Ruth Warder - Stepping into esteemed shoes

Ruth Warder is embracing the challenge of making JCPR her own agency, finds John Owens.

Taking clear steps: Warder's vision for the agency (Credit: Alex Griffiths)
Taking clear steps: Warder's vision for the agency (Credit: Alex Griffiths)

A quarter of a century is a long time in any industry, let alone the rapidly changing world of PR.

But that is the milestone being marked this month at JCPR, or Jackie Cooper Public Relations as it was known before Edelman bought it in 2004.

Twenty-five years on, the agency is now a considerably bigger beast. So what is next for the consumer trailblazer?

MD Ruth Warder is sharply dressed, impressively heeled and determined. 'I want to refocus the agency back on our ethos of "hero campaigns for our brands", with really big thinking and by working with brands that also want to think big,' she says.

'The main thing is the quality of the ideas - I want to be able to walk up to our office printer, pull anything off it and be inspired by what I see.'

The 35-year-old speaks quickly, occasionally stumbling over her words, such is her enthusiasm to articulate her ideas.

Previously one of four directors, in 2010 she was picked to step into the not inconsiderable shoes of Jackie Cooper and Robert Phillips, now Edelman's global vice-chair brand properties and EMEA CEO respectively.

'They were very much "it's your baby now",' she says, adding that the weight of support ran all the way up to Richard Edelman.

But if Warder feels the pressure of steering such an illustrious ship, she does not show it. Bright and breezy, she is passionate about telling brand stories.

Sporting a Cleopatra haircut and killer set of heels (more on those later), she seems to embrace the image of the archetypal consumer PR professional.

At one point in the interview, when asked about moving into the Edelman office, she half-jokes on the food being served: 'No one in consumer PR wants to eat pies - where's the sushi?'

Underneath, though, she remains fiercely driven and is clearly ambitious to push the agency forward.

The figures speak for themselves - JCPR has grown in fees from £6.2m at the end of 2009 to £9.7m last year. If very much moulded by the JCPR legacy, Warder is also unsentimental about it.

'The only thing I'm really interested in is maintaining the principles of the way we work. It's not that I'm not interested in maintaining the JCPR brand but I don't believe that the agency brand should come before the agency work.'

The fit seems a natural one, and it is not entirely surprising to hear Warder describe friends encouraging her to go into PR even when she was studying theatre design and drama at university.

Attracted by the 'exciting clients' and work hard/play hard ethos of Freud Communications, it was after a foray into the world of event organisation that she found herself at Jackie Cooper Public Relations.

Clearly impressed with Cooper, who she says has an 'unbelievable ability to tell it like it is', and Phillips, the 'most strategic' thinker she has met, she stayed on through the Edelman takeover.

However, no matter how insightful the pair were, they probably did not bargain on losing their rising star to a love of footwear.

It is at this point that Warder's more impulsive side becomes evident. Swept up by a 'wild idea', she jumped into a year-long course of shoe design at the London College of Fashion, before realising the solitary life of a shoesmith was, perhaps, not for her.

She was lured back into the JCPR fold, enthused in particular by a new project around revamping Covent Garden.

Now, though she is still working on that project, much else has changed. The 85-strong JCPR team is ensconced in the belly of Edelman's sprawling office space in Victoria, with recent big wins including Carphone Warehouse and Green & Black's.

Bev Churchill, marketing and comms director for CapCo, has worked with Warder on the client side of the Covent Garden project. Calling Warder 'hilarious', she also warns: 'She very smart and her mind is very quick. People might underestimate Ruth but they do so at their peril.'

JCPR is keen to mark its anniversary, and in a manner more altruistic than the usual mixture of expensive bubbly and nibbles on silver platters.

The agency is about to launch a competition that will award a £10,000 bursary to the young person able to produce the best narrative for a given brief.

Warder also gives a succinct answer to those wondering about any tension between the agency's old and new identity.

'The award is to help people get a leg up, and it is about storytelling, which is what JCPR has always been about - it's just now we're telling stories in different ways.'


CV

2007 Associate director rising to MD, JCPR

2005 Foundation degree footwear, London College of Fashion

2003 Account manager rising to account director, Jackie Cooper Public Relations

2001 Producer, GSP Productions

1999 Work experience placement rising to account manager, Freud Communications


RUTH WARDER'S TURNING POINTS

What was your biggest career break?

Deciding to do something different when I was an account director at JCPR, and taking a year out of PR to do a footwear design foundation degree at Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion. It was an amazing and creative experience and I learned a great deal - but the biggest lesson I learned was how much I enjoyed doing PR.

Have you had a notable mentor?

I have mentors in both Robert and Jackie and I have been lucky enough to work with some brilliant people and companies along the way.

What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

Don't focus too much on trying to climb the ladder - focus instead on doing the best work you are capable of, being creative and thinking differently, and the ladder will follow.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

We look at recruits from all different backgrounds with all different types of career experience and education, but the common qualities that we value are creativity, innovation, instinct, care and a passion for storytelling.

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