celebrating brilliant account women

A champion of clients, creativity and culture: Fiona Gordon

In the latest in our series on brilliant account people, the Ogilvy UK CEO shares her wisdom

By creative salon

"Being an account person is an art," - Fiona Gordon's own words - and she herself is a true master of this art. Gordon started her Ogilvy journey in 1992, and since then has brought the jokes and her Scottish candour to the agency.

She started out as trainee account executive and Ogilvy to leading client accounts across the world including being the WPP UK team lead for Walgreens Boots Alliance for almost four years. In the summer of 2021 Gordon was promoted to the UK CEO. Andre Laurentino, chief creative officer at Ogilvy UK, feels lucky to have experienced the 'four Fiona Gordons'. "The CEO of the Singapore office Fiona, the Boots client lead Fiona, the fix-a-client-relationship Fiona, and now the Ogilvy UK CEO Fiona. All of them have shown the same passion for great creative work, and helped us get to it with brilliance, humanity and grace. The quality of our work wouldn't be the same without her. She's any creative's dream business partner."

Devika Bulchandani, the global CEO of Ogilvy, feels Fiona's strength lies in how she champions creativity, clients, and culture with heartfelt approach. "She understands that building strong relationships based on trust, respect, and care is key to bringing bold ideas to life. That blend is what has propelled Fiona's success in driving Ogilvy UK forward."

She is one of a kind and not in a cliché sense, Jo Arden, chief strategy officer at Ogilvy UK, adds. "She is unique. Her power lies in her absolute impeccable sense of self. There is no pretence and no bullshit with Fiona and people – clients and colleagues – can see that from the off. She’s all over everything, but without making a fuss about it. Plus, she’s been here 30 years – there is quite literally nothing she hasn’t dealt with before at this point. She’s the boss, and A boss."

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

Forming teams with different skills and perspectives and then seeing them make magic is what I love. In my leadership team there are brilliant people who all have their super-strengths, they like each other, but can also challenge each other and me. I have a very honest team!

Seeing that click on client projects and pitches - when you come together to make different big ideas - makes me proud and every time feels new and exciting.

You know the feeling – sometimes in a meeting or a pitch you just look around the room and think ‘yes’. You can just feel the energy. It reminds me how lucky we are to work in this industry.

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

It's a team sport, so make sure the people you show up with thrive everyday. That could span having the right tea bags in the office (or biscuits for Jules Chalkley) to team learning days and coaching for everyone. Try and create an environment that allows people to do their best work.

One of the pieces I always remember was how my first boss, Jane Mercer, really spent time with me. She was brilliant at ‘in the moment’ feedback – the quick tip on the way back from a meeting. It never felt big or intimidating. It was always super relevant. Being an account person is an art. You need to take the time to hone people’s craft and the gift of ‘in the moment’ feedback is something I’ve always tried to keep and pass on.

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

Curiosity - and can I sneak in a second? A sense of humour.

Curiosity as our job is understanding the why. Why is this a need? Why is this an opportunity? But also, understanding the reason our teams and clients think and behave the way they do - and what motivates them as people. I love understanding what drives people and what makes them tick. My coach says I am a maximiser: I focus on others’ strengths and how they can work together.

Then a sense of humour. Account people are the ones who ease tension and bond a team. On the first big shoot I led – in the middle of a very remote part of Patagonia – the client and director were both very passionate and had a rather heated debate which led them both to walking off at haste down a long, dusty deserted road but in opposite directions. That one took a combo of charm, laughter and Glaswegian ‘get back here now’ to get it back on track - and some deep breathing to be fair too!

But always remember you often learn most through the tough times as you realise that 1) you can do it, and 2) grit and a smile is a good combination for leadership.

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

Honesty and context. The best relationships are when you are open about what's working, what's not, what the ambition is, and who is responsible for what roles.

Clients that are open about how they buy ideas and strategy, how their stakeholders operate and think, and any market shifts that are affecting timing or big future decisions, empowers us to jointly find the best solution much faster.

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

Get out there into your client’s business. Work on the shop floor at Christmas, talk to the beauty advisers about the new range, visit R&D labs, see the production line, soak up the archives and brand legacy. I spent an amazing afternoon mesmerised at the Lloyd’s archives a few weeks ago and one of my most humbling days was hearing how Boots pharmacists literally save lives in communities in Glasgow.

Take every chance you can to glean nuggets about your client’s business and talk to their customers. At some moment in a meeting or project it will be invaluable.

As David Ogilvy said 'I always use my clients' products. This is not toadyism, but elementary good manners'.


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