Creative My Creative Career Leo Burnett

My Creative Career: Mark Elwood, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett UK


By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

December 12, 2023 | 9 min read

Continuing our series profiling some of the ad industry’s finest creatives, the Leo Burnett CCO shares his unconventional route to landing an apprenticeship and how he’s had to scrap for everything he’s ever achieved.

Mark Elwood

My Creative Career / Leo Burnett

Looking back, Mark Elwood says it’s still a shock that he ended up in the creative industry. “Terrible” at school, he left when he turned 16 (”It was more like being kicked out,” he laughs), without a clue what he wanted to do with his life.

At the time, his father, a builder, was working on an extension to a house on the estate where Elwood grew up. “It was the house of the guy on the estate who had money. He had a new Porsche.”

His dad found out that this neighbor, Bill Naylor, worked in print and had an apprenticeship up for grabs. Without being given much choice, Elwood was driven to Naylor’s house in his dad’s ”embarrassingly shit van” to find out more about what this man did for a living.

“Next thing I know, I was actually in that Porsche, being driven from Watford to London, with Bill pointing at billboards saying, ‘I did that.’”

The House of Naylor, as his neighbor’s company was called, did print and typography work for the likes of Simons Palmer Denton, BMP (now DDB) and Saatchis – ”all the big ad firms at the time” – and Elwood soon found himself starting a four-year apprenticeship there, which involved picking up sandwiches for everyone as well as learning the basics of typography.

“That’s how I got into it. No inkling, no clue, but I realized that one of the things I was quite good at was just remembering things – pages from books, things I’d seen in museums, posters or album covers. I had a really good memory for it, which I then used as a stimulus in my career as a designer.”

His apprentice also involved heading out on his motorbike to deliver film, prints and artwork to advertising agencies and he remembers noticing that the people working in those offices looked so much cooler. He quickly realized that that was where the fun was. He wanted to work there, too.

His first taste of agency life came at the start of 1996, as a studio manager at Leo Burnett – halcyon days he remembers as a lot of fun.

He was competitive and started pitching ideas to the team, his dream then being to become an art director. People began to take notice and started coming to him for design work. “That’s how I started. I was kind of scrapping around on briefs, really kind of changing people’s work, going, ‘I think this could be better.’ And then I became what was known as a typographer.”

Conscious of his background and how he had come up through an apprenticeship, he realized early on that this career could be what he made of it, which gave him a hunger and determination to produce the absolute best work – something he says came from a place of pride. And when positions above him came up, he always tried to grab them with both hands.

“I was jealous of everyone around me at the time,” he laughs. “The creative teams were doing one thing and I was doing another, so I was thinking, ‘How do I mix that together?’ I’ve taken that through my career. The design department is just as important as the creative department. It is an extension of the creative department.”

After just over two years, Elwood left Leo Burnett and went on to stints at shops including JWT, AMV BBDO, Fallon London and MullenLowe London. Throughout this time, he picked up many mentors and found people to look up to. Early on, it was his friends Matt Gooden and Ben Walker, who made the Honda ‘Cog’ ad in 2003, who were a huge inspiration. Later on, it was brothers Gary and Paul Marshall at JWT, who he says were “edgy and unafraid to push boundaries.”

At Euro RSCG, Andy Mackay was “brilliant,” he says. “He did a lot of great work. A lot of great Nike posters and a lot of work that I admired back in the day. He was a very calm individual. He left three months after I had joined to work with him, but said ‘Don’t worry, sit tight, I’ll come and get you.’ And he went to AMV BBDO and he came and got me and that was a bit of a game changer.”

For Elwood, the people working at the agency during that time made it the best department in London.

Now, it is Elwood’s turn to nurture and promote the ideas of young creatives in his team at Leo Burnett, the agency where he first began his career and where has recently been named chief creative officer. As the lead creative, he says there are projects he adds to every single day and while he might not have had the original ideas himself, he helps shape, steer and move them through the agency.

He tells young creatives coming through the door of the agency that they need to be scrappy. “I scrapped for everything. Any brief that was going, any piece of design, any piece kind of creative. I never looked at things and went, ‘That’s too small for me’ or ‘That’s not an opportunity.’ If you look at every brief as an opportunity and you’re scrappy enough, you can get pretty far in this industry. Be competitive, but be friendly at the same time.”

A recent ad Elwood is particularly proud of is the McDonald’s ‘Raise Your Arches’ campaign. “It’s a seminal piece of work for Leo Burnett this year. I think it has been one of the last great ads that the country has seen.”

He isn’t one for nostalgia, though, and hates posts on LinkedIn praising ads from years gone by. “Not looking too far back is the right thing to do. It keeps you really fresh. Although I was sitting at home watching Married at First Sight and our Teletext ad came on and that one is pretty good. But I think instead of kind of going too far back, I like to just stay in the current vibe of where we’re heading, really.”

He will say, however, that he is immensely proud of the ‘We Are the NHS’ campaign he worked on during his time at MullenLowe.

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

In his eyes, the best ads come from a good brief. There has to be a tension, a problem to solve. “If you can really, really find the business problem and approach it in the right way, I think that makes a great ad. And also, can people participate in it? Does it make people do something? Does it make people feel?”

Participative advertising that doesn’t leave anyone behind is what he loves above all else.

Read our interview with Jo Wallace, the new global ECD at Jellyfish.

Creative My Creative Career Leo Burnett

More from Creative

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +