Adweek Creative Leader of the Decade: Colleen DeCourcy

W+K's co-president has always done it her way, in a style that puts others in the spotlight

Colleen DeCourcy: Creative Leader of the Decade Rebecca Greenfield for Adweek

For decades, top creative leaders often seemed measured both by the scope of their work and the size of their personalities. Their combination of swagger, tenacious vision and hands-on leadership styles ensured their fingerprints were on each campaign and their bios were replete with industry honors.

But the 2010s were a new kind of decade, one that required a new kind of leader in the face of a rapidly changing industry and society. As the ad agency world finally confronted its caustic and toxic legacy of patriarchy, and faced harder questions than ever about the value and shape of creativity, those new to the industry—or struggling within it—sought a champion who would put the needs of the many over the egos of the view.

And they found it in Colleen DeCourcy.

Whether she knew it or not at the time, DeCourcy was well on her way to becoming a steadying voice of reason in an industry that needed a more inclusive conscience. As part of a sea of change which brought in waves of equity to advertising and humanity to a vocation in desperate need of it—DeCourcy, co-president of Wieden + Kennedy, emerged as one of advertising’s most inspirational, respected and influential figures.

And DeCourcy has always done it her way, in a style that puts others in the spotlight, highlighting the good that talent can achieve for brands and themselves. Whether revealing her own, sometimes painful experiences, or quietly working behind the scenes, she uses empathy as one of her most powerful tools. Her influence has not only shifted minds but has had a significant impact on Wieden + Kennedy, winner of Adweek’s U.S. Agency of the Year two years running and Global Agency of the Year in 2017.

In talking to several people at various points in her career, it’s clear that through her dedication, fearlessness and genuine authenticity, that DeCourcy deserves the distinction of being named Adweek’s Creative Leader of the Decade.


From seeker to builder

DeCourcy was a seeker early in her career in Toronto. A writer by trade, her first job in the advertising industry was in 1986 as a receptionist at a small agency Saffer Cravit & Freedman. That foot in the door would lead her to Margaret Cioffi, the agency’s chief creative officer, who DeCourcy found to be a force of nature and inspiring through her work and attitude.

From there, an eclectic, but formative part of her story unfolded. DeCourcy went into the world of broadcast media at CBC TV/Variety to get more hands-on experience. She then worked with a concert promoter, expanding her own range of experiences with acts as varied as the opera Aida, Madonna, The Rolling Stones and more.

DeCourcy gave birth to her daughter in 1994, and started at a small agency Spafax (which later became part of WPP), where she was promoted to creative director and sent to London. The agency’s specialty was branded content for airlines, and her journalism and TV experience was put to good use. At the time, the internet was nascent, yet to fully exert its influence on society, where DeCourcy started to gain well-placed momentum.

(L-R) Karrelle Dixon, Jason Bagley, Colleen DeCourcy and Karl Lieberman
Rebecca Greenfield for Adweek

DeCourcy returned to her native Canada and landed at digital shop Organic in Toronto in 2000 as vp and chief creative officer. The agency was bought by Omnicom in 2003 and folded into BBDO. DeCourcy was on the move again, assigned to Detroit to revive the office’s fortunes with its Chrysler client.

In Motor City, she developed innovative ways to understand and connect with consumers, leading the agency’s experience design group through non-traditional campaigns for major clients like Daimler-Chrysler, including the Dodge Charger “Unleash Your Freak” and Jeep’s “The Mudds” initiatives. The latter was a groundbreaking 2005 campaign that incorporated webisodes, geocaching, sweepstakes and virtual tours to promote the Jeep Commander.

"There are plenty of people in the world who are brilliant when everything’s going well, but when things get bad, the number of people on that list gets shorter, and Colleen is one of them."
Andrew Robertson, BBDO president and CEO

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.