Executive. Creative director. President. CEO.
Jim Lesser is one of only a few to hold myriad titles in a major advertising network office. After being executive creative director for a decade at BBDO San Francisco, Lesser rose to become president and CEO five years ago. Since then, the office has tripled in size and boasts such heavy-hitting clientele as Wells Fargo, Mattel and Mars.
Lesser brings his experience and expertise to the Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations as the program’s first creative-in-residence. His appointment is a point of pride for the program and serves as an example to what distinguishes Moody College of Communication from its peers and why the Richards School consistently scores as the top-ranked program in the nation.
“Our creative-in-residence program is designed to expose students to real-world, big-idea branding and communications by industry leaders,” said Professor and Director JoAnn Sciarrino.
Lesser launched his career as a receptionist at an agency in New York before being promoted to copywriter. The experience resulted in his belief that great ideas can and often do come from anywhere, including the desk at reception.
Recently lauded for his agency’s brand revitalization of Mattel’s “Barbie,” Lesser demonstrated how his company breathed new life into an ailing global brand in 2015 by modernizing the iconic line of dolls to adapt to today’s cultural standards and expanding the target audience from young girls to parents.
“What the brand had been doing was emphasizing plastic over purpose, and it was getting kids excited but not parents. We had to reverse this,” said Lesser. “We had to make the shift from mass marketing to mass mattering.”
Mattel’s new approach was the result of BBDO’s research and the rediscovery of the company’s original mission. Barbie creator Ruth Handler stated it was to teach girls they could be anything they wanted.
Following a video ad crafted around the message that girls are free to imagine they can do anything, the message resonated with viewers and went viral with more than 25 million views. Along with a broader plan to reinvent Barbie’s diversity in race, height and build, a windfall in sales followed with increased exposure on the cover of Time Magazine and in other outlets. Barbie has now had more than 160 careers ranging from fashion editor to astronaut and doctor.
“Media attention can be good and bad, and it’s our goal to understand how consumers see it,” said Lesser. “The challenge is making it work to your advantage.”
While at Moody, the veteran of BBDO gave lectures, critiqued student’s creative work, led group discussions, met with the Texas Advertising Group and visited classes taught by Ryan Romero, Sean LaBounty, Chad Rea and Lee Ann Kahlor.
Through the creative-in-residence program, Sciarrino said she plans to bring in future leaders from advertising and public relations so students can learn from some of the best and most respected practitioners in the industry.
“It closes the gap between the professional community and our students, and develops a greater awareness and passion for excellence in advertising and public relations,” said Sciarrino.