2 Minutes With ... Jordan Atlas and Melle Hock, CCO and CSO of Edelman U.S.
In March, Edelman U.S. promoted Jordan Atlas to chief creative officer and Melle Hock to chief strategy officer. Together they form a new creative, strategic leadership unit built to drive growth and take action on behalf of Edelman's clients.
The pair hold a combined 22-year tenure at Edelman. Both have built teams and regional capabilities from the ground up, driving the agency's creative and strategic growth.
Atlas has been with Edelman for more than seven years, overseeing the firm's award-winning creative teams in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Hock has built Edelman's strategy team across the Unilever business and has been the strategic mind behind Dove's Oscar-winning "Hair Love," "Naked Truth," and "Selfie Talk." Over the course of a decade-long Edelman career, she has contributed to some of the firm's largest accounts, including EPC, Church & Dwight, eBay, Samsung and Microsoft.
We spent two minutes with them to learn more about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, and recent work they've admired.
Jordan and Melle, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
- Melle: I'm a native New Yorker. Also known as a unicorn. I grew up in the Lower East Side, and now I live in Brooklyn in Bed Stuy.
- Jordan: I was born in New York, raised in Florida, now living in Los Angeles.
How you first realized you were creative.
- Melle: Since I can remember, I've always wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That's probably still true. If you keep filling a closed vessel with water, eventually it will erupt, right? For me, the eruption is writing. It's something I have to do, not just something I want to do.
- Jordan: From a young age I realized that the things I said to adults often elicited a big laugh. I enjoyed the feeling and recognized that thinking about things in a clever way was valuable and impactful. My parents still love to tell the story about when my dad sat me and my older brother down and said, "I'd like to talk to you about sex." I quickly replied, "Sure, Dad, what do you wanna know?"
A person you idolized creatively early on.
- Melle: Maya Angelou. She has this famous quote, and it means everything to me: "I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me." We're all in this together, human beings on an earthly journey.
- Jordan: In no particular order—KISS, Eddie Van Halen, Mel Brooks, Eric B. & Rakim, Tom Robbins, the Beastie Boys and Michael Jordan.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
- Melle: Probably getting kicked out of boarding school. I did not adjust well to boarding school life. I was on the varsity sports teams, and very engaged academically, but culturally and socially it wasn't for me. When I was asked to leave, I came back to the city and felt lost. One day I was attending a Fulbright leadership conference and I saw someone smoking a cigarette on the corner during break and asked her for one. She was a major player in PR and right then and there asked me if I wanted a job. That conversation kickstarted my entire career in communications. I never would have known what I wanted to do if I hadn't gotten kicked out of boarding school. When I trace back my life and career it all started on that corner. ... P.S., Don't smoke, kids.
- Jordan: It wasn't easy being an art student at a public high school in South Florida in the '90s, especially one like mine that placed such a huge emphasis on athletics. But in my tenth-grade art class, I drew a portrait of my hero, Michael Jordan, and took it to the Heat game when they were playing the Bulls. At the end of the game, as the team was walking into the tunnel, MJ saw me holding it up, stopped, took it and signed it. This moment showed me that my creativity, the thing that made me so different, had worth and would be my path forward. My favorite part? That picture now hangs on the wall of my 11-year-old's bedroom.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
- Melle: One person who comes to mind immediately is Damien Davis, he's an artist, sculptor and the curator at Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling in Harlem. He uses iconography in powerful ways to retell Black narratives not only in terms of what has happened, but also what is possible. I also love that he's paying it forward through his work with the children's museum. It's so important for Black children to see themselves in art and to understand themselves as creative beings.
- Jordan: Eso Toulson—or as most people know him, coolurbanhippie. His work always fills me with joy and hope. The moment I saw his work, I immediately bought two prints, framed them, and hung them on the wall behind me in my home office so that every person on a Teams and/or Zoom call with me can feel what I feel. They read "Make Dope Stuff Every Day" and "Being You Was Always Enough." Also, Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead. His creativity lives in a place that's at least a few years ahead of the rest of us.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
- Jordan: Anything Dave Trott writes I will devour immediately. "One + One = Three" and "Creative Mischief" are two of my favorites.
- Melle: Homegoing by Yaa Gysai, Bittersweet by Susan Cain, and Rashaad Newsome's Assembly piece was moving and extraordinary.
Your favorite fictional character.
- Jordan: Jason Bateman's Michael Bluth from Arrested Development, or Jason Bateman's Marty Byrde from Ozark. OK, maybe just any Jason Bateman character, minus Todd Howard from Teen Wolf Too.
- Melle: Olivia Pope. She's a badass. Her wardrobe is impeccable. She's a fixer and she makes it all look good. A complex Black female lead who is sexy, vulnerable, flawed and fabulous.
Someone or something worth following in social media.
- Melle: Follow @artnoirco! Shameless plug, I cofounded the org with six brilliant Black creative leaders. We'll show you the art world from a distinctly Black (and female, and queer, and intersectional) perspective.
- Jordan: I basically binge watch Rex Chapman on Twitter. He never disappoints.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
- Jordan: Personally, it afforded me the opportunity to spend more time with my family, which has been a huge bright spot amid the darkness of the past two years. Professionally, it was a great reminder for me to stay teachable. It didn't matter if you were a CCO or a junior copywriter when Covid-19 first hit, we all had the exact same experience of how to manage our way through it—zero. Learning how to lead differently, finding a new gear of empathy and putting people first with demonstrable action are just a few of the ways that the pandemic taught me new lessons I will never forget.
- Melle: Those first months of quarantine really felt like being in the foxhole. We had no idea how Covid was going to impact our business. I started seeing myself as someone whose job it was to make sure everyone kept their jobs. All the programs were canceled, everything was on hold, we didn't know if we were going to advertise. The only thing I did know was that my responsibility as a business leader was to make sure my team was going to make it out on top. I did everything I could to make sure we were doing everything right for our business and our brands. The people that were in the foxhole with me are now like the people I pledged with; it bonded us. We've been through a lot together; the work we were doing was important to us and still is.
One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.
- Melle: Working with Matthew Cherry for Dove's "Hair Love" campaign to elevate the CROWN Act around the Oscars was huge. No brand can buy their way onto that stage, so the whole experience was incredible. It shows what you can do when you partner with creators organically and in a way that's mutually beneficial from both a purpose and business standpoint.
- Jordan: The Taco Bell Hotel is still one of my favorite projects. It was a big, bold idea that only a brand like Taco Bell could pull off. We have a brave client team with a big vision and an even bigger belief in their fans. That, plus an integrated team of awesome humans on our end executing flawlessly, made this so memorable for all of us.
A recent project you're proud of.
- Jordan: "Pay With Change," Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's new initiative that only accepts advertising from those committed to advancing gender equality and women's empowerment. We launched this at the beginning of 2022, and I still get excited talking about it. It's an action-based, purpose-driven idea that is laser focused on making tomorrow better than today. It was led by an inspiring client that challenged us to create real change versus just a campaign.
- Melle: "The Selfie Talk" for Dove Self-Esteem Project. It's an initiative to help parents have difficult-but-necessary conversations about the pitfalls of social media with teen girls. For the launch, we partnered with Lizzo to drop an unfiltered naked selfie that literally broke the internet. It was the most effective and PR-driving campaign in the history of Dove. And it helped people help girls in a tangible, material way.
Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.
- Jordan: Mike Tesch, Jim Riswold, Jeff Kling, Stacy Wall and Colleen DeCourcy.
- Melle: Steve Stoute, Terrie Williams and Danny Robinson, who I recently learned orchestrated Oprah's famous "You get a car!" moment for Pontiac.
Someone else's work you admired lately.
- Jordan: This might be cheating because I work with him, but I admire pretty much everything Taj Reid does. He's the perfect combination of galactic talent and endless humanity. He makes everything better in every single way.
- Melle: I'm going to give this one to the team—Judy John, Edelman's global chief creative officer, is such a tremendous creative leader. Whether she's speaking to five people or 500 people, she is inspiring and agitating, every single time. She makes you want to get off the call and go make something great. She adds so much value in a five-minute conversation. As a strategist, she's such a strategic creative thinker, but also lets you be a creative strategic thinker. And she makes it fun.
Your main strength as a creative person.
- Jordan: I believe that creativity is in everyone, either active or dormant. My main strength is my ability to fuel the active and fire up the dormant.
- Melle: Restraint. One of the most important and difficult things that I will be forever practicing is restraint. Underneath restraint is respect for the power of words and one's words. Being selective and intentional with what you say, and how you speak to people, is an act of love.
Your biggest weakness.
- Melle: Email. I have not figured it out. Right now, I have 46,000 unread messages. Send help! But not by email.
- Jordan: Time management and procrastination.
One thing that always makes you happy.
- Jordan: Remembering my late brother, Jeff, whose battle with cancer ended in September 2020.
- Melle: A song that takes you back in time.
One thing that always makes you sad.
- Jordan: Remembering my late brother, Jeff, whose battle with cancer ended in September 2020.
- Melle: "River" by Leon Bridges.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
- Melle: I would be a drifter living on a beautiful beach in Jamaica writing one-sentence poems and selling them to tourists.
- Jordan: Sleeping.