Adman Leo Burnett (1892–1971) founded a global advertising agency that ranks among the titans of the trade. Burnett and the company that bears his name produced such famous brand icons as the Marlboro Man, Tony the Tiger, Jolly Green Giant, Maytag Repairman, and Pillsbury Doughboy.
Burnett pioneered the ‘Chicago School’ of advertising, wherein product campaigns centered on the inherent appeal of products themselves. Burnett’s advertisements used meaningful visuals to evoke emotions and experiences. This approach contrasted the time-honored use of catchy catchphrases and clever copy describing the products’ features. The models in Burnett’s campaigns resembled ordinary people rather than celebrities.
“When to Take My Name Off the Door”
After 33 years at the helm of his company, Burnett officially retired at age 76. He delivered a remarkable valedictory (film clip,) reminding his colleagues of his advertising agency’s core values and its high creative standards.
Let me tell you when I might demand that you take my name off the door.
When you lose your itch to do the job well for its own sake—regardless of the client, or the money, or the effort it takes.
When you lose your passion for thoroughness…your hatred of loose ends.
When you stop reaching for the manner, the overtones, the marriage of words and pictures that produces the fresh, the memorable, and the believable effect.
When you stop rededicating yourselves every day to the idea that better advertising is what the Leo Burnett Company is all about.
When you begin to compromise your integrity—which has always been the heart’s blood—the very guts of this agency.
When you stoop to convenient expediency and rationalize yourselves into acts of opportunism—for the sake of a fast buck.
When your main interest becomes a matter of size just to be big—rather than good, hard, wonderful work.
When you lose your humility and become big-shot weisenheimers … a little too big for your boots.
When you start giving lip service to this being a “creative agency” and stop really being one.
Finally, when you lose your respect for the lonely man—the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils—or working all night on a media plan. When you forget that the lonely man—and thank God for him—has made the agency we now have—possible. When you forget he’s the man who, because he is reaching harder, sometimes actually gets hold of—for a moment—one of those hot, unreachable stars.
THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door.
Idea for Impact: Leaders are Meaning-Makers
Burnett’s valedictory is a potent reminder of the power of meaningful organizational values and a leader’s role in upholding his company’s principles-based DNA.
Organizational values are at the heart of the long-term success of a company. When these values grow fainter, the company may no longer reflect the intended culture. The organizational values will no longer clarify, inspire, and bind the company’s customers, employees, partners, investors, and other stakeholders.
As the steward of a company’s culture, a leader is responsible for institutionalizing—not merely individualizing—a sense and meaning in the workplace. And, as Burnett demonstrates, an effective leader passionately expresses what the company stands for and shares personal lessons learned in that process.
Burnett’s name is still on the door.