Leadership Profile: Kevin Cook - Edelman

To start our interview on Microsoft Teams, Kevin Cook immediately addresses the overall theme of leadership. The president of the Chicago office of Edelman is gracious in acknowledgement of the leaders and mentors he’s worked with during his career. He mentions the lessons of company founder Dan Edelman, former U.S. CEO Pam Talbot, and current CEO Richard Edelman as examples of inspiring leadership within the firm. He describes his own leadership style as a mosaic of those who’ve had the biggest impact on him.

Employees working with Cook benefit from a philosophy that embraces clear communication. Kevin says he believes in setting clear goals for people, being clear on how they can reach those goals, and making sure they understand how to measure progress. He believes in letting people do their jobs without micromanagement while remaining straightforward about how they can accomplish goals.

We discussed how leaders build a diverse team with multiple talents. “Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to surround themselves with people who are better than them,” at different skills necessary to have a well-rounded office. As a sincere and humble expression of leadership it is a representation of the respect Cook has for his staff.

Cook acknowledges the importance of accountability. He notes that managers must be able to “lead from the front.” This means they must be able to step up and be the example that can motivate the rest of the team. The culture at Edelman allows employees to learn from their mistakes. “It’s okay to fail. Fail fast. Fail smartly. But fall forward.” Those who “fall forward” will learn by pushing boundaries.

Employees can go far by practicing simple habits like good note-taking. Kevin shares that this idea goes back to Dan Edelman himself. The founder insisted everyone always carry a notebook and pen. Several others note this detail in a video on the Edelman website. Kevin explains that Dan believed that good note-taking was an art and it is where the best ideas begin.

Cook keeps a fresh perspective and optimistic attitude about the future. He has great ideas for how brands can take a positive approach to the new landscape of marketing. “People want to see brands solve societal problems and needs versus trying to sell a product,” Cook says, adding that brands must “be relevant from a purpose perspective.” He mentions the example of companies who have shifted production to personal protective equipment to assist in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It can give consumers a whole new perspective to a company’s identity. Brands that sincerely implement a purpose-driven identity will establish trust in the marketplace. Trust is what gives a brand credibility.

Cook says that an organization’s greatest asset is its employee base. At the time of our interview, the entire employee base of Edelman is working remotely. Cook focuses on the unexpected but positive results of managing a team that is working from home. He’s noticed a collaborative spirit embraced by his team. People are meeting face-to-face more than they may have previously. People are bonding over virtual social gatherings. It’s forced everyone to think differently about how they approach their work and has yielded creative outcomes. “We haven’t lost an edge as much as we’ve gained a new nuance to getting things done in a different way.”

Kevin is generous with his time and his advice. He encourages the power of networking. He recommends the method of trying to meet one new person every week. Despite social distancing challenges, it is a good practice for growing a professional network. My assignment to have a conversation with the head of Edelman’s Chicago office was not only a tremendous networking opportunity also an enjoyable examination of leadership and marketing.

Truly a benefit of the family-owned business is the ability to only be beholden to their employees and clients rather than any other corporate entities. This kind of leadership builds loyalty, passion, and respect. Employees operating with this spirit will create work that elevates the entire industry. The culture of leadership at Edelman is a benefit to their stakeholders and the art of marketing communications overall.

Agency profile

Although one of the largest global communication and marketing firms, Edelman remains a family business. Founded in 1952 by Dan Edelman, the company remains independent under current CEO Richard Edelman. He continues his father’s vision for a more imaginative approach to marketing solutions. Edelman works with clients to tell impactful stories to their stakeholders. Since 2001, the Edelman Trust Barometer has measured the pulse of trust globally. The annual trust and credibility survey serves as a way to analyze the level of trust in business, media, government, and other organizations.

About the Author

Alan Grafton is a class of 2020 M.A. in Public Relations and Advertising from DePaul University.

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