Remembering Judy

Dear fellow strategy readers,

Dear fellow strategy readers,

I had the pleasure of working with Judy Elder for almost five years at Ogilvy & Mather. She took a gamble in recruiting me from a client-side career in pharmaceutical marketing and was very instrumental in enabling my successful transition to the agency business. So what did I learn from Judy? Cultivate your stars and enable them to grow. Client service is not servitude. Winning new business requires total immersion into the prospective client’s business.

I was originally recruited as a healthcare specialist to work on the agency’s Rx and over-the-counter client portfolio. But I had expressed my concern to Judy about being pigeonholed in pharma-land and also wanted to work on consumer accounts. Judy soon approached me with a DTC assignment for Imitrex. This was my first real DTC, in fact the first for the agency. But Judy had the guts to position me as the direct-to-consumer expert and sold my capabilities to the client team. The RSVP award that we won for this 1992 campaign sits on my credenza as a reminder of the confidence she had in me.

How else did Judy cultivate us? She was very good at creating new roles that hadn’t existed before. Shortly after becoming president of Ogilvy Direct, she pioneered the position of integrated account director with myself and Toni Ritchie becoming the first account people who worked for both the consumer and direct response divisions. She positioned Sarah Simpson as a DRTV guru. She created an interactive media team.

She was also masterful in selling her people to clients and matching their needs to our strengths. A few months after O&M won the global IBM account, Judy asked me if I was ready to take on IBM. Why? Because she felt that the complexities of healthcare marketing were very similar to the B2B needs of hi-tech.

But again Judy had the confidence that the fundamental skills of good people are transmutable. Within six months our IBM team was recognized as a centre of excellence and was awarded many worldwide projects during and after my tenure at O&M.

Having been a demanding client in my former life, I envied Judy’s ability to talk tough with clients and demand respect. Whether it was one of her employees being chewed out at a meeting, or a creative director being disappointed by having his idea shot down in flames, she would hear us out, take a few deep breaths, pick up the phone and tell the client exactly how she felt about it. Right between the eyes.

Nine times out of 10 the clients felt appreciative because of her concern and compassion. They didn’t view this as anger or being obstinate, they sensed passion and commitment, especially if the debate dealt with fundamental communications or business strategies. Whenever I sat in on one of those frank discussions, I felt empowered and supported. Her actions meant that I too would be permitted to speak my mind.

In addition to her people management and development skills, my most valuable takeaway from Judy was how to win new business. Almost 15 years later I’m still approaching pitches the way she taught me:

* Learn as much as you can about the client’s business. No fact is too obscure.

* Win the client’s respect by demonstrating a deeper understanding of their business than they expect from you.

* Above all, show that you really know who their customers are.

* Deliver killer strategies.

* Make sure the

creative and overall presentation sizzle.

* Never accept a poor solution, even if it means starting over at 2 a.m.

* Write with impact and deliver

with compassion.

For every presentation that I have written since my departure 10 years ago, I still start by asking myself: ‘What would Judy think or do in this situation?’ And as long as this process continues to work for me, I will still refer to old pitches that Judy and I worked on as templates for success.

I continue to miss our frequent conversations and her enthusiasm for life. But I’m thankful to have been able to preserve her legacy through my career and accomplishments. Thank you Judy for having been such a great friend and mentor.

Denis Piquette has spent 25 years in marketing and advertising. He is currently president of Ogilvy Healthworld Montreal and can be reached at