity happens,” he says. 

“We’re in a 50/50 gender split in our creative departments here, which goes all the way to leadership levels in creative. That’s something that’s paying dividends in the work we’re putting out there in the world.” 

It’s something that goes back to the education of things, in which AWARD, Australia’s course for aspiring creatives, is doing a lot of work in that, says Fergusson. 

“There's policies in place to help but it's a tricky one,” he says. “It's important because ultimately the talent is what makes our industry.”

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