Jackie Cooper canva


The Story Of PR Powerhouse Jackie Cooper

From selling her own budding company to flourishing at the Edelman empire - we uncover the twist and turns of Cooper’s iconic career

By conor nichols

When asked how the founding principles of Jackie Cooper PR are still kept alive within the Edelman PR behemoth which bought the agency twenty years ago, the inimitable Jackie Cooper herself jokes: “Well, I’m alive!”

Of course all of Cooper’s principles have remained intact since she sold her PR and marketing agency to Edelman in 2004. How else would she remain the PR legend that she is, with over 35 years of entrepreneurial experience in brand and reputation strategy, not to mention the fact that she became the first woman to be inducted into the PR Week UK Hall of Fame in 2018?

Today, Cooper sits as the global chief brand officer at Edelman, and while she puts her successful career down to an element of luck, what is the story behind the making of this industry legend? 

Back in 1987, Cooper co-founded JCPR on the principles of building reputations and driving growth by harnessing real cultural excitement. “My first proper gig was as a publicist, and I still have that mindset because we built the agency on the classics: fame, sex, controversy, news and humour. If work didn’t have these things, we believed that it wouldn’t be interesting to anyone.” And as a result, JCPR was extremely culturally effective, growing brand profiles through compelling stories or by association. As well as highly impactful campaigns for the likes of O2, Mary Kate & Ashley, PlayStation and Wembley Stadium, Cooper cites the final flight for Concorde and especially the launch of Wonderbra as landmark moments and turning points in the agency's history.

“It put us at the table, instead of just publicising others' work. With Wonderbra, Trevor Beattie and TBWA, we learned to integrate marketing effectively and create very mutually advantageous promotions. We believed in earning our way to tell a story, which was more powerful than just ‘there’s the advertising and there’s the PR’.” As the years went by and the award-winning agency grew, the agency became what Cooper had dreamed it would become: “an agency of record that was excellent, relevant, and progressive.”

However, on top of the commitment it takes to run your own agency, the agency soon faced the challenge of being conflicted out of key product categories. JCPR had its “car company, fashion retailer and booze company” and the only way to extend its services was to expand geographically. For Cooper this was a massive challenge. “How do you find like-minded people? How do you lead them and keep your own levels of professionalism if you’re not in that market? Associations with other agencies fell short.” While the company initially declined interest from Richard and Daniel Edelman years before the acquisition, ten years later in the early 2000s JCPR struck a swift deal with Richard Edelman who was “very gracious about it”.

But it was not all plain sailing at first, as the transition from her own agency inevitably threw up some hurdles. Cooper found the first year after the deal to be the worst year of her career in fact. “It was tough, proving ourselves to a new network while preserving our essence as ‘Cooperetes’. I also had to embed myself in formal corporate culture, which I hadn’t understood or really ever been in, other than seeing it through the prism of my clients. In organisations like Edelman, there’s a hierarchy that supports career ambition for your teams that has more rigour and formality. I had to learn to advocate for myself and my team in a new way, in terms of being an asset to the company and not an ego.”

While Cooper and her team “grieved for a while” about selling, in the end independence, entrepreneurialism and ultimately Richard Edelman, were “massive parts” of why she sold. “Selling wasn't about money but living beyond the deal - this was advice I took in part from my husband who is an accountant who specialises in mergers and acquisitions.”

The global expertise and the people of Edelman were also vital for Cooper - two things that she attests have kept her at the company for 20 years. “You have to be surrounded by people who understand the challenging nature and complexity of a world that is changing rapidly, because the best agencies match agility with expertise. You need all the information that is required to reinvent - everything from societal pressure, to political pressure to financial pressure. Despite the challenges, there's nowhere else I'd rather be than navigating this complex world with Edelman.”

And Cooper has flourished throughout her time at the company. She first served as creative director on notable campaigns such as Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’, ‘Dirt is Good’ for Omo/Unilever, and the Halo launch for Xbox, before advancing to global creative chair, joining the executive committee and formalising the firm’s creative services, while building a global network of 650 creatives, planners, and production experts. Notably, Cooper also led Edelman’s debut foray into Cannes Lions, garnering 65 awards within the first three years. Now, as global chief brand officer, she ensures brands reach their potential through multi-stakeholder, omni-channel campaigns, leveraging the agency's data, insights, innovation, and creativity.

By far her proudest achievements, however, are the creations of the Gen Z Lab and the new Longevity Lab, both of which Cooper pioneered by bringing her innate cultural understanding and instinctive insight to Edelman. These global Labs are designed to help marketers win the loyalty and economic stakes of these very different generations.

“We asked a host of CMOs what kept them up at night and they all said Gen Z," Cooper explains. "For them it’s the first time a generation has intimidated them, because they didn’t know enough about them and felt as if they could get cancelled or called out.” The Gen Z Lab, founded over two years ago, uses ever-changing and organic data to debunk myths. “Not only do we now have 320 Gen Zers around the world {providing insights and feedback] with 50 client projects underway, but we’ve just hit $45.8 million which is incredible.”

One would think that the recently launched Longevity Lab, which targets 55 to 72-year-olds, is on the other end of the spectrum, yet Cooper believes there are loads more parallels between Gen Z and Boomers than there are with Millennials. "Gen Z is focused on influencing and reshaping how we watch, create, and share content. They want to change the world and are aware of their societal and environmental impact, which millennials aren’t as worried about as they’re mainly just trying to survive. The boomers on the other hand, both tech-savvy and aware, are concerned about all of these things and are massively influenced by Gen Z.” With Longevity Labs, Cooper and Edelman are aiming to debunk myths once again. “Packaging a whole age group up and believing they don’t have anything to contribute is causing us all to miss out on so much wisdom.”

The Lab initiatives exist because Richard Edelman himself has always supported Cooper’s desire to crank up the innovation, allowing her to breathe her entrepreneurial spirit into the firm. “That's my oxygen. The good days are when I can focus on innovation, not HR or operations.” The PR veteran describes herself as “the least complacent person going”. And perhaps that is at the core of her wide-spanning success. “I'm constantly questioning and curious. The reason why I'm still relevant is because I'm listening to a variety of people. The key thing is to never stop learning.”

Quick-fire Questions

How important is it that Edelman is an independent agency?

I see independence akin to a heart. It's hugely important because like a heart, it pumps you, but it's also where the love resides. There's a mechanical aspect to it, and there's a spiritual, emotional aspect. That's what independence means for our agency. We are very aware of Dan Edelman and Richard remains very vocal, keeping Dan's spirit alive. He always said, 'We don't need to be the biggest, but we do need to be the best.' And being the best is everything. 

Independence gives our people a sense of working for a firm, not just shareholders. Psychologically, it's different. You feel you have a stake in it, decisions are made for the company's progress, not just to please shareholders and markets. Holding companies offer other opportunities; I'm not criticising them. We collaborate with agencies within holding companies because of our independent stance. Richard calls us 'Switzerland.' We can collaborate freely, bringing diverse expertise to the table, limitless contributions. It changes the essence of coming to work. 

One of my protégés once accused me of selling out when I sold JCPR. I disagreed. Staying independent would have limited our progress. By selling, I saw limitless potential. He didn't understand and left. Eventually, he realised the opportunity he missed. He now runs a successful agency, still calls me boss, and admitted he didn't see the opportunity at the time. It's nice to hear that acknowledgement.

What is the one thing about the industry that you hope to change?

I’m still driven by the mission I’ve always been on – to demonstrate the immense impact that PR in the wider sense can deliver, beyond any other marketing service. The creating, telling, and sharing of human-centric stories, while both promoting and protecting brands and companies, can really only be done by people who understand how to craft them. Companies and brands need more than a 30-second spot to deliver impact and engagement.

At Edelman, we’re redefining what PR means. It’s not merely communications and press releases, it’s about relating to the public. Our world needs this more and more. 

Have you had any notable mentors throughout your career?

After the acquisition of my company, Richard Edelman mentioned that he wanted to come to London and feel proud of Edelman, something he couldn't do before. I understood his sentiment from that comment, and it freaked me out. But luckily, in the first year of the acquisition, I had two amazing mentors, Michael Deaver and Mike Seymour. Michael Deaver, who was once Reagan's publicist, was extraordinary, not to mention wise and funny. He worked in Washington for us and was among the business aspects for Edelman, particularly in the political arena. He once told me, "Don't change; we bought you because you have something we don't". His words challenged my imposter syndrome.

Mike Seymour was the head of global crisis at the time of our acquisition. He was unexpectedly wonderful and he in fact used to work in comms for the British Army. He taught me to have a voice internally at Edelman. Though I had my own business at 23 years old, coming from a small agency with no university degree, I felt overwhelmed by the 2,5000 super-smart people from around the world at Edelman, but Mike wouldn't hear it. He pushed me to speak up. 

I learned so much from these two men, that now, with new acquisitions, I always assign a buddy to help them navigate. They helped me stay true to myself and realise my value at the firm. 

What has been your biggest failure?

My biggest failure was that when I set up on my own I didn’t realise that you have to be good at two things. You have to be good at the craft and you have to be good at running a business … and I didn't know how to run a business. If I knew then what I know now I would have certainly been better at running the business.

What advice would you give to the next Jackie Cooper?

Have belief and practice humility. You need belief in what you’re doing and the humility to learn the things you don’t. That’s where credibility and integrity come from. If you have those things, then clients will want to come with you. 

Know why you are different. If you can be really articulate about why you’re in the room, then of course you can start your own business and have success because clients want agencies and teams that have a clear idea on what they are offering, driven by both the head and the heart. 

Finally, context is everything. Context of the world, context of the business, context of the client, and context of 'why you'. Intimately understanding the context behind the shiny, flashy thing has been critical for the Gen Z Lab, the Longevity Lab, and with my own agency.


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