Strategic Planner of the Year 2019: Elizabeth Paul, MullenLowe

MullenLowe chief strategy officer Elizabeth Paul ascended to her current role in September 2018, with responsibility stretching across the agency's entire US network.

Previously head of strategy and senior vice president at MullenLowe in Boston, Paul has certainly made her mark and more at the agency; among her team’s celebrated past campaigns is ‘Don’t get mad, get E-Trade’, for the financial services provider.

In her current position, Paul has focused on culture, creativity, data and diversity, all underpinned by strategy. Agency culture has been redefined; her team has excelled in bringing together the science of data with creative thinking and Paul has also championed diversity. In the last year, she also found the time to contribute to a significant proportion of new business wins, playing a key role in agency pitches. 

The concept of agency culture has risen to new levels, with Paul inspiring those within her team to spearhead innovation, challenging them to reassess their approach to culture. In Paul’s words, "Strategy should be the culture engine of the agency. I’m not just talking about reading and interpreting culture - we should be creating culture. We should experiment and innovate, pioneer new ways of listening, working, making - and then release what we learn into the rest of the agency."

Central to putting this theory into practice is MullenLowe’s research and development strategy group, led by Paul, encompassing a social content studio that sits within the planning department. R&D is centred on taking predictive analytics technology to the next level, tracking social conversations trends and forecasting future patterns. The group has seen impressive growth in the last year, with numbers increasing from five staff to 35, testament to its innovative output. 

The team has been kept busy across 2019 producing award-winning and talked-about work across social channels for the likes of Burger King, tracking what the restaurant chain’s fans are talking about in real time and using this information to create tailored and relevant campaigns.   

Paul is also heavily involved with how data influences campaigns, having overseen the creation of a Data Arts Lab at the agency. It aims to encourage the use of data to kickstart creative thinking. The Lab blends together top research methodologies, such as mobile ethnography and behavioural economics, together with creative technology, in a bid to better understand consumer behaviour and culture. "We’ve only just begun to see what the Data Arts Lab is capable of, but rooting our practice more deeply in creative approaches to data science has made us all better at what we do," she said. 

Paul’s way of working is as far removed from traditional silos as you can get. Within her strategy group, you’ll find a data analyst sitting next to a social strategist, with a brand planner and a social content designer alongside too. All of this means that insights and the ability to act on these can be done faster and more efficiently.

Paul’s other significant achievements are focused on diversity and making meaningful changes. She has actively looked to recruit from a diverse talent pool, using tools such as LinkedIn to identify emerging talent and forging partnerships with historically black colleges and universities as well as Adcolour, an organisation championing diversity in the creative and technology industries. 

This has helped put a spotlight on the importance of hiring and retaining a diverse workforce in the industry. The first four strategists hired by Paul in the Boston office started the Black@Mullen initiative, an employee affinity group that has helped drive an 83% increase in hiring and a 93% increase in retention of black employees across disciplines. Paul is herself an executive sponsor of the initiative.