Creative Leaders on Beginnings: Nils Leonard

To mark the start of the new year, we’ve talked to a number of CR’s Creative Leaders 50 about how they got started in their careers, the best advice they’ve received and how they bring their teams with them when beginning a new project. First up: Uncommon’s Nils Leonard

Nils Leonard had an unconventional start in the creative industry, getting his first role through a job centre while still fresh from school. In the nearly two decades since then he’s overseen some of Grey London’s best years and launched compostable coffee capsule brand Halo.

He set up his own agency, Uncommon Creative Studio, in 2017, aiming to create brands that “people in the real world wish existed” as well as those keen to make a difference. Here, Nils shares how he found his big break and some of the best advice he got along the way.

Creative Review: What made you want to work in advertising?
Nils Leonard: Most people don’t believe me, but I genuinely had a fantasy to work in advertising from when I was very young. My dad was a tattooist and my mum was training to be a teacher, and I grew up in a very working class area. I loved art and stuff like that, but didn’t have any idea how to break into it. I had this image, for some reason, of advertising being like a slutty version of art – if you could string a sentence together and you had a bit of energy, you could do quite well in it. My fantasy wasn’t based on anything other than watching massive perfume ads in the cinema. The best of it behaved almost like poetry, so I fell in love with that from afar. I did college, and then went to the job centre and saw a job as a junior in an ad agency called Lintas. I got that job, and never went to university.