BY DIANE DUNNE
He’s bigger than big. Not physically, although he stands over six feet tall, but mentally, verbally, proactively and inspirationally, he’s BIG. John Osborn, or Ozzy, as his friends call him, greets one with a broad, full smile and a warm hug. At the mere age of 37, Mr. Osborn was named President and Chief Executive Officer of BBDO New York, part of BBDO Worldwide one of the largest advertising agency networks in the world. Now, seven years later and at the ripe age of 44, Mr. Osborn is in his exuberant stride of life, exploding with ideas, excitement and enthusiasm for things past, present and future as the head of one of the most award-winning agencies.
What is he most proud of? High on his list is his involvement with The Police Athletic League of New York City, The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, and the financial literacy nonprofit Operation HOPE. When pressed for his favorite business achievements, Mr. Osborn looks one straight in the eye and says, “We are blessed with great clients who encourage us to do the work we do, and that makes it hard to single out any one accomplishment.” Adding, “People are the most exciting part about our business because everything emanates from them. We listen closely to the client and the consumer. We watch behavior patterns for gaps and distill our findings into simple ideas that also have a multiplying effect, which amplifies our discoveries and makes them come alive. I’m inspired by and grateful for all the talents I work alongside.”
Joining BBDO in 1991, after a three year stint with Saatchi & Saatchi, he soon moved up the ranks as the dy- namic instigator of an expansive and integrated marketing plan for BBDO New York. Recognized in the business world beyond BBDO, a few of Mr. Osborn’s accolades include being named to the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Achievement, Crain’s New York Business list of “40 under 40,” and named a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum.
The recession created a downturn in the ad market, but it didn’t dim Mr. Osborn’s view of the future. “No one knows what the future holds, and that’s what I think is great about this industry. The challenge of the down-turn made it exciting; clients truly recognized the value of our marketing efforts. We saw them expanding into new media, different forms of media.” He explained, “Our marketing is purpose-based, it must have a very clear measurable objective and not be cool just to be cool. We ruthlessly stride to ensure the impact of purpose-to drive behavior change.” That’s why clients come to BBDO and one of the reasons clients like GE have been with the agency close to 90 years.
John Osborn’s credits BBDO’s market leadership strength with the agency’s signature reductionist nugget approach to the work. “It’s not enough to develop messages that bounce off of everyone, which is why we like messages that sink in and have carry-on value.” An early example is the legendary “You Got the Right One, Baby” campaign, which the agency developed for Diet Pepsi, Mr. Osborn’s first account at BBDO. That advertising became part of the vernacular for many years.
“I like people and want to make it simple and easy for them. We’re in the betterment business,” is how Mr. Osborn describes it. “We want people and things to be better because we’re, adding value.”
This mind-set leads to his philosophy which he deems “Soul-Branding” It’s all about getting to the soul of what a client’s brand stands for. Take, for example, the FedEx “We Understand” campaign, which says “we know how important your business is, and is why FedEx goes above and beyond to deliver simple, fast solutions that make you and your business more successful.” Or, take Lowe’s, which is in the business of “building” a better life for customers.
Being a prime “people-person” translates into concerns and cares for others. He is concerned for his work with the Police Athletic League, he cares for each child who hopefully will learn the business of life through Operation HOPE, he cares deeply about diversity in the workplace and counts it as one of his most important mandates, and he is concerned about his talented staff to whom he sends a weekly “Notes From the Dugout” newsletter stressing open communication. He cares for his clients and their products and that may be a contributing rational for his “Soul Branding” philosophy. He cares dearly for his wife, Lesley, and their two children, 5 and 6 years old.
To get to the core of John Osborn, one might say he’s Mr. Nice Guy, but immediately add: he’s smart and prophetic at understanding the simplicity of people, products, organizations and life. “People lack attention now more than any other time in history because people are bombarded with messages continuously from everywhere.” That’s why Mr. Osborn strives for the soul, the essence of the brand and translates it into understandable simplicity that can effect behavioral change.