Catching up with Judy John

The global CCO fills strategy in on how she's navigating new waters over at Edelman.


This story originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of strategy.

When Judy John left Leo Burnett, she left tongues wagging.

During her 20 years at the agency, John helped bold brands make bold moves (read: Always #LikeAGirl). She worked her way up from SVP, CCO in 1999 to CEO Canada and CCO for North America in 2016, before making a bold move of her own, leaving Leo Burnett to join Edelman in 2019.

The PR and marketing consultancy firm is looking to be “the lead creative partner when a brand or business wants to disrupt the market by taking a stand,” wrote Richard Edelman regarding John’s hiring as global CCO. The shop has a history of snapping up advertising bigwigs in an effort to become a creative powerhouse: Andrew Simon stepped into the CCO role from Cundari, while Jordan Doucette did a stint at the agency after leaving Taxi (though she’s now Leo Burnett Chicago’s CCO).

Now more than five months after diving into uncharted waters, John’s enjoying new views you often can’t see if you stay on the shore.

She’s focused on looking forward, not backward.

“I know there was a lot of curiosity when I moved over. I think traditionally in advertising we’re very siloed in our thinking. People ask, ‘Why did you make the move?’ And it comes back to the way I see the world evolving and the way that everyone is viewing content. People aren’t really watching TV anymore, so consumers are not waiting for the next commercial to happen. What does that mean for paid media?

When you look at influencers, you can understand why they’re so big – it’s how people are viewing content. I think social and that whole model has become more important and it’s changed what we create, and how we create, and it impacts everything.”

She’s flexing and growing her creative and CEO muscles on a global scale.

“I’m definitely using my chief creative and CEO skills [at Edelman]. It was really fortunate that I got both [from Leo Burnett], because while this job is highly creative, I’m also often trying to understand how to finance creativity.

On the creative side, I’m connecting the creative community to the strategy and planning group. And having a vision for how we’re organized and how we’re working – that’s the organizational side.

Every day is different, one day I’m on calls all day, I’m in the Toronto office tomorrow, last week I was in Seattle, the week before I was in Chicago, so I’m working with different teams on different clients, existing clients, pitches – I was looking at a piece of work from London today. It’s everything. Even though I worked with Leo Burnett on some global projects, this has more of a cohesive global feel and I think it’s because it’s an independent agency. Edelman is more connected and I’ve really enjoyed getting the perspectives on different markets.”

She encourages creatives to jump before they’re pushed.

“My advice to the next generation is to work in different parts of the business, as that’s the best way to understand what’s going on and where things are going. Everyone wants to specialize, but the world is changing so quickly. And I think it’s really important that people of all ages continue to reinvent themselves, or evolve, as the business continues to change. But wherever you are, I think curiosity is the most important thing.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length