TUESDAY: DCA hosts Darien's John Osborn, latest in 'Darien neighbors, global players' series
Below is a Q and A The Darien Times asked of Darien's John Osborn, the second in the Darien Community Association's series, "Darien neighbors, global players" series. The last was Charlie Collier. Osborn's talk, Soul Branding: The Good of Doing “Good Work” in Advertising on Tuesday, April 9, with a 7 p.m. reception, and a 7:45 p.m. presentation. Osborn will be interviewed by friend and neighbor Alison Kreuch, the Head of Client Partnerships for Thrive Global.
Osborn became CEO of global media communications agency OMD USA in 2017, representing such notable clients as Apple, Levi’s, FedEx, Pepsi, Disney and McDonald’s. Previously, Osborn spent 25 years at BBDO, where he served as president and CEO of the New York advertising agency for 13 years. Under his leadership, BBDO New York more than doubled revenues, expanded its client base and diversified its workforce. Osborn also led the agency’s transformation into data, marketing science and communications planning. It was named Agency of the Year more than 15 times.
What made you choose a career in advertising?
I was a Government major in college, and also enjoyed English and visual arts. That unique balance of science and art were the ingredients that drove my initial interest, and I still lean on those learnings today. Another significant influence was an internship with Senator John Kerry from Massachusetts. I worked with his press team, with access to many closed-door sessions – it was like a graduate course in communication, negotiation and building consensus. And it also taught me to think in terms of the greater good. When I first interviewed for a career coming out of college, I still hadn’t landed on exactly what I wanted to do until I attended a lecture co-hosted by an advertising executive and a client. They spent a lot of time talking about the StarKist brand, and Charlie the Tuna as the vehicle for telling the brand’s story. I was hooked, pun intended. And I still eat StarKist tuna.
What is your favorite campaign you have worked on?
Asking an ad person to name a favorite campaign is like asking a parent to name his or her favorite child! So I’ll give you the same answer - you love all of them for different reasons. So working on Honey Nut Cheerios at Saatchi & Saatchi in the early 1990s was just as fun and interesting as working on Pepsi-Cola in the mid 90’s at BBDO, where I spent most of my career. And, working at Nike was just as inspiring as working on GE, or Lowe’s Home Improvement, FedEx, Foot Locker, Visa or McDonald’s, which is one of our clients at OMD, where I currently work. One consistent thread that connects my favorite experiences is they’re all defined by the people I was humbled and honored to work alongside. I’ve had the benefit to work with amazing writers, creators, dreamers, inventors and innovators. Of course, I’ve had the privilege of working with some pretty famous folks too, like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Michael J. Fox, Michael Jordan, Cindy Crawford, Marlon Brando, Shaquille O’Neal and others.
What is your most famous or memorable campaign to the average product consumer?
The first campaign I worked on when I came to BBDO was the “You Got the Right One, Baby” campaign for Diet Pepsi. The campaign transcended advertising and became part of the American vernacular, and sales beat all estimates. I can still remember racing across New York getting our scripts translated into braille. The campaign launched with a television commercial in which Ray tricks Joe Montana while taking a blind taste test between Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. Guess which brand won?!
But it you ask me which campaigns I am most proud of, I’d have to say they include all the pro bono work that my agencies have supported over the years for organizations like Sandy Hook Promise, the American Red Cross, Stand Up to Cancer and Monica Lewinsky’s anti-bullying efforts under the banner of “Defy Thy Name.”
How do you think the advertising industry has changed since you began working in it?
The world of advertising today is both filled with problems but also opportunities. There are more media vehicles than ever before. More channels and more messages. However, there’s also more measurement and more opportunities to tell our story. Storytellers have been joined by story builders, who will either extend a story in the social space, or build stories through real life experiences. There has grown another tension between the art and the science of advertising. In the case of all of these paradoxes, it’s not an “either/or” proposition. You need both in the business. You need the data and you need empathy, emotion and understanding. You need to build long-term brand identity and solve for short term business needs to meet the appetites of business leaders who are held to monthly, quarterly and sometimes daily performance metrics. There’s also a great quote I like to lean on, “when you’re through changing, you’re through.” Constant change is the biggest factor not only for this business, but also most businesses. Those who are most nimble and agile to keep up with those changes are the ones who will thrive long term.
How long have you lived in Darien and why do you choose to raise your family here?
To me, Darien has all the ingredients of an ideal place to live. We’re lucky to have a great group of friends who somehow put up with us. My wife’s family is in town, and my family is within reach in Boston. This town doesn’t have some of the affectations of some other towns nearby. It’s beautiful, with greenery, salt water, birds and even the occasional critter. We’re close enough to New York that I can commute to the City for work or a date night out, while also being just far enough away from the traffic and the horns. I ride the rails like many others, and when I come home at night, just as the train rattles over the bridge in Cos Cob, I can feel the stress falling off me. In many ways, I feel very fortunate to be where I am living in such a special place.
The next and last in the series will be with Scott Pelley, Correspondent, 60 Minutes, on the Truth Worth Telling, on Thursday, May 2, 7 p.m. reception, 7:45 p.m. presentation.
Scott Pelley is among the most experienced reporters in American journalism and he has been a correspondent to the award-winning CBS 60 Minutes since 2004. In his almost 30 years at the network, Pelley has also been the anchor and managing editor of The CBS Evening News, covering the major stories of our times and interviewing the news makers who have changed our world. Barrett Bookstore will be offering a special presale of his forthcoming memoir, Truth Worth Telling, at the event.
Single speaker tickets are $30 for DCA members, $45 for the public. Advance ticket purchase is recommended for single speaker tickets. Buy online at dariendca.org or through the DCA office. For further information contact the DCA at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-655-9050 extension 10. The DCA is located at 274 Middlesex Road in Darien.