My signature was barely dry on the employment contract and I had not yet even set foot in the Edelman UK business and when Richard Edelman said: “I think we need to buy that JCPR agency. Go and see them”.
And so it was, that in my first week in charge of Edelman Europe, I was meeting the eponymous Jackie Cooper and her business partner Robert Phillips in the bar of the Haymarket Hotel, a venue remarkable only for its matching tartan carpet, drapes and serviettes. Jackie wore conspicuous dark glasses to be inconspicuous whilst Robert and I just looked conspicuous.
It was all a bit awkward to start with to be honest. An agency equivalent of being set up on a date by your dad. And what’s more, the bastards had stolen the Dr Pepper account off me not 12 months before! But we got over it. And it was the best acquisition (though truly a merger) I ever made and Robert and Jackie the best partners I could have hoped for.
And whilst Robert has now left the industry, I’m not sure Jackie ever could. If there was anyone for whom it was in the blood it is Jackie. I can’t think of a more fitting person to be inducted into the PR Week Hall of Fame and here’s why:
- The work the work the work. Jackie brings a ferocious intensity to originating properly breakthrough creative and then defending it from the compromise that PR firms so easily give in to. Her signature campaigns for Wonderbra, PlayStation, Dove and Xbox are just the tip of an almost unrivalled creative record.
- She made creative important. That sounds so trite and obvious now, but ten years ago, let alone 20 years ago, there were precious few CDs in the PR world and almost none had Jackie’s seniority and cut through. Everyone she worked with knew that each pitch, proposal and programme had to have a proper big idea based on a sound insight. Creative was always part of the JCPR culture, but it quickly became so at Edelman too.
- She sells at CMO and CEO level. PR creative by its nature is riskier than paid-media creative. It plays with the texture of journalistic and social media reaction so can’t be predicted or ‘ROI’d’ in the safe, clean (and mainly fake) way that advertising creative so often is and because of that, the best of it needs to be sold-in and committed to by very senior clients and Jackie has that rare ability to make boardrooms and storied CMOs believe and back ideas. She’s also pretty good at facing down uppity ad agencies.
- She respects, cherishes and embraces skills she does not have herself. Pretty soon after the acquisition, Jackie faced an enormous crisis with ‘celebrity twin’ clients. Edelman’s global crisis leader was Mike Seymour; clipped, precise, very British, with a military bearing and slightly scary contact book that years in tanks and war zones give you. Chalk and cheese they may have been, but together they fused two very different traditions into a unique offer. Of course great creative should have issues and crisis management built in. Of course, the best crisis solutions were often the products of a creative thinking process as well as disciplined, reductive one. Jackie is still on a mission to take creativity out of the creative department and into the PR business as a whole.
- She stands for something. Jackie’s personal brand is the last thing she thinks about, but because she has name recognition at a level of many advertising CDs she has importance beyond her work achievements for the PR industry. She is proof we can do the work we so often just talk about.
- She elevates the industry. If we are honest, as an industry, we have largely failed so far at the ‘creative thing’. We can’t even win the PR category at the Cannes festival of creativity (deservedly so in my view). For many, that does not matter, but to those of us it does and who believe that PR can be genuinely transformational for the way companies relate to their stakeholders and can be the lead discipline for enlightened brands we have to get better at it. We cannot reach our potential without improving our ability to deliver more and better creative ideas to our clients and colleagues. To do that we need more Jackie Coopers, but right now we should be grateful for the one we do have and celebrate what she has done for us.
Congratulations to PR Week for picking her, but mostly congratulations to Jackie for leading the way and for fifteen years of great friendship.