MullenLowe Taps Chris Denson as Director of Innovation

The new role brings together his eclectic career experiences

chris denson
Chris Denson will work closely with MullenLowe’s creative, strategic and digital experience practices. MullenLowe

Chris Denson’s career has flowed through several streams of the marketing ecosystem. And it can be a challenge to assign an overly specific title to his prodigious experience: He’s lived in advertising, entertainment, technology, content creation and leadership. Seeing an opportunity to leverage so many tools, MullenLowe has tapped Denson as the agency’s innovation director.

Denson’s main remit is to explore and apply emerging innovation across client initiatives, global startup communities, pop culture and within the agency itself. With a wide berth of opportunity, he won’t sit in one department but will work closely with MullenLowe’s creative, strategic and digital experience practices.

“Chris brings a spark to MullenLowe that will help us create more disruptive ideas and break all the rules in service of earning our clients an unfair share of attention,” said Lee Newman, MullenLowe U.S. CEO. “He’s curious and connected, and we see so many possibilities.”

According to Denson—who has worked with organizations ranging from the American Film Institute to the Obama administration—the role emerged organically. At first, it was positioned as a cultural strategy lead, but he sensed a more formidable opportunity to create something that cuts across all of the agency’s disciplines.

“I like a blank canvas,” said Denson, who has worked with brands including Apple, Disney, Levi’s, Warner Bros. and Wells Fargo during his tenure at Omnicom Media Group. “Lee and I hit it off and saw things the same way—and saw the opportunities.”

Denson has some significant tech-centric chops and is a well-known leader in the startup ecosystem, having worked with companies and organizations like WeWork, the SXSW Accelerator and Google Launchpad. That varied experience helped Denson, a Detroit native, 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 make their way to an end result,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a startup or the most award-winning advertising initiatives, you can’t unlock best-in-class thinking by staying in your own bubble.”

Denson understands the importance of his role as a prominent Black voice in marketing and technology, and found that MullenLowe has been making real efforts at building a more inclusive culture from the ground up. Noting that he has been the “first and only in a lot of different verticals,” he sees this new role as another opportunity to inspire a new generation of talent.

“I am a beacon, to some degree,” he said. “I’ve always tried to show up in places where I don’t belong on paper, and to show that there’s always possibilities for people who look like me.”

Looking ahead, Denson sees success in this role based on the agency’s ability to take assignments or opportunities and have a different approach to solving the client problem, leading to successful outcomes.

“My favorite place is the whiteboard,” he said. “Along with sound methodologies and processes, it’s a place where we can empower people to think of the possibilities and build a domino effect of success across the agency.”

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