Acclaimed marketer Judy John joined Edelman last spring as its first global chief creative officer from Leo Burnett in Toronto. Judy’s hire was a major coup for CEO Richard Edelman. As the visionary behind Always’ groundbreaking and award-winning #LikeAGirl campaign and one who doesn’t mince words, Judy shares her career advice that’s both simple and profound.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
I love creating and building new things. That’s what we’re doing at Edelman. I was attracted by the entrepreneurial spirit of the company, Richard’s vision for earned creative and the future of the industry.
How did you get to where you are today?
Fear of failure, hard work, belief in what creativity can do, luck and a few champions. Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t have a vision for my future, leadership or management. I was purely focused and propelled by the work and doing great work. I’m not ambitious, which no one believes. To be more specific, I’m not ambitious about my career. I’m ambitious about the ideas we create—that they do something to drive people and society.
"I’m not ambitious about my career. I’m ambitious about the ideas we create..."
What noteworthy moments did you face along the way?
There were so many pivotal moments: marriage, having my daughter, becoming a young CCO, becoming a CEO and becoming the first Global CCO at Edelman. It all made me better as a human being and as a creative business leader.
What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?
This question is too complex and nuanced to write in a paragraph, it requires its own essay. It’s never been a better time to be a woman. There are more opportunities and support for women than ever. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a way to go. The challenge is to not make men the enemy. They are part of the solution. A lot of men have championed me and got me where I am.
What advice can you share?
Don’t be a jerk. This is advice from my mother. People can help you or work against you, they have a choice. Be respectful. Embrace and champion change. Change is going to happen—you can lead it or it can happen to you.
"Embrace and champion change."
Who has helped you in your journey and how did they shape your thinking?
I’ve been incredibly lucky and thankful to have had people who saw potential in me when I didn’t, who became my mentors and champions. To properly acknowledge them all would require an entire book.
How have you found a balance between your personal life and career?
Balance comes up a lot. I often wonder if men get asked this question or if they think about it this way. I believe there’s a concept called balance but it’s almost impossible to sustain for long periods of time, like nirvana. It’s hard to find balance because it’s a moment in time when the teeter-totter is leveled. I think I’m better at it now than I have ever been. Four notions have helped me:
- Be the best you at home. I know this sounds counter-intuitive to anything you should say to colleagues. At a leadership training recently, I told the team, ‘As awesome as all of you think I am and have been over the last three days, I’m even more awesome at home.’ Being happy at home makes you happier at work. Your relationship and family are there for the long haul, don’t expend all of your energy and best self at work.
- Be in the moment in whatever you’re doing and enjoy it. If you need to do something, get it done. Don’t let it trickle and eat your other time.
- Set boundaries, personally and professionally. Yes, there will be exceptions, but they should be exceptions, not the rule. No emails after 7 pm. No cell phones at the dinner table. Don’t work on holiday unless it’s an exception. Encourage others to not work on holiday.
- 80% fun. I picked this up from my sister. Everything I do I try to make it at least 80% fun.
Knowing what you know today, what one thing would you have done differently early in your career?
I would have reached out earlier to the CCOs I admire for advice when I got promoted into the role, versus floundering for years.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?
I’d be a filmmaker, DJ, cellist, coder, designer, and hip-hop dancer. I believe new creatives don’t live in one lane anymore. Mashups, collaborations, different skill sets are the ones creating the new.