Dentsumcgarrybowen's Merlee Jayme decodes business of creativity in current times

Merlee Jayme, Global President, Dentsumcgarrybowen
Merlee Jayme, Global President, Dentsumcgarrybowen

“Creative leadership is required now more than ever and that’s I would want to encourage everybody to bring back creativity to the core of our businesses, because this is the only way we can lead the future”, said Merlee Jayme, Global President, Dentsumcgarrybowen, in her address on Day 2 of the Lions Live 2020 programme. Following is her complete address, where Jayme speaks about the evolving face of creative in COVID-19 times and how to make brands stand out and also keep them relevant.

As creatives we have this Peter Pan syndrome sometimes and we don’t want to grow up. I have to look at my past to appreciate how I’ve grown. I was a copywriter and was difficult, egoistic and choosey with my projects. We would try to do the best work and hopefully our bosses would approve and the work would win.

As I grew up, it was like my right brain was invaded by my left. I met clients I loved. I started to empathise and took pains understanding their businesses. The creative product then evolved for the better with better results.

Business Minded Creative

As I began my own agency, I started to think like a Business Minded Creative. Even management became creative. To push multi-tasking, I introduced the Pot Luck, where people would bring to the table the skills and talents they have other than the job they are doing right now. We had an Art Director who was also double hatting as a Social Media Director. This is a way of pushing and making your head count very efficient.


I made sure that the agency was flat and all the heads, including me, would get our hands dirty, which turned into a lesson on accountability. Creatives can be bad with numbers, but we pushed our P&Ls and got new businesses. I was obsessed with achieving targets just so that we could come up with the best benefits and invest in new ways of rewarding our people.

Creative work is business growth

The biggest learning I have as a creative leader is building creative and client relationships. This can really be powerful, because we think differently with a fresh POV on solutions to their problems. Clients appreciate that we have this natural intuition in reading the consumers and what they think and feel about the brand. Through the years I have gained experience in helping out a brand from zero to becoming No. 1. At some points of time it has also been about building a brand which is the client itself. She was a politician and I really believed in her process. I worked on her campaign and brand and when she won, it felt as if I had won. It was probably the biggest win in my life. So, clients appreciate it when we think of creative ideas that help grow their businesses, because loyalty and trust will grow with it. Today, all the clients look for creative leadership, someone to partner with who can be real and who can navigate through these uncertain times.

Prepare yourself for the future

Although young creatives are very comfortable where they are, they need to grow up. You need to understand the business, because that will be preparing you for the future.

My 3 Adulting Realisations

  1. Love a client and find a client you can really love: When you love the client or brand you’re working with, you don’t mind working hard and putting in the extra hours because you truly enjoy it. This is the most powerful relationship in the marketing world.
  2. Look at numbers: While I know this might not interest people, it is still extremely important. When you look at your P&L, you get a bigger and better picture of what’s happening in the agency. This makes decision making and rewards easier to decide.
  3. Create ideas that create results: The passion and love we show while bringing an idea to life, we need to show the same dedication on how effective the idea should be.

During the great recession of 2008, ad spends dropped by 13 per cent. Creatives became business-minded creatives overnight for their clients. Survival was based on budgets becoming smaller, there was a stronger media landscape during that time and really great measurability. This changed the nature of the advertising business for the better.


During this time, effectiveness became the great goal. I remember the biggest winners at Cannes Lions 2009 were the hardworking best gazes with best results.

How are we today?

Any kind of crisis brings people together, but COVID-19 is doing the opposite. It has divided and drawn a line between each one of us.

Some clients are being careful and are afraid to be judged. They are trying to tip toe and slowly are making their presence felt. Everyone is hoping that we will go back to full force by Q3, but the question is, how?


The ideas of the past won’t work in the current situation and they need to be distinctive and better than ever. The need to creative leadership is more relevant than ever.

It is everyone’s task to start thinking and acting differently. The time has come for everyone to lead creatively if you want your brands to bounce back.

New normal, new mindset

The question is how do we push ourselves to be more creative and distinctive. Here are some of the principles that I have:

Mind your business

  • Understand the business
  • Get into the shoes of the business owner
  • Worry his worries
  • Spot the opportunities
  • Solve problems in smart, affordable and the best way there is

When Everyone Zigs You Zag

This is a very old guide for all creatives, but it still works. There have been times where all the COVID-19 ads looked the same. Today, anyone can make content, but one needs to go Zag – that is, look for a meaningful insight for the brand. It has to make the brand stand out and give a different perspective with deeper human truth.

Get out of your comfort zone

One needs to get out of the comfort zone and get into their courage zone. This is not the time to play safe and used tried and tested methods, because it won’t work.

Today, with smaller budgets and less media touchpoints and a lot content fighting for attention, we just can’t take comfort at doing what’s been done. We have to anticipate the change, be more human, show empathy and have a voice.

We have this saying at Dentsu Mcgarrybowen, ‘When you know what to believe, you know how to behave’. We have to keep authenticity and push the creativity.

Creative leadership is required now more than ever and that’s I would want to encourage everybody to bring back creativity to the core of our businesses, because this is the only way we can lead the future.

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