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Rich Edelman on hiring Judy John as firm’s first global CCO and the rise of its creative offerings

Edelman has named renowned marketer Judy John as its first-ever global chief creative officer, effective April 29. John, the visionary behind the Always #LikeAGirl global phenomenon, will lead Edelman’s Creative network, made up of more than 600 creatives and planners globally. She will be based in Toronto and report to Richard Edelman, president and chief executive officer of Edelman.

John joins Edelman from Leo Burnett, where she was most recently chief executive officer of Canada and chief creative officer of North America. Since leading for Canada and North America, Leo Burnett Toronto has been honored with nearly every industry award, including an Emmy for Outstanding Commercial; a Titanium, Grand Prix and Glass Lion at the Cannes Lions Festival; and the first-ever Digital Black Pencil at D&AD.

“Judy believes in earned creative that is social by design, fast enough to suit the news cycle and helps to spark movements,” said Edelman. “Our goal isn’t to do traditional advertising because earned creative, which allows consumers to carry the story forward themselves, is the new frontier. We want to lead creative when brands are looking to make societal impact and serve as agents of change.”

Edelman had heard of John because of her work on the Always #LikeAGirl campaign and had admired her work. He introduced himself to her and pitched his Earned Creative idea. “I said ‘look, it’s getting harder and harder for marketers to reach people just through pay’ – because of Netflix and because of ad blockers,” he told The Drum. “‘I think there’s also room in this world where brands are being asked to do more and more, on behalf of issues, or take a position. So maybe these two things coming together make it something interesting. By the way, we have 600 people we’ve hired in the last five years to come in as creatives, or planners or paid. We believe there’s a real opportunity to do more for clients.’”

Throughout her career, John has garnered honors, including being named Marketer of the Year by the Canadian Marketing Association in 2016, and was named to Business Insider's 30 Most Creative People in Advertising. At Leo Burnett, John also led a number of major efforts including Amazon’s first Super Bowl commercial, Samsung’s first global Olympic campaign and Blackberry’s first global campaign. Before joining Leo Burnett, where she spent nearly 20 years, she worked with Ogilvy, Guerilla TV and Taxi.

John has been a speaker at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and the 3% Conference, and she has also served as a judge in top international awards shows, including Cannes and the Clios. She sits on the board of directors of The One Club, the Ad Council’s Creative Review Committee and the Advisory Board for Girl Culture Films.

A move into ‘earned creative’

John’s hiring caps a period of over the past two-and-a-half years, in which Edelman has bolstered its creative firepower, hiring scores of creatives and planners. Those hires include Andrew Simon, chief creative officer, Toronto, formerly of DDB; Stefan Ronge, chief creative officer, Europe; and Jimmie Stone, chief creative officer, New York, formerly of McCann.

Edelman told The Drum that creatives and planners now make up 10% of the company’s workforce. “Also, we really have started to develop very powerful work products. We think it can go from being a kind of market by market thing to being global. It’s clear to me that there’s this fence of brands needing to speak up, whether it’s Gillette, whether it’s Nike with Kaepernick…They’re all taking positions. That suits us to a ‘T’. It’s what we do every day. Also, this idea of brands needing to be agile and fast, as fast as the news cycle. And brands needing to be not just social but socially minded," he said.

“She’s a perfect cultural fit," said Edelman regarding John's hiring. "Edelman’s a family business. Judy grew up in a family business – her family owned a restaurant. She gets family business. She works on the clients herself. She takes the brief and she does the ideas. That’s very Edelman style. Everyone at Edelman is an account executive. It was important now for Judy, because I feel like we’re at this crossing point where this really can take off for us, and in a way that’s really good for clients, because the brands are being asked to do so much more than be functional. There has to be emotional, spiritual, there has to be purpose – all these dimensions that are sort of new.”

He said he and Johns talked about how to get beyond the classic purchase funnel so the most avid of brand fans become advocates. “The way to do that is to have earned creative – something that is aimed at starting movements. ‘Like a Girl’ is like that.” He went on to say that earned creative is not only fast as the news cycle, but also social by design, in that it is shared in the community. It also has an aspiration to change what a brand or company is doing, like it did with CVS Quits, which helped move the brand away from selling cigarettes.

That also means the company is looking to use paid advertising only when necessary. “Paid for us is simply an accelerator. Paid is not the primary means of expression. For us, the primary means is earned, owned and social. We’ll accelerate something in social by having a paid campaign with Facebook, or something…Our expression is not a 30-second spot. Our expression can be an article, a film,” said Edelman, who added the Dove Real Beauty productions with Shonda Rimes was an Edelman idea. “That to us is earned creative. If you’re dealing with a problem, which is too few of the campaigns you see are produced by women. So we’re answering a problem and providing a solution,” said Edelman.

He went on to say that people are increasingly looking at Edelman as a tree. The trunk of the tree is PR – corporate and brand. Edelman gets hired to do PR, but the advantage is that the company has a strong digital branch of 700 people, and now a strong creative branch, at 600 people. Still, he said, 75% of its business is PR.

“We increasingly see that PR is done best when it has a powerful idea. This goes back to my dad (Dan Edelman). What was the essence of Sara Lee, of Toni Home Permanents? It was a better way to do a product. Instead of going to the salon to get your hair done, you could get it in a box. Sarah Lee was the first frozen cake that tasted like homemade. That’s a substantive difference. That’s why we’ve always aimed at having ideas that change the marketplace. Like dolphin safe tuna for StarKist…This is a tradition of us having breakthrough ideas,” he said.

“Clients are increasingly saying, ‘whoever has the best idea, I’m going with it’. It doesn’t have to be the ad agency. By the way, we’re happy to work with ad agencies.

“The clients are asking for ideas that sell products, and establishing strong relationships with their consumers. We are, as Edelman, unique as a private, independent firm. The excitement about this should be significant, partly because we’re taking this big leap at a time when there’s a lot of other news about the sector that isn’t so positive. I want people to say (with the Judy Johns hire), ‘OK, these people have real confidence in the future.’ This is a big statement about Edelman’s future.”

The Drum is launching a new global awards event to celebrate the innovative and creative thinking in the PR space. The Drum PR Awards will champion the absolute excellence within this sector.

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