Edelman Hires Creative Veteran Behind Leo Burnett’s ‘Like a Girl’ as Its First Global CCO

Edelman had a message for last summer’s Cannes Lions festival: we do creative now, too.

Since giving up its fight against paid media back in 2013, the world’s largest independent communications firm has, by its own estimates, hired 600 creatives and planners over the past two years alone in an attempt to offer a wider array of services to clients, including leaders from DDB, Mullen, McCann and Ogilvy, among others.

Now, it has for the first time named a single executive to oversee that growing team in the form of Judy John, who was formerly CEO of Leo Burnett Canada and CCO for that agency’s North American operations. John has spent 25 years in the agency world and may be best known for her work as a member of the team behind Always’ award-winning “Like a Girl” campaign.

"We will use paid to accelerate, not to initiate; that's the big difference for us."
Richard Edelman, president and CEO, Edelman

Edelman president and CEO Richard Edelman called John “a superior mind; a leader; a fit for exactly our type of culture,” adding, “It’s very significant that a person of her stature chooses to come to us based on believing in the idea of ‘earned creative.’ I think it’s a big part of [the] future for marketers, and she will help us take it there.”

So what is “earned creative,” exactly?

Our goal is not to create paid content. We want to be in mainstream media, social and digital, and we want to be in conversation as something the influencers want to talk about,” said Edelman. “We will use paid to accelerate, not to initiate; that’s the big difference for us.”

Edelman argued that this approach leads to more “credible” campaigns in which the “big boom” idea finds its truest expression on social media and other platforms. The goal, then, is to have truly organic influencers discuss the work rather than paying them to directly promote it. “The normal order of things is to start with paid [media], which is then promoted by earned. For us, it’s now earned, then social, then paid,” he said.

When asked for recent examples of this approach, he cited the controversial Gillette digital-only ad “We Believe,” Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign starring Colin Kaepernick, and REI’s “Opt Outside,” which Edelman worked to promote via traditional earned media pitches. Then, of course, there was “Like a Girl.”

Edelman said he had been looking for a new leader when he found John at Cannes last summer. “We needed to have an Edelman way. We also needed someone who really has the trust of CMOs and the confidence in her work to help drive confidence more broadly in our own work,” he said.

John fit the bill. During her time in the agency world, she has seen her work honored by nearly every industry awards show. She has also been a speaker, judge or both at Cannes, The One Show, the 3 Percent Conference, the ADC and D&AD, and more. She current sits on the One Show’s board of directors.

Despite this newfound focus on creative content, Edelman said his firm’s offering won’t directly infringe upon that of more “traditional” agencies like, say, Leo Burnett.

Over time, we believe companies will see the importance of earned creative as an increasing portion of the marketing mix,” he said. “But we’re not trying to compete with [agencies] in what they do best. They know how to do :30s much better than we do.”

Regarding material made for social media, he said, “One of the things Judy and I have talked around is fast creative. Clients have been really good about using that for defense, but what about the offense? Increasingly, we have to go directly to the end user of information—and the idea has to be strong enough to support that.”

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