Indie agency Burns Group hires its first chief creative officer

Arturo Gigante, chief creative officer, Burns Group
Arturo Gigante, chief creative officer, Burns Group

The agency, which has been around for 15 years, is aiming to bring strategy and creative closer together.

Burns Group, an independent agency based in New York, has hired Arturo Gigante as its first chief creative officer, the company said on Thursday. 

Despite being around for 15 years, Burns Group has never had a CCO by design. It’s leadership team, who all worked at big agencies in the past, wanted to avoid the hierarchies and silos prevalent at large organizations.

“From its inception, Burns Group was trying to blow up the big agency model,” said Jo McKinney, CEO of Burns Group. “While we had great leadership, we never thought of having one leader as a chief creative officer.”

The pandemic changed things for Burns Group which, as a hybrid advertising agency and brand consultancy, saw an opportunity to bring its strategy and creative teams closer together under more defined leadership. 

In his new role, Gigante will work closely with Chamie Baldwin, Burns Group’s chief strategy officer and a former colleague of his at Ogilvy.

“What wins in our industry is at an idea level, and that boundary between strategy and creativity shouldn't matter,” McKinney said. “A great idea can come from anywhere. So we’re bringing on a CCO to match toe-to-toe creativity and strategy in a way that we hadn't before, because we were thinking about them more siloed from each other.”

With Gigante and Baldwin on board, creative and strategy are starting to work more closely together on the early stages of campaigns. What was typically a baton pass from the strategy team is now evolving into a collaborative process where ideas can come from anywhere — a new concept in the industry.

“I don't think the industry was set up for the idea that creative isn't a person, it's an action,” McKinney said. “Creativity is a verb, but in an industry where creative is a noun, it's hard for other people to feel like they can play a role in creativity.”

Creatives and strategists at Burns Group are working together to unearth the truths that differentiate a brand, with creatives being brought into the process earlier on. Recently, that led to a copywriter coming up with a big strategic insight for Burns Group’s annual International Women’s Day campaign.    

“She was an author of the brief instead of a recipient of it,” McKinney said. “It’s interesting to see what happens when you drop conventional thinking about roles and responsibilities that have been imposed on us by our industry.”

For Gigante, who spent 14 years at Ogilvy & Mather in New York and launched a boutique independent agency called Spork, strategy is a key component of effective creative work.

“It's my experience that the best work I've produced has come from solid strategy,” he said. “It allows you to play in a defined and smart place vs. just being lost in the creative aspect of a project.”

Working at a smaller agency is also appealing to Gigante, who said larger agencies often come with “a lot of processes and barriers” that “impede on the work instead of allowing creativity to flow.” Burns Group intentionally does not want to grow beyond 50 employees.

“The great thing about smaller places is we all wear many hats and there's more direct interaction with the clients,” Gigante said. “That benefits our knowledge of their goals and understanding their brands in a very direct way.”

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