Judy John on opening Edelman’s creative hub in Toronto

Edelman has launched a new “creative hub” in Toronto that will work with clients globally, building a team of Canadian creative talent led by global chief creative officer Judy John.

The agency has hired Anthony Chelvanathan and Manas Abrol, both formerly with Leo Burnett Toronto, while Krystle Mullin returns to Toronto after three years at RPA in Los Angeles. All three will have the title executive creative director. The trio join Andrew Simon, who has been promoted to global creative lead for one of Edelman’s clients while keeping his role as chief creative officer for Canada, leading creative across its five Canadian offices.

This new creative firepower demonstrates just how far the agency has come in its evolution from traditional PR to modern communications agency, one capable of taking on a wide range of assignments and competing against an equally wide range of agencies, said John. “I’m excited about where we are going,” she said.

The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer found that seven out of 10 people actively avoid advertising, she said. Brands need to find new ways to connect with consumers and drive awareness. With its roots in PR, Edelman has a strong legacy in earned media, even as it adds more creative talent from the world of advertising. The new hub is about adding world-class thinkers who can solve client problems with solutions that go far beyond traditional advertising (such as this and this).

“Edelman has been on this journey for a few years now, transforming from PR to a broader communications company, with creative and strategy being a big part of that growth,” said John. As that shift has progressed, the agency has been invited to take on more expanded mandates, requiring it to expand its creative capabilities. While today’s announcement marks the formal introduction of the global creative hub, Edelman has been quickly adding creative talent around the world, she said.

But why open a global hub in Toronto? “Having a global creative hub here has always been a dream of mine, because I know the talent that we have here,” said John. “Canadians are generally scrappier and more media agnostic because they have smaller budgets. I like that mentality, and it creates that work ethic of trying to find different ways to solve business problems. I could see it in all of their work.”

The team will expand around the world, but John wanted to launch with a core team she was already familiar with. “We want to set the team up for success, so it helps to have a few people that you know, that work with the same mindset, and you can get off to a really quick start and create some really impactful work right off the bat,” she said. “That creates its own momentum, so having some people that I’m familiar with, and whose work I really admire, makes it a lot easier to jumpstart a team.”

John worked alongside Chelvanathan at Leo Burnett for years. Abrol arrived at Leo Burnett Toronto from Mumbai after John left for Edelman, but she knew him through the work he’d done for Leo Burnett in Mumbai, including leading the innovation lab there. She got to know Mullin in Cannes in 2018, when Mullin’s work for PFLAG won multiple Lions. They talked at length again the next year in Cannes, and John made her mind up then. “I said ‘Yeah, you gotta come to Edelman. I don’t know when, but we’ll figure that out.'”

Assignments will be worked out, and the creatives will take lead on some clients while working collaboratively on other projects. John said she’s looking forward to getting everyone together under one roof to start solving big client problems, but feels like just having them on her team represents a great start to 2021. “It’s a great way to kick off the year. I’m so excited for them to start,” she said.

David Brown