Leo’s Top Planner Looks for ‘Leadership Role’

As Leo Burnett’s new director of planning, Rick Houghton-Larsen wants to increase the discipline’s influence.

“Planning has to be out front and take a leadership role,” he said. “What I want is to continue to build strong relationships with creatives, build brand expertise and bring it together with a holistic sense of planning.”

Larsen said it was too early to predict whether he would implement any sweeping changes in the 60-person department.

“What I’m going to do is continue upping our game,” he said. “I’m looking for ideas that live above and beyond the 30-second spot.”

Larsen, a 15-year veteran at the agency, was most recently executive planning director on the agency’s Kellogg and Nintendo accounts. He gained much of his experience in planning at Burnett’s London office in the middle-1990s.

Larsen replaces Cathy DeThorne, who initiated the Chicago shop’s planning department four years ago. She will continue to consult with Burnett, implementing its “Brand Belief System” on a global basis.

“I’ll be trying to get the whole network involved on how to manage brands,” DeThorne said. “It’s really a framework of how everyone at Burnett should work.”

DeThorne, a 20-year Burnett vet, said her decision to step back from the agency was made out of a “need for more flexible time for myself.”

When DeThorne started the department in 1997, planning was seen as the “savior” of U.S. agencies, she said. Since then, the frenzy around the discipline has diminished, but she felt the department has “matured” enough at Burnett to leave it to a successor.

“We’ve gone from being a research department to a legitimate, sought-after planning department,” she said.