Ben Johnson: 40 Under 40 2015

Director, global communications, Tough Mudder

As you might expect of the man leading communications for a mud-drenched obstacle course, Ben Johnson isn’t scared of a challenge.

He joined Tough Mudder two years ago as it began a rapid expansion into new markets – domestically and internationally – and saw the spotlight trained on it as extreme sports rose in popularity.

Leading a small but nimble communications team through a period of explosive growth, Johnson has demonstrated a knack for knowing when to step on the gas and when to ease up, directing strategy in a thoughtful manner.

Tough Mudder’s brand awareness has leaped by more than 17% since he joined the Brooklyn, New York–based company in 2013. Its total number of participants jumped from 750,000 to nearly 2 million and it added three new types of events. Tough Mudder is set to host 60 events around the globe this year.

"Ben understands the various elements involved in creating and executing effective PR campaigns," says Carol Gottshall, media relations manager at Tough Mudder. "His proactive approach to both the company and the comms industry has led to a successful track record for the organization."

Its competitive events attract upward of 15,000 participants, but there have been challenges along the way, including a wrongful-death suit and a norovirus outbreak. But much of the coverage has been positive, such as a 12-minute Today segment and a Live with Kelly and Michael episode where the co-hosts attempted a mini Tough Mudder course set in New York City.

Johnson’s career kicked off in government as a communications assistant to then Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. He went on to spend the next five years on the agency side. He put in time at a trio of firms: Ruder Finn, Edelman, and most recently Weber Shandwick, where he was the account lead on the Unilever, Siemens Energy, and Honeywell business solutions team. He also executed media campaigns for a number of high-level executives, including Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, and Unilever CEO Paul Polman.

At Edelman, he focused on Johnson & Johnson and GE Energy with a range of responsibilities from media relations to stakeholder mapping and account management.

- He was selected to aid Edelman’s 2011 GE Fukushima nuclear crisis response team following the earthquake in Japan 

- Johnson gives back by teaching kids in New York how to play one of his other passions: hockey

- As you would expect from someone who works at Tough Mudder, he is a born adventurer and traveler to the core, having most recently returned from a trek to Nepal. Johnson is also a distance runner, skier, and urban cyclist

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