Claire H


From medicine to advertising: why Claire Hollands is one of Adland's best Account People

We add MullenLowe's CEO to our salute to top-notch account people

By Creative Salon

MullenLowe's CEO Claire Hollands originally aspired to become a doctor. But three years into her training and she decided it was no longer her destiny. Medicine's loss was advertising's gain.

Hollands joined MullenLowe in November 2021 from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, where she spent 13 years. Last year she was promoted to lead MullenLowe as its new CEO. If leaders must persuade, inspire and motivate, then what they do cannot be untangled from how they do it and, more importantly, who they are. And that is exactly the kind of leadership that Hollands exudes - delivered with resolution and charm. She is the first female CEO at the agency, since 2008.

As Siobhan Brunwin, people director at MullenLowe, affirms, "Claire truly is a people-first leader. She's an advocate of working parents and an active member of our parents employee resource group. She's also championing women's health through our Bloody Good Employers accreditation."

Having started out at the likes of Publicis, M&C Saatchi London and Leo Burnett, Hollands made her mark on the industry at AMV BBDO for over a decade, leaving behind a legacy of agency and client growth, business transformation and creativity with notable clients including BT, Bacardi, and Facebook. Her next adventure took her to MullenLowe as its new MD, a role created specifically for Hollands. And after just 18 months, she moved on up to assume the role of agency leader, coinciding with Jeremy Hine's departure after his five-year tenure as CEO.

Global CEO Kristen Cavallo expressed how "Claire is a grounding influence. It's her job to make the hard calls, which she does in ways that build confidence and support instead of division or fear. She's the definition of a modern leader."

This appointment also signalled a significant milestone for the agency, marking the return of a female CEO for the first time since 2008 when Amanda Walsh resigned from the position.

As MullenLowe's chairman, Tom Knox, puts it, “Claire has taken to the CEO role like a duck to water, she’s upped the pace of change, brought in and promoted great talent and provides a wonderful role model for what a modern leader should be".

Now, almost a year into her CEO role, Hollands has been powering up the agency's profile and increasing its fame. 2023 was a transitional year for the agency, with Holland's summing it up as 'Positive Dissatisfaction'. The agency has since won a Cannes Lion for its Persil’s ‘Wash Away the Taboo’s’ campaign and new account wins under her leadership include Manpower, Experis, Freeman’s, DHSC and OHID & Invesco. She recently announced the appointment of Ben Shaw as her new chief strategy officer, adding him to her core team which includes the formidable Nicky Bullard, MullenLowe UK's group chief creative officer.

Claire Hollands on being an Account Person

Tell us about one experience you’ve had as an account person that made you really proud.

I think the thing that makes me proudest is when you know you’ve created an environment and culture where people are thriving. I’ve always instilled a culture of ‘High Challenge, High Support’. Done right that means you can see the work get better but more importantly your talent grows too. Whether that’s a team getting the Lion they always dreamed of, apprentices graduating, or everyone putting their arms around someone who's struggling, that’s what matters to me.

What’s been the biggest learning you’ve had in your career?

Perspective is everything. I think early on in my career I could often lose perspective on things. It’s very easy to get caught up in an advertising bubble and to make assumptions based on your own experiences and knowledge. Over time, I’ve really learned the value of not just listening to other people’s perspectives but actively seeking them. The value of taking a step back and reassessing situations through a different perspective. And having kids has certainly changed my perspective on what really matters.

What’s that one skill that the best account people you know have?

The best account people can bring everyone on the journey. It sounds simple but it’s not always easy. Whether it’s different agendas at play, hard conversations to be had or time and budget realities, there are lots of hurdles that can get in the way. Setting a clear ambition, playing to the teams’ strengths and getting them playing together is a huge skillset. When done right you can see the difference in the work.

What makes for a strong, productive client/agency relationship?

It’s about partnership. For me, the best partnerships are centred around a shared ambition, trust, and commitment, listening to each other and being a team through the good times and the bad. If you have all those things in spades, great things can happen.

What advice would you give to people wanting to be a brilliant account person?

Do everything in your power to make the work as good as it can be. It’s what will get strategists seeking your opinion, creatives kicking the work around with you, producers problem solving with you and ultimately Clients trusting you and buying great work.


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