This Professor Uses Her Educational Expertise to Provide Clarity for Businesses

Denise Roberson is making TBWA\Chiat\Day history as its first chief purpose officer

a woman with short brown hair wearing a shirt that says hope, leaning against a purple wall
Roberson uses her expertise to mix her values into business practices. Courtesy of TBWA\Chiat\Day
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Denise Roberson went into 2020 with a plan: She was going to make waves as TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles’ first-ever chief purpose officer. But when the pandemic upended her plans, it was an opportunity to apply everything she’s learned in her career to teach companies the proper way to align their values with what’s going on in people’s lives.

Although Roberson spent two decades as the CEO of agency Jadi Communications, higher education has had an impact on where she is now. She’s currently doing research for a doctoral program at the Business School Lausanne in Switzerland and is a professor of marketing for Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business School’s presidents and key executives MBA program.

In 2013, Roberson was introduced to the idea of purpose and business author John Elkington’s triple bottom line, the belief that companies should focus on social and environmental issues in the same way they do profits. Something about that clicked for Roberson.

“I knew at that exact moment that that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “I wanted to help organizations do good by doing well and [teaching] them how to align their brand to actually accomplish some of these huge tasks where it was completely authentic to their mission and goals and values.”

Roberson said working for TBWA\Chiat\Day “has been kind of a fantasy” for her, especially because she’s teaching companies like Principal Financial Group, a 141-year-old firm that wants to learn how to adapt purpose into its work.

“Finding an organization that has that much legacy and that much impact has been incredible because I feel like we found true partners on this journey,” she said.

While the future is uncertain, there’s one thing Roberson knows for sure: Even when she’s not in the classroom, she’ll be teaching someone a thing or two about business.

“I can see myself and my team spending the next five years—easily—being the educators and really bringing this to life for major organizations that are ready to take that next evolutionary step and believe wholeheartedly that they can do good for the world and do good for their business.”

Big Mistake

Roberson wishes she had taken the plunge into the purpose world sooner. “It took me a really long time to find the confidence to really believe that this could be a discipline that changed the entire industry,” she said.

Lesson Learned

When you have a passion about something, you’ll find out just how many people are willing to listen and provide support.

How She Got the Gig

Roberson knew the CFO of TBWA\Chiat\Day, who later introduced her to other agency leaders, and they began talking about what purpose means.

“There [was] this energy that started shaping and forming, and we realized we have a real opportunity here to evolve our industry and push it into new territory,” she said.

Pro Tip

Authenticity is key when it comes to aligning business with purpose. “[It] has to be something that permeates and embodies every single person from the people on the shop floor all the way through to the chairman,” Roberson said.

This story first appeared in the July 13, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@tiffmoustakas Tiffany Moustakas is an associate web editor at Adweek, where she helps keep the magazine's digital presence up and running by editing stories and assisting with social media.