Exclusive: MullenLowe CEO Alex Leikikh on his plans for Interpublic’s new network

DLKW Lowe in London is rebranding to MullenLowe following the formation of Interpublic’s newest global agency network from two agencies best known for their achievements in their domestic markets of the US (Mullen) and UK (Lowe). CEO Alex Leikikh (below) outlines his plans for the new network.

1/Mullen isn’t yet a known factor in the UK. Describe it for us.

The Mullen agency brand is equitable in a very unique way, both from a cultural, operational and business standpoint. The value that the brand brings to the table contributes a significant amount to the new global network offer with the development of MullenLowe Group UK, including the agencies currently known as DLKW Lowe, Lowe Profero, and Lowe Open.

Looking back, Mullen came from humble beginnings. Doors opened in 1970 in a manor house outside of Boston and we now have an Emmy Award and a Grand Effie under our belt. The agency saw steady progression from day one and when I joined Mullen in 2009 my goal was to keep the momentum going and build a future proof agency. With offices in Boston, Los Angeles, and Winston-Salem (North Carolina), we saw a growth of 76 per cent in the past 6 years, we acquired clients like Acura, JetBlue and Zappos, and we were named one of Fast Company’s Top 10 most innovative marketing and advertising companies in 2011.

2/What can MullenLowe Group bring to the global agency scene that’s new?

The creation of the MullenLowe Group has given us the opportunity to create a whole new type of global communications network. A network not defined by silos. A network with integrated communications planning built into the model. A network where we bring together the best cross section of our talent across all disciplines to work on client business challenges and drive more creativity. We are a global creative boutique with a challenger approach delivered through this hyperbundled operating model.

Our hyperbundled approach involves smashing together scrums of our best talent from every discipline and from all over the world; from brand planning to creative, digital marketing, public relations and social media, media planning and buying, mobile marketing, design, direct response, marketing to women and performance analytics. This approach ensures we deliver ideas that maximize the opportunity for the brand as a whole, and never just a channel.

The UK is one of our primary markets in which we’ve adapted the hyperbundled model by hiring our first Chief Media Officer Jonathan Fowles, to integrate communications planning into the MullenLowe Group UK offer. We’re going to market in the UK as a hyperbundled agency with four key practice areas working on solving clients’ business problems together from the outset, with expertise from MullenLowe London (rebranded from DLKW Lowe), Lowe Open (activation and shopper marketing), Lowe Profero (digital communications), and Mediahub (media planning and buying). It’s only logical that teams should work this way, with cross-discipline collaboration to drive greater creativity and efficiency.

3/MullenLowe Group is part of Interpublic. Is it a help or a hindrance being part of one of the big marcoms companies?

The merger of Mullen and Lowe and Partners is a testament to what’s possible by being a part of the Interpublic family. IPG has a strong agency roster, and we’re fortunate to be able to consider all other entities as allies rather than competition. We’ve been given the freedom to create MullenLowe Group as we’ve envisioned, with full control over how we are positioned and supported for the long term, and simultaneously providing value to the IPG portfolio.

4/What particular people or agencies (or both) inspired you in your career?

Joe Grimaldi is a pioneer and an absolute inspiration. As the current Chairman of Mullen since the 80’s, his dedication and passion has paved the way for the agency to be where it is today. He instilled the challenger mentality in all of us and showed us how to fight a clean fight – eyes always on the prize but never losing sight of morals and integrity. And I owe a great deal of the person I am today to Pat Fallon. His passing marks the end of an era for me and the advertising industry as a whole. In the time we worked together at Fallon, I saw what it took to be a leader. It’s not just knowing how to deal with clients and make good creative calls, but it’s also knowing how to make connections with the people you work with. He genuinely cared for those around him – clients and employees. We all felt it and it made us care too. That makes a big difference.

5/Is there a particular form or style of advertising MullenLowe Group will favour? Is advertising still the most important part of what you do?

The most important part of what we do is find creative solutions for our clients’ problems. Technology is changing the game faster than most people know what to do with it, and that’s exciting – there are so many opportunities to do something no-one has done before. So defining ourselves, or committing to a particular form or style isn’t an option, we evolve with the changing landscape. What’s most important is to stay dynamic and agile.

6/What work are you most proud of?

Across the board and in all of our regions we have amazing people producing thought provoking, dynamic, creative work for their clients.

We won the 2015 North American Grand Effie for our American Greetings World’s Toughest Job campaign, which drives the message home time and time again of the significance of moms’ roles in our lives, whilst delivering a 30 per cent sales increase for American Greetings.

For Buick in China, where a traffic accident takes place every three minutes, we changed the most entrenched attitudes to road safety and doubled intention to obey road signs with the ‘Human Traffic Signs’ campaign. The work was the most awarded creative campaign in China last year.

Also in the road safety category, our recent Acura work is beautifully poignant, moving consumers to consider safety of a vehicle like never before.

Our work for Unilever consistently ranks us across the world’s most celebrated festivals. In the UK, we developed a short film for Knorr, shot by an Oscar nominated director, to tell the story of a mother’s journey across the Arctic in order to surprise her daughter living abroad with the taste of home. The film has had over 110 million views on YouTube alone. And from Spain our latest work for Magnum ice cream, which launched at the Cannes Film Festival, featured celebrity drag queens, demonstrating what it means to be true to your pleasure.

Lastly, one of our most recent campaigns for Royal Caribbean in the US exemplifies both a challenger and hyperbundled approach by experimenting with technology and social media to deliver real-time activity straight from the Caribbean to the billboards of Times Square in New York City.

7/As London rebrands to MullenLowe what’s the opportunity for your European HQ?

With our global challenger creative boutique position, shared vision and values, and a culture that is undeniably complementary, the door has been opened for our US-based clients to connect with new audiences in European markets. Helping our clients compete internationally has always been part of a broader growth strategy. Additionally, strengthening our foothold in the largest global ad market of the US offers European-based clients new opportunities.

Plus we’ve just renovated an entirely new building in East London that is our new home to MullenLowe Group UK. DLKW Lowe will rebrand to MullenLowe London in the New Year and this new office will be where MullenLowe London, Lowe Profero, Lowe Open, and Mediahub will collaborate all under one roof. The UK Group structure is just the beginning of how we are making our vision a reality.

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