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the showcase 2023

Another Big Leap: Leo Burnett's 2023

From double-digit growth to pitch perfect wins to a creative revolution - Leo Burnett has surged once more

By creative salon

Leo Burnett has undeniably carved out an extraordinary chapter in 2023. The agency's newly promoted CEO, Carly Avener sums up the year in three powerful words: Populist, Thrilling, Intense.

With double-digit revenue growth for the third consecutive year, flawless pitch conversions, and a steadfast commitment to diversity and sustainability, the agency has set a new standard for success. As we reflect on Leo Burnett's extraordinary journey, CEO Carly Avener reflects on the agency's stellar 2023.

Carly Avener, CEO of Leo Burnett on the agency's 2023

What three words would you use to describe 2023?

Populist, Thrilling, Intense

Talk us through some of your agency’s highlights this year?

2023. What. A. Year!

Our approach to creating work that speaks to the nation has seen us achieve double-digit revenue growth for a third consecutive year, 100% pitch conversion rate for a second successive year, and a 100% client retention rate.

Our commitment to providing a magnetic and inclusive company culture means our people are happier than ever, and achieving a place in the Sunday Times Best Places to Work Award shows just how successful and rewarding our culture has become.

Creatively, with the help of many excitable eyebrows, we’ve made our most famous work with our long-standing client, McDonald’s. We’ve re-mixed and relaunched our newest client, Morrisons, using a 17-yr old jingle, and we’ve taken TUI into the Christmas ad season for the first time ever with the help of some holidaying elves.

Our awards cabinet has grown with some coveted Lions, Pencils and Effies, along with an APG Creative Strategy Grand Prix and the Marketing Society’s Grand Prix for Effectiveness.

To ensure we represent the audiences we serve, we’ve doubled down on our partnership with The Diversity Standards Collective, along with a variety of initiatives designed to open agency doors to a wider group of people, including apprenticeships with The Bauer Academy and a fully-paid internship scheme.

Alongside our annual PopFest event, this year we’ve created PopPulse, a unique proprietary research tool, that gets us and our clients closer to the nation by ‘listening to the listeners’ – combining insights from taxi drivers, hairdressers and bar staff, coupled with observations from people experts, from an anthropologist to a personal finance journalist.

And finally, it’s no good focusing on appealing to the nation if our planet isn’t looked after. This year we’ve launched The Green Fund, an initiative which offers pro-bono services from all agency departments to advance the work of businesses at the forefront of sustainability. We’ve kicked it off with an unlikely duo – Prince William’s Earthshot Prize and (separately), Mr Motivator’s Bed Bank charity.

It's been a hell of a year, we’ve loved every minute of it and can’t wait to get stuck into the next one (after a well-earned Xmas rest!)

What one thing are you proudest of this year?

The strength of our culture and ability to retain our people. We are creating a new generation of young leaders, which is reflected in our recent promotions, and it’s so exciting to see.

What’s been your biggest challenge?

We’ve been growing rapidly and consistently over the last few years which has been exciting and exhilarating. So the challenge has been to ensure we attract and recruit the very best talent at pace whilst maintaining our high standards and ensuring everyone gets a warm welcome and a fast start.

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

I’m looking forward to Leo’s producing more amazing populist work and for us to continue to build momentum.

We’ve got work launching for some of our newest clients; Allwyn and Confused.com and I’m looking forward to see our new design studio, POPDesign, really take off.

What one change would you most like to see in our industry next year?

I would like to see further progress on Diversity & Inclusion. Although it delights me to see that so many of my peers now are women, I’m aware we are mostly all white, university-educated women and there is still a long way to go before there is full representation across ethnicity, class, sexuality, and disability.

Which industry leader have you admired most in 2023?

The industry leader I’ve admired most is close to home – our new CCO Mark Elwood. Mark is an incredible talent and a progressive leader. He’s been central to Leo’s success over the past three years as we’ve grown the size, shape, and flavour of the department. You can see that coming through in the quality of the work across all our clients and the strength of the talent he has attracted and nurtured.

Creative Salon on Leo Burnett's 2023

This time last year, the agency was eagerly waiting on the news on whether it had secured the advertising business for the multi-national lottery operator, Allwyn. The agency's victory was announced this summer, with the creative account being split between Leo Burnett and VCCP. With a great start to the year, Carly Avener was promoted to CEO around the same. And the year ended with ECD Mark Elwood promoted to chief creative officer - taking over the UK duties from Chaka Sobhani, Leo Burnett's UK and global CCO who is set to join DDB Worldwide as president and CCO international next year.

Let's take a look at Leo Burnett's long list of celebrations in 2023.

At the close of 2022, the team achieved a notable win by securing the pitch for the Morrisons supermarket chain. Following its launch, the team brought back the classic ‘More Reasons to Shop at Morrisons’, starting a trend for nostalgia amongst its many clients. Their latest project involved the debut of a festive campaign featuring musical mitts. The campaign has been declared a winner by System1, based on the strength of audiences' emotional response to ads.

Meanwhile, Fallon London, a key player in the Leo Burnett family, not only triumphed in a competitive pitch for the Skoda UK creative account but also broadened its role to include social responsibilities. Additionally, Confused.com selected Leo Burnett to take the creative reins from Accenture Song.

It was a year for renewal within the team as Carly Avener transitioned from managing director to chief executive, aligning with Charlie Rudd's appointment as group CEO. Tom Sussman moved from head of planning to deputy chief strategy officer, while Joe Beveridge rose from planning director to planning partner. Sam Houlston was announced as the new managing director, promoted from head of account management. Andrew Long and James Millers were promoted from creative directors to creative partners, showcasing Leo Burnett's commitment to creative excellence. We also saw Steph Bates's promotion to head of account management and Joe Beveridge's shift to head of planning.

Nostalgia seems to be a running theme within the creativity of Leo Burnett’s output this year. McDonald’s took us back in time to the 90s where teletext was in its golden years and mixtapes were all the rage with its ‘Change a little, Change a lot’.

And has it really been 40 years since we took our first bites into the McNugget? Leo Burnett and McDonald’s celebrated four decades with an interactive challenge putting friends against friends. Kellogg’s also celebrated a milestone with 25 years of supporting kids Breakfast Clubs in the UK followed by a ridiculously catchy, meme-able jingle when they reinvented the Crunch Nut iconic tagline.

It’s also been a year for reinvention with McDonalds tapping into people’s familiarity with the 'Raise Your Arches' campaign which got the industry chatting back in January and culminated in 2023 inviting the nation to ask friends, family and co-workers ‘Fancy a McDonald’s?’ this festive period.

Wrapping up 2023, Leo Burnett revealed TUI's first ever Christmas ad bringing a touch of magic to the holiday season with a heartwarming and unconventional tale of Santa's elves embarking on a sun-soaked getaway.

And most recently, Leo Burnett, in collaboration with The Outsiders, released it's PopPulse report which suggests the British public is not in unmitigated despair but stuck in limbo, which draws insights from various professions and experts.

Creative Salon Says: Leo Burnett has truly excelled in 2023, achieving significant milestones and strategic transformations. Securing major accounts including Allwyn and Confused.com showcases Carly Avener's ambition and her agency's confidence in winning high-profile clients. The agency's creative chops and thinking are evident in the successful reinvention of campaigns such as for McDonald's and insightful collaborations, exemplified by the PopPulse report in partnership with The Outsiders.

It is an agency that had us all talking this year: about its people, its pitch wins and its work. As leaders, both Charlie Rudd and Carly Avener are known for their collaborative approach to working and are much loved both by the agency and the industry. There is little doubt that Chaka Sobhani's larger-than-life role at the agency will be missed once she starts her new global role at Omnicom, but Leo Burnett moved quickly to replace her with Mark Elwood in the UK - a testament that Rudd knows how to both spot and nurture talent. Elwood has run the UK creative department for the last three and a half years, and together with Avener (who joined Leo Burnett in 2019 as managing director and was also promoted by Rudd) have the determination to make a difference. The UK ad world will be watching what comes next.


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