Editor’s Letter: Moving Forward to Next

Adweek's James Cooper on his 21 years with the brand

James Cooper, who has been editorial director since 2011, is moving into the role of editor at large.
John Lamparski — Getty Images

Adweek turns 40 this year and it’s with pride, and a bit of astonishment, that I can say that I’ve been with the brand for just over half that time.

Looking back over those 21 years, the mind bends trying to recall the people, too many heroes, saints, villains and sinners to catalog here, who deeply influenced my career. Equally remarkable are the trends, both internal (ownership changes) and external (technology), that informed the job and what it took to approach success week in and week out. I have been here for a long time, yes. But it feels like I have had many different jobs, especially during that last two years when the pace of change shifted from rapid to torrent.

When I started in 1998, we as young reporters were obsessed with gross ratings points, the rise of the cable industry, shifts in creative and media agency accounts, the Byzantine minutia behind publishing a large consumer magazine, a mythologized television upfront, Cannes Lions and, of course, the Super Bowl. The internet was a distinct and looming cloud on the horizon at that point. We knew it was coming, but we didn’t know what it would bring—Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube and the foundations of the technology driving the media and marketing we ply and surf today.

Just thinking of the rate of change during that time is hard to comprehend not only from a commercial standpoint but a societal one as well. In the years between the year I started, fortuitously the same year Google was founded, to 2007, when Steve Jobs unveiled Apple’s first iPhone, the basis of every tradition, legacy, habit, gold standard, fetish or true north began its unyielding shift to something not the future.

As a reporter manning the disrupted four-way intersection of media, marketing, technology and advertising, it was a frightening and thrilling time. We covered the launch party of Talk magazine on Liberty Island under the Statue of Liberty in 1999, and I was at the 2000 press conference when AOL shocked the world by acquiring Time Warner Inc. There have been hundreds of mega inflection points since, but those two ultimately failed gambits stand out as the beginning of a new epoch, the enormity of which no one really seemed to understand.

"When I took over as editorial director in 2011, I really wasn’t sure I’d last six months in the job. Eight years later we have accomplished so much."

When I took over as editorial director in 2011, I really wasn’t sure I’d last six months in the job. Eight years later we have accomplished so much: Adweek in print is as vibrant as the people and businesses we cover, Adweek.com is a traffic juggernaut and our social feeds and video output buzz with energy and innovation. We launched Brand Genius and the Brand Visionary (I shook Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hand and got a hug from Christy Turlington), Media Visionary and Brand Save (Cause Marketing) honors. We also protected our important legacy honors like Agency of the Year, Media Plan of the Year and Media All-Stars. We created new franchises like Adweek Project Isaac and Adweek Arc Awards for the modern marketing world. And we heralded the return of Brandweek as a multiday symposium to create content and community in service of CMOs in the transforming brand marketing ecosystem. There is more to come as Adweek’s vision and metabolism will continue to push boundaries as the now dominant voice in its space.

For example, Adweek will roll out our NextTech summit July 24-25 in New York to delve into the future of marketing technology and ad tech. Joining us will be an incredible lineup of speakers, including S4 Capital executive chairman Martin Sorrell, AT&T chief brand officer Fiona Carter and Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships.

"[W]omen need to have meaningful roles—for equal pay—at the very top of influential companies like Adweek in order to be successful and valid stewards of a more human and compassionate world."

The playbook for understanding the digitally empowered consumer has yet to be written and the acquisition of Droga5 by Accenture Interactive last month seems to underscore this sea change. Adweek’s writers are keenly aware that macro trends like challenger brands, programmatic, data-informed storytelling, brand purpose as connector, analog’s return, artificial intelligence and human creativity, privacy, the impact of 5G and cannabis and many others are the stories of the hour. They’ll not only drive our businesses and shape our company cultures, but they have much larger social importance, because they ultimately will determine our freedoms—and how we trust each other.

Now to look forward into the future. Having covered the #MeToo movement, and as the father of two remarkable daughters, I have come to implacably believe that women need to have meaningful roles—for equal pay—at the very top of influential companies like Adweek in order to be successful and valid stewards of a more human and compassionate world.

With that said, I am thrilled and emboldened that Adweek’s newsroom will be co-led by Adweek editor and svp, programming Lisa Granatstein and newly promoted executive editor Stephanie Paterik. Both are consummate journalists and managing executives and Adweek’s culture will remain incisive, balanced and inclusive under their watch. But you won’t be fully rid of me just yet. I will take on the role of Adweek editor at large working on special projects, of which I suspect there will be many. Until then, I’ll see you on the trail moving forward to next.

This story first appeared in the May 13, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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