Leo Burnett plays the numbers game

By Megan Haynes

IT'S BEEN ANOTHER BANNER YEAR FOR Toronto's Leo Burnett, with the agency continuing to dominate the awards circuit, adding countless new trophies to its case. Warc named the Toronto shop the sixth-most awarded agency on the planet (the top Canadian shop on the list), while strategy's Creative Report Card ranked it (as well as its top creatives Judy John, Steve Persico and Anthony Chelvanathan) in the top spot.

Leo Burnett is also gaining international notice. It's headlining major global clients (such as the Amazon Super Bowl ad), and leading or providing support for global initiatives and campaigns (such as Always' "Like a Girl"). As if to highlight this trend and parent company Publicis' faith in the Canadian talent, John, CEO and CCO of the Toronto shop, and Brent Nelson, chief strategy officer, saw their remits grow in September as part of a shuffling of the networks P&L system, taking on the North America-wide roles of CCO and CSO, respectively.

While there are a number of factors contributing to the shop's overall growth (not least of which is the aforementioned leadership talent), building out the agency's analytics department has become a linchpin in its future-proofing strategy.

"It's all about the data," says David Kennedy, EVP and COO at the Toronto-based agency, which picks up this year's Silver AOY trophy for its work with Kellogg's, Raising the Roof, Amazon, Ikea and the Ontario Women's Directorate.

"There's an expectation that with all this data, we are going to know exactly where and when to put our message out there — that data is going to make creativity more powerful," he says. "[But] we don't get two or three chances to figure out what is the correct problem — especially with such a strong focus on short-term results. If you don't get it right the first time, everyone is going to be in trouble."

As such, the shop has really focused on its strategic and planning group, doubling the size of the team in over three years to a dozen staffers, and bringing in big names like the former president of Taxi Canada, Nancy Beattie, as a senior planner. While not traditionally a planner, Beattie recently took courses in planning, says Kennedy, and her background leading an agency provides a unique perspective that clients appreciate.

The agency also brought on a data analyst to help provide creative insight for marketing efforts, and expanded the remit of two of its community managers to include data science. The end goal is to transition these team members into more full-time analyst roles, Kennedy says. While the entire insights team has grown, the agency's investment in data has grown 100% in the past two years, he says.

Kennedy credits the data/planning investment with a number of successful campaigns, including the recent Yellow Pages "Lemonade Stand." Analyzing Yellow Pages surveys from consumers and businesses, the insight team found that the B2B community wasn't taking the brand seriously as a potential digital partner, Kennedy says. "Based on this data, we decided that simply telling our audience about all the amazing new digital products and services that YP offered would not be enough. We needed to show them."

To demonstrate that Yellow Pages understands what small business owners go through and to showcase the suite of tools at their disposal, in April, Yellow Pages employees quietly opened their own lemonade stand in Toronto's east end. In the eight-day pop-up, more than 1,000 people ventured into the store. The campaign material garnered from the activation, including two short commercials, are in market now. While it's too early for broader success metrics, Kennedy says the push has so far exceeded expectations.

"The real opportunity is how we can best marry data science and creativity," he says of the overall future-proofing strategy. "And if we can do that, we can demonstrate our value."