Leo Burnett Career Exposure

by Elaura Dunning, Smith College Class of 2014

Leo Burnett Lobby - photo courtesy of Cargo Collective
When I first got the email about a career exposure at Leo Burnett, I jumped at the chance to participate. I’d heard of Leo Burnett days before, when discussing past work with the Director of Marketing at the Kohl Children’s Museum, where I am currently interning. I knew that Leo Burnett had worked with the Museum years earlier, and was curious to see what else they had done. Surprisingly, when I looked online at examples of Leo Burnett’s work, I was already familiar with much of it. The “Mayhem” campaign for Allstate, Secret’s “Mean Stinks”, advertisements for McDonald’s—I’d seen a large portion of Leo Burnett’s material in my everyday life. Encouraged by their incredible portfolio, high employee retention, and commitment to making a global impact through their work, I signed up to learn more.

On the day of our exposure, my fellow Scholars and I walked into the lobby and got an immediate impression of the Leo Burnett culture. As we waited for our guides, we eyed the floor-to-ceiling mural featuring Chicago landmarks and splashes of color, facing a giant pair of glasses—a Leo Burnett icon—suspended from the ceiling. Employees moved through—some stopping to chat with one another while others walked by—giving the impression of a casual bustle: there was absolutely a huge amount of activity, but no one seemed overly stressed.

In our information session and the tour that followed, we learned about HumanKind—the concept that drives all of Leo Burnett’s brands. A HumanKind brand does not just sell products, it moves and changes people around the world. This notion was evident as we heard from several Leo Burnett employees about their experiences at the agency, and walked around a few floors to get an idea of what working there would be like. It was similar to a typical office in that employees sat at desks, talking on phones and working on computers, but just as often they were listening to music, doodling, or shooting each other with Nerf guns against the colorful backdrop of the walls. It was clear to me that here, the focus was on creating an atmosphere where employees were free to be themselves, and generate the kinds of strong ideas that Leo Burnett is famous for.

As someone who is interested in bringing strong brand strategies from the corporate world into the realm of nonprofit cultural institutions like museums, I appreciate the commitment that Leo Burnett has made to fostering a human-focused company rather than a profit-focused one (not that the two are mutually exclusive, as evidenced by the agency’s success). This exposure has reinforced in me the idea that a brand can be used to create real change, and that the more people are committed to and passionate about a subject, the more successful their endeavors will be.

 Elaura Dunning is a graduate of Round Lake High School and a member of the Class of 2014 at Smith College. She is currently a development intern at the Kohl Children's Museum and has previously  worked as the Institutional History Division Intern at the Smithsonian Institution Archives and as a Project Consultant for EM Events, a local event-planning company. To learn more about Elaura, visit her LinkedIn profile.


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