Laurence Thomson, Chief Creative Officer at McCann UK and co-president of McCann London was interviewed by Contagious Magazine as part of their Creative Pioneers 2019 series looking at what it takes to be one of the best and bravest creative agencies on the planet.

McCann UK

CM: What is the single biggest factor that you attribute to your agency’s success?

LT: Bruce Lee once said: ‘It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.’ Attributing our agency’s success to one single factor just wouldn’t do our people and their creativity justice. We here at McCann London have an unwavering belief that we can do the world’s best bold and interesting work on any given brief. We bend it, we shape it, not to fit a mould, but to break it and make something new.

CM: How do you ensure that happens?

LT: By believing in bolder, better, more interesting work, you’ll get to strum those tensions that live and breathe within culture. Audiences are key and the best place to start is to be your own harshest critic.

Ask yourself, is this great work? Does it spark emotions? Does it make me feel something? If you don’t love it, it’s unlikely anybody else will.

CM: How do you nurture the client/agency relationship?

LT: There’s no delineation between the teams and people working on any piece of work. Be it client, creative, planner, production, account handler, the agency dog – everyone is focusing on what can be the best possible output. That’s how you foster a great symbiotic relationship.

CM: How do you encourage clients to overcome risk aversion and embrace more daring ideas?

LT: The fact is that it is risky not to do standout creative work, and, arguably, a waste of money. If you’re all cutting from the same cloth, then the risk of failure is amplified tenfold, because you’re focusing on evolution rather than revolution. I’m not going to sugar-coat it.

Great work is hard work, it can be painful to do, but man, the benefits are indescribable. We need to admire anything that challenges convention because there’s a hell of a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into making it.

CM: How do you attract and retain talent?

LT: The beating heart of any great agency is its people – and we’re no exception. It’s not just about attracting the best and most passionate people out there, it’s about retaining our talent pool. And to do what we ensure that everyone has a portfolio of opportunities big and small. We also foster our King Kong thinking: ‘Content is King, context is Kong.’

It’s often the smaller ideas that have the biggest impact. The initially unassuming ideas can develop into some of our most interesting creative work. And that’s about teams – and our teams understanding that. We’re strong believers in nurturing all talent no matter the experience or rank, because great ideas can come from anyone. In the name of our open culture, my partner and I created ‘Elevenses’ – and open forum – where we can be found sitting in the centre of the agency floor and are available to chat with anyone about ideas.

CM: What’s the single biggest lesson your agency has learned in the past year?

LT: One of the biggest lessons I learned this year, was that sometimes you don’t need to quite finish the work. That you can leave it somewhat open-ended and let the audience and culture take it over the finish line for you.

Only work that explores these tensions will get you the biggest engagement. It’s not always about having the finished article or seeing something fully formed before you can appreciate its value.

CM: What are you most proud of from the past 12 months and why?

LT: I’d have to refer to ‘Visibility93’. We created a campaign that’s started a conversation around the underrepresentation of people with invisible disabilities. The work is by no means finished and I have no idea which direction it’s headed in, but that’s what I’m excited about: that we’ve handed over the reins to the public, whose conversation and actions will determine this project’s fate.

Sometimes you just have to have faith that a great idea will go to the distance, and you know what? It usually does.