Chris Denson’s career has spanned multiple currents in the marketing ecosystem. And assigning an overly specific title to his amazing experience can be challenging: he’s lived in advertising, entertainment, technology, content creation, and leadership. MullenLowe sees the opportunity to leverage so many tools and has won Denson as the agency’s innovation director.
Denson’s primary role is to explore and apply emerging innovations in client initiatives, global startup communities, pop culture, and within the agency itself. With a multitude of options, he will not sit in one department, but rather work closely with MullenLowe’s creative, strategic and digital experience practices.
“Chris brings a spark to MullenLowe that helps us come up with more disruptive ideas and break all the rules in order to get an unfair share of the attention of our customers,” said Lee Newman, US CEO of MullenLowe. “He’s curious and connected, and we see so many opportunities.”
According to Denson, who has worked with organizations from the American Film Institute to the Obama administration, the role came about organically. It was initially positioned as a cultural strategy leader, but he saw a more daunting opportunity to create something that spanned all of the agency’s disciplines.
“I like a blank canvas,” said Denson, who worked with brands including Apple, Disney, Levi’s, Warner Bros. and Wells Fargo during his tenure at Omnicom Media Group. “Lee and I got along and saw things the same way – and saw the possibilities.”
Denson has some significant technology-facing issues and is a well-known leader in the startup ecosystem, having worked with companies and organizations such as WeWork, the SXSW Accelerator, and Google Launchpad. This diverse experience helped Detroit-born Denson contextualize some of his experiences in his 2018 book Crushing the Box: 10 Essential Rules for Breaking Essential Rules.
“I like to look through the lens of curiosity and how things come to an end,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a startup or the most award-winning promotional activity. You can’t unlock the best thinking in your class by staying in your own bubble.”
Aware of the importance of his role as a prominent black voice in marketing and technology, Denson noted that MullenLowe made real efforts from the ground up to build a more inclusive culture. He notes that he was “the first and only one in many different industries” and sees this new role as another opportunity to inspire a new generation of talent.
“I’m a beacon to some extent,” he said. “I’ve always tried to show up in places I’m not on paper and show that there are always opportunities for people who look like me.”
Looking to the future, Denson sees success in this role, based on the agency’s ability to take orders or opportunities and take a different approach to solving the customer’s problem, which leads to successful outcomes.
“My favorite place is the whiteboard,” he said. “Along with solid methods and processes, this is a place where we can empower people to think about the possibilities and create a ripple effect of success across the agency.”