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So You Want My Job? Leo Burnett’s Liz Taylor on Broadway dreams and her creative career

Liz Taylor, global chief creative officer at Leo Burnett, discusses her career path

Welcome to So You Want My Job?, where each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest jobs about how they got where they are. And, along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully our interviewees can help inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting.

This week, we speak to Liz Taylor, global chief creative officer of Leo Burnett and the 14th highest-placed CCO in our World Creative Rankings, about her career in creative.

What did you want to be when you growing up, and does your job now resemble that in any way?

I was a theater geek with a flair for the dramatic who belted out show tunes using my hairbrush as a microphone, so of course I wanted to be a Broadway actress. The realist in me decided I should attend law school and write books on the side. The print ads that hung all over my dorm room were the lovely foreshadowing sign that the universe had more in store for me.

A theatrical performance mixed with healthy debate, creative writing and a need for a strong close – yup, this job most certainly has a mix of all that I imagined I wanted in my life as an adult.

How did you get your job?

I graduated college all set to attend law school in the fall. My older brother, an attorney, pulled me aside and literally said: “What are you doing? I think you believe it will be like LA Law and full of drama. It’s not. It will suck every ounce of creative out of you. Don’t go.”

I thought about all those ads on my dorm room wall. Then I cold called Leo Burnett and asked the lovely woman who answered the phone: “How do I get a job making the ads?”

She invited me to a portfolio review night. I walked down the halls of 35 W Wacker (Leo headquarters) and instantly fell in love. Thanks to a very supportive mom, I swapped out Law School for Portfolio Center and some 20+ years later I returned to the halls of 35 W Wacker – still every bit as magical.

OK, so what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?

Wow, when was the last time I was in a taxi?! Too long. I miss travel – and I’ve had the good fortune to talk with a lot of taxi drivers in different countries all over the world through my role as global CCO for Leo Burnett. No better way to learn about humanity and the city you are in. Taxi drivers are the best storytellers.

My elevator – or cab – speech would probably be something like:

I’m in charge of the creative output for one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. We make famous work on famous brands that grow our clients’ businesses while building an internal culture at the agency filled with creativity, fun, humanity, empathy, kindness and inclusivity.

I’m part creative, part cheerleader. I try to break down as many walls and barriers as I can, so others have the freedom to do the best work of their lives.

Or a simple “I make ads.”

To which they usually ask, “Like Don Draper?”

Do your parents understand what it is that you do?

My mom was my biggest fan. She believed I was capable of anything. Made me feel like the smartest, funniest, prettiest, strongest, most capable human. Gave me confidence that far outweighed my talents. I’ve tried to reconcile the two in her honor.

She was the first person I would call whenever work I was proud of launched, or I received an award of some kind. Though she usually already knew what I was calling about. She followed all the creative news. More than understanding what I did, she immersed in it. Wanted to know everything about what brands and industries I was working with, what we were creating for them, and why and how. I am lucky to have had such a champion in my corner.

What do you love most about your job?

The people. Richard Huntington recently put it so perfectly in a piece he wrote about his love of agency life. He called it: “A powder keg of insanely talented people, barely tamed, gathered together from around the world into a few thousand square feet, then let loose.”

Our industry is our people. Their dreams and ideas that have transformational power, their grit and determination to put that power to work for others. I consider myself spoiled, truly, at the people I get to work with every day as a result of my roles as Leo Burnett’s global CCO and chief creative officer for Publicis North America. That’s like a hundred unique powder kegs around the world that I get to help light the fuse on.

I also love that feeling when work you love goes live. It’s a giddy, electrifying creative high.

How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?

I think one of the best things about how the industry is changing is that people are realizing there is no one route. That being prescriptive about who is considered ‘creative’ or ‘strategic-minded’, and being narrow about where they come from, is actually antithetical to the role and work of our industry. These days, we’re as likely to recruit someone from a creator platform like TikTok as from a portfolio school, to pull in data scientists alongside English majors alongside film producers. Creativity knows no bounds, and neither should our talent pool.

What advice would you offer to others entering the advertising industry, especially at this weird time?

In the words of Steve Martin, ”Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Resiliency. Curiosity. Keep thinking, keep making, keep learning. Be prolific, be purposeful in what you do.

Also, make yourself a power playlist. Pick a walk-on song. It’ll come in handy for the breakthrough moments you’ll meet in your career. Nothing like a little Missy Elliott to put that extra pep in your step.

The Drum is celebrating this year’s standout performers, and their work, in a special series of editorial features collected on our World Creative Rankings hub. And if you’d like to get your hands on the entire World Creative Rankings dataset, you can order our full PDF report.

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