Judy John leaving Leo Burnett for Edelman

*This story was updated Feb. 11 at 6 p.m.

Huge changes hit the Canadian advertising and PR world Monday with the announcement that Judy John is leaving Leo Burnett, the agency she has led since 2011.

John’s next destination was revealed in a statement from Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman PR. “Today we are proud to announce that Judy John… will be joining our firm as our first-ever global chief creative officer on April 29.”

Andrew Bruce, chief executive officer, Publicis Communications, North America, was in Toronto to break the news to Leo Burnett staff Monday morning that their CEO and chief creative officer was departing.

Replacing John as chief creative officer in Canada is Lisa Greenberg, reporting into president Ben Tarr, with Brent Nelsen remaining as chief strategy officer for Leo Burnett North America (Nelsen reports to Andrew Swinand, CEO of Leo Burnett North America).

Bruce told The Message that John informed him several months ago that she intended to leave. “I love Judy and I wish her nothing but success,” he said. John will remain with the agency for a few weeks to ensure a smooth transition to the new leadership team.

On the face of it, John’s move seems like a shift from advertising to PR, but in reality it is just the latest evidence of the increasingly blurred lines between the two disciplines. In his statement, Edelman said hiring John was part of a five-year effort to move his agency beyond “classic public relations” in response to the transformative trends in consumer behaviour and media consumption.

“At the core of the strategy was earned creative, social by design and as fast as the news cycle. Our ideas would be different than advertising, moving clients to take a stand, then encouraging consumers to build on the idea in their own way,” he wrote. That shifting focus included the hiring of Andrew Simon as Edelman Canada’s executive creative director in 2015.

“Now it is time to go to the next level, to make the case for Edelman as the lead creative partner when a brand or business wants to disrupt the market by taking a stand,” wrote Edelman. Chicago Business reported that John will remain based in Toronto.

As for replacing John, Bruce talked with both Tarr and Nelsen about who should fill the soon-to-be-vacant chief creative role. “It was their unanimous decision that Lisa was absolutely the right leader at this time,” he said. “Here is the reality—great leaders build great teams, otherwise they are not great leaders, and Judy was a great leader who built a great team.”

Along with Greenberg’s promotion, Steve Persico and Anthony Chelvanathan have been named senior vice-presidents and creative directors. All three have been instrumental to Leo Burnett’s success in recent years, with their names appearing atop many of the awards show credit lists both in Canada and internationally.

“Lisa, Anthony and Steve are a leadership team that, between them, represent the breadth of creative thinking a modern agency needs,” said Nick Law, president, Publicis Communications and Groupe CCO, in a release. “They’ve been an important part of building Leo Burnett Toronto’s reputation as a world-class creative organization, and embody the talent, energy and ambition to write its next chapter.”

Leo Burnett has also promoted Tahir Ahmad to senior vice-president, head of strategy and Natasha Dagenais to senior vice-president, head of account management.

Under her leadership, Leo Burnett’s Toronto office was generally considered one of the best agencies in Canada, and a top performer in North America. In 2016, she was named chief creative officer for North America. (Greenberg will not be taking on the North American role.)

John was named the world’s top chief creative officer in Advertising Age‘s 2015 Awards Report, and was listed in Business Insider’s 30 Most Creative People in Advertising. In 2016, she was named Marketer of the Year by the Canadian Marketing Association, with the organization lauding her “strong leadership, creative ability and innovative thinking.”

The agency was a regular winner in global award shows and the agency’s 2015 #LikeAGirl campaign for Always captured a bevy of accolades, including a Titanium Lion, a PR Grand Prix and Glass Lion at Cannes, as well as an Emmy award for Outstanding Commercial.

David Brown