Four months into the job, Leo Burnett’s joint executive creative
directors are still learning how to walk the walk of the industry
And there’s something in their earnest swagger that exposes a
vulnerability in Mark Tutssel and Nick Bell.
Bell, the front man, does the greeting. He escorts me away from the
unfinished creative floor towards a sunny meeting room brimming with
pastries, juice, coffee and mineral water. Tutssel is inside, fiddling
with the reels they have prepared to show me.
The conversation kicks off with the number of Burnett entries in the
1999 D&AD annual. It is a theme that they will return to again and
again, so, for the record, they have four entries for work on four
different clients. And the first commercial they signed off as creative
directors - the McDonald’s ’brotherly love’ spot - won a bronze at the
British Television Advertising Awards in April.
As well as awards, the duo’s creative directorship has clocked up some
substantial new-business wins - in their first eight days the agency
pitched for three big accounts. It won Somerfield and Heinz convenience
foods and lost the BT pitch to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.
Tutssel and Bell have settled on their style of leadership already.
Tutssel says: ’We have a reputation for being hard on the work. Good
enough isn’t good enough any more. But we do it nicely. We get on
brilliantly with the department.’
While they were still deputies to Gerard Stamp, teams were already
knocking on their door, wanting to show them their work. Tutssel says:
’They came to us. We weren’t thrust on them.’
The bragging is a manifestation of their determination to gain
credibility among their peers. They fancy themselves as part of an
advertising ’ratpack’ - a new generation of creative directors, like
Richard Flintham and Andy McLeod at Fallon McElligott, who got where
they are today by producing good work.
Tutssel, 40, and Bell, 38, first paired up in 1995 when Bell left Abbott
Mead to team up with ’Tuts’ (as he likes to call his partner), and they
hit it off immediately.
Both took circuitous routes into advertising. Tutssel arrived via a
design background under the influence of his D&AD-winning cousin, Glen
Tutssel, who is now in partnership with Martin Lambie-Nairn. Mark joined
Burnett in 1986 and was made creative director in 1994 with
responsibilities for Gordon’s Gin and McDonald’s.
Bell always thought advertising sounded ’glamorous and good fun’. He was
introduced to the business by family friends and, after stints in direct
marketing and the post room at Ogilvy & Mather, he finally got a chance
to do what he really wanted - television and poster advertising - when
he landed a job at Abbott Mead in 1987.
So what was their best work before they teamed up? Bell jumps in and
cites the Gordon’s Gin ’green’ campaign as his partner’s best work. Or
there’s the McDonald’s ’golf club’ poster that Bell eagerly draws for me
- even though Tutssel is the art director of the duo.
Bell also digs up a couple of favourites from his own portfolio - work
for Ikea and The Economist - but neither man is keen to dwell on the
’I’m always thinking about what’s next,’ Tutssel says.
Which brings us to the Mercedes ’skid marks’ ad that really put the team
on the map: it won the 1997 Cannes press and poster grand prix, a D&AD
silver pencil and a host of Campaign press silvers. Tutssel is still
amazed at how well it did and admits that it was off-brief. But the
client wanted it and the industry loved it so much that the team was
deluged with job offers as well as awards.
A glimpse of the golden opportunities awaiting them at Burnett kept
Tutssel and Bell loyal to the agency. ’We did the right thing in staying
here. We’d be letting people down if we left.’
Only six months after winning the grand prix, they were made deputy
executive creative directors, taking responsibility for the day-to-day
running of the department. Then, exactly one year later, they lost the
’deputy’ tag when Stamp graciously stepped up to become chairman.
Tutssel and Bell have solid support from their fellow senior management
at Burnett: Stamp, Nick Brien (chief executive) and Stephen Whyte
(managing director). The two executive creative directors demanded and
received funds for a refurbishment of the creative department, a clutch
of senior hirings and five tables at D&AD.
A shopping list like this illustrates how hungry these two are to
acquire status and success for themselves and their agency. ’We wear our
hearts on our sleeves,’ Bell admits, before launching into his ’there’s
no such thing as a bad client’ spiel. He then adds, quite superfluously:
’We both have a huge passion for the business.’
Nothing is going to stop them writing ads. They have been instrumental
in turning McDonald’s around and are also particularly proud of a Help
the Aged spot they made last year. And, as much as they love to see
members of their department picking up awards, they still admit to a
We’re back to awards again. Tutssel says: ’We believe in awards as a
currency. They are important to clients and we like people to like our
Bell takes up the theme: ’Awards contribute to keeping standards high.
They are an acknowledgement of success - people want to do well, win
awards, earn more money and get promoted. But it is a mistake to go
There can be no doubt that these are two of the hardest-working creative
directors in London, in constant dialogue with each other, the agency
and the clients. They are striving for perfection and, quite clearly,
any compromise along the way hurts like hell.