Hiring for creative excellence with Chief Creative Officer Jean Batthany

Award-winning global creative executive Jean Batthany sits down with Roy to dig into the nuances of creative leadership, when organizations should hire a creative leader, and how to assess the skills and competencies that make them successful.

Jean brings a wealth of experience and insight to the podcast; she has spent over thirty years leading brand-side and agency creative teams. Jean began her career at top advertising agencies like BBDO, M&C Saatchi, Merkley+Partners, and Saatchi & Saatchi before transitioning to leading in-house creative strategy for Disney Parks and Resorts, where she served as VP, Global Creative. Most recently, she led a team of over 300 creatives at Walmart as Chief Creative Officer.

Listen to the podcast

Highlights from our conversation

  • The key elements of a successful brand strategy (4:44)
  • Balancing creativity and leadership skills in teams (5:33)
  • When and why brands should hire a Chief Creative Officer (7:14)
  • How to measure the success of a brand creative leader (7:50)
  • The role CCOs play in driving great creative (9:59)
  • The best advice Jean received as a young creative (12:28)
  • What she looks for in creative leaders (13:40)
  • The difference between a brand creative leader and a CMO — and how they work together (14:29)
  • Jean’s advice to early-career creatives (15:51)


[00:00:00] Jean Batthany: All brands have the need for creative expression, but also a culture of creativity, creative problem solving, and innovation. 

[00:00:08] Roy Notowitz: Hello and welcome to How I Hire, the podcast that taps directly into the best executive hiring advice and insights. I’m Roy Notowitz, Founder and CEO of Noto Group Executive Search. You can learn more about us at notogroup.com. 

[00:00:28] Roy Notowitz: Jean Batthany joins me today. Jean is a purpose-driven creative executive with more than 20 years experience building brands, growing talent and leading creative strategy. She’s produced award-winning work with advertising agencies like BBDO, M&C Saatchi,, Merkley+Partners, and Saatchi & Saatchi. Jean has also served as a creative leader at iconic brands, including her role as VP, Global Creative at Disney Parks and Resorts and more recently as Walmart’s Chief Creative Officer, where she led an internal team of more than 300 creatives.

[00:01:05] Roy Notowitz: Jean is committed to making an impact through her work and is an advocate for women in creative leadership roles. Jean’s here to discuss how to hire successful creative leaders and how she approaches building creative teams and more. 

[00:01:20] Roy Notowitz: Jean, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s great to have you on the podcast.

[00:01:24] Jean Batthany: Thanks for having me, Roy. I’m really excited to talk to you. 

[00:01:28] Roy Notowitz: Jean, tell us about your career path and the roadmap to becoming a brand creative leader and chief creative officer. 

[00:01:35] Jean Batthany: I studied advertising and design, so I have my BFA in advertising and design, and I was hellbent on going into design and I even started my own very tiny graphic design firm out of my New York apartment, and I was quickly pulled into advertising in an advertising agency by one of my professors who brought me on as an assistant art director. 

[00:01:54] Jean Batthany: Five years later I left that for my first role at Saatchi & Saatchi and I absolutely fell in love with advertising as a discipline and creativity beyond design.

[00:02:06] Jean Batthany: It sucked me in completely.

[00:02:08] Jean Batthany: Creativity is kinda like a drug. You get that high, that feeling of anything’s possible and this is a great idea and you feel it in your body. So I spent the first, almost 25 years of my career.at Saatchi & Saatchi and BBDO and helped start up M&C Saatchi and Merkley+Partners.

[00:02:24] Jean Batthany: I did a short stint at DDB Chicago, and that’s where I was recruited to the brand side. Disney reached out to me about leading their internal agency, and I took on the role of VP of Global Creative at Disney. 

[00:02:38] Jean Batthany: I saw the potential to do more than just the advertising slice of the marketing communications pie, but really get into the brand and the brand side and the brand strategy and expression.

[00:02:49] Jean Batthany: So I took on that role and the learning was incredible for me. Really a lot more learning than I had imagined. And then from there I was recruited to the CCO role at Walmart and it was their first foray to having a creative leader and helped the brand evolve from a transactional company to an emotional brand, which was really appealing to me. And I was doing that up until about November of last year. 

[00:03:13] Roy Notowitz: Wow. That’s great. So I’m curious, what was that transition like going from being a creative leader in an agency and then how did that translate into the corporate side?

[00:03:25] Jean Batthany: I learned a lot and it was humbling going from agency side to brand side at Disney because I had a lot more to learn.

[00:03:31] Jean Batthany: What I found internally at Disney and at Walmart: creative as a function tends to be more creative services as opposed to an integrative, creative, full service agency. So I was able to take structure and organizational design and the capabilities and the talent necessary to build more of an idea-generating creative and innovative department. And that was taking on more of the creative work internally than just doing the creative services, the creative iteration of what outside agencies would do. So really building up the brand capabilities of the internal teams. 

[00:04:07] Jean Batthany: I think the biggest difference between the agency side and the brand side was that, most agencies that I worked at, it was the best creative product, regardless of the cost of bodies left behind. You just get the workout, and especially at Disney, it was a lot more, not just what you do, but how you do it. So how you work with people, what kind of leader you are, how you grow talent and how you grow relationships as well as the work. Ultimately, the result you want is to drive the business. So it’s crucial that it’s strategic and on brand and on brief to deliver the results that the marketing team, that the business, is looking for. 

[00:04:44] Roy Notowitz: That’s interesting. So as you talk about the brand and business strategy, what are those key elements or pillars that support a successful brand strategy? 

[00:04:54] Jean Batthany: I think it’s crucial to start with the brand purpose. Why are we here? What’s the reason we get up in the morning and what are we marching towards? And that leads me to the brand vision. Where are we going? How are we navigating to get there? And are we all rowing in the same direction, especially for a big brand?

[00:05:10] Jean Batthany: What are the brand values? Then what is brand positioning? What do we stand for? How do we stand out? What’s the brand personality? So what do we sound like? How do we express ourselves as a brand consistently across all channels and communications and experiences?

[00:05:24] Jean Batthany: I’m a massive fan and advocate for storytelling, and that’s the way as humans that we communicate. The other component of the brand personality is the visual expression. 

[00:05:33] Roy Notowitz: When you’re thinking about hiring creative people like the uber creative folks don’t always make the best managers of teams or leaders of teams. So how do you balance those types of personalities in creative teams? 

[00:05:48] Jean Batthany: Yeah, there are definitely those that want to be in it, want to be creating the ideas, want to be producing a lot and want to be at the forefront of that. And they’re not always the best managers and there are those who love the management and the leadership side of it. Love to nurture talent, love to mentor and sponsor, love to teach and guide. And so I do think that’s part of the evaluation process of someone: what do they want to do and what are they good at doing? Sometimes perception/reality isn’t true. 

[00:06:17] Jean Batthany: There’s a philosophy that you want to have rock stars on the team and you want to have those creatives that act as catalysts, that come up with proactive ideas that don’t see the boundaries of a brief and add “what if” to everything. And it’s interesting, I’ve seen it work in such a way that it can elevate everybody’s thinking. And I think that’s where the spontaneity and the sparks come from of creativity. 

[00:06:48] Jean Batthany: You want those people that when they get a brief, come back and go, “this is what they asked for, but what if we did this? This could really break through and not just be a listicle of all the product benefits.” I’ve found that if you just came with the “what if” thought that you alienated partners, but if you came with this creative “what if?” And you create a dialogue around the possibilities, more often than not, you could do better work. 

[00:07:14] Jean Batthany: 

[00:07:14] Roy Notowitz: Not all organizations have C-level creative leadership roles. Of course many do. Can you help us understand when it might be important to have a Chief Creative Officer on the leadership team and the important role that person would play? 

[00:07:28] Jean Batthany: I think it’s really important to have someone overseeing the creative expression of the brand across all channels, across all touchpoints and making sure that it’s consistent and integrated and there can be inflection points along the timeline of a brand of when they want to grow or when they want to pivot or crystallize their brand expression and take the brand to the next level. 

[00:07:50] Roy Notowitz: As it relates to the scope of responsibility, how is the impact measured with a Chief Creative Officer or brand creative leader?

[00:07:58] Jean Batthany: Creativity can be a little bit nebulous, right? But I go back to that idea of the business of creativity. Creative excellence, creative efficacy and creative efficiency. With efficacy, we wanted the creativity to be effective. How are we measuring that? The brand equity, brand loyalty, and ultimately sales. There’s certain work that we can see that directly impacts sales, and some of it is a little bit more in that equity and loyalty bucket where it’s a longer timeline. And I think success can also mean efficiency. It’s a business, right? And so the idea of can we do it with excellence, but do it more efficiently? So we’re spending less with agency partners and doing it more internally with teams that know the brand, know the doors that need to get opened, can move fast to react to consumer needs, to what’s happening in culture. The idea of putting culture in the brand and brand in culture is another important push that we can do from the inside. 

[00:08:54] Roy Notowitz: That’s huge too. What should CEOs, board members, investors look for in a Chief Creative Officer or brand creative leader if they were thinking about bringing one on board? 

[00:09:09] Jean Batthany: I am such a ruthless advocate for diversity. I think it’s really important to think about the communities that a company serves and to try and reflect that diversity of gender orientation, race, ability. So thinking, is this person aligned with our brand purpose and vision? Because you want to have that brand alignment. You want to have a creative leader, not just a creative doer.

[00:09:35] Jean Batthany: There are great super talented creatives out there, award-winning creatives that can do the work. It’s a big difference and it’s something I’ve learned over 30 years in this business of making great creative and leading great creative, and it’s the ability to step back and create fertile soil for ideas to grow and to protect ideas and to grow talent. So that’s an evolved skill for creative leaders. 

[00:09:58] Roy Notowitz: That’s an interesting call out. How much creativity would you expect or would you want the Chief Creative Officer to actually bring to the table themselves versus getting good creative out of others in the organization and partners?

[00:10:14] Jean Batthany: Yeah, I think it has to be both and it is a sliding continuum. I think you have to be able to do great creative work, have a history of having done great creative work and knowing how to do it and what it looks like, and then also getting great creative work out of other people without crushing souls, right? At the same time be able to toggle between that left and right brain. There’s so many projects that happen at the same time. Where you need to lean in, where you need to step back, where you need to prioritize, how you can stand and protect great creative ideas and sell those ideas through an organization that takes a, really, a bold leader. It takes a great communicator. It takes people who excel at relationships because you can’t be a bull in the China shop, especially on the big corporate brand side. The culture doesn’t allow for it. And I think the one thing, whether it’s a chief creative officer or it’s a creative lead or a creative talent, they have to be curious and continuously curious about what’s next? What’s happening in the world? What if we tried something different? Let’s keep going. 

[00:11:21] Jean Batthany: So that drives creativity and innovation. And then I think they have to be super passionate. It’s not an easy gig. It’s very time consuming. It’s very intense and it can be emotional and it can be all encompassing and striving for the great idea and deadlines. So you have to love what you do and use that passion to get other people excited. You’re teaching, you are creating a culture. You’re inspiring others to do great work, and you’re letting go. You’re letting go of the work, and it may not be an idea that you would’ve come up with or done, 

[00:11:55] Roy Notowitz: Right. 

[00:11:55] Jean Batthany: But there’s many ways to come at it.

[00:11:57] Roy Notowitz: That’s really interesting, so there’s this element of resilience or thick skin that, as creatives, you need to foster that within your team. At the same time, keep them inspired and motivated and creative. And then also being a champion or helping them champion their ideas in the organization and aligning all that stuff into one culture is kind of hard.

[00:12:20] Jean Batthany: That is the tightrope, right? Because ideas are precious. You have to have the grit that they die, 

[00:12:27] Roy Notowitz: Right. 

[00:12:28] Jean Batthany: For whatever reason. And I think the best advice I ever got was don’t take it personally, right? It’s not because it’s a bad idea, it may just not be right for this particular mission or task at hand. We always put great work in the well because it can come back. A great idea is a great idea and it’s the idea of always leaving people with hope, right? If you come in and you see a bunch of ideas and nothing is hitting it, but where as a creative leader can you find that nugget of a spark, right? And fan the flames of it, and help guide them. Say, “there’s something in this territory, can you go and look and see in there?” And there’s always more ideas behind it, right? Not to get into the mindset that ideas are a dime a dozen because they’re not. It’s definitely precious, but our people are the most important assets, right? And so we want to protect them and we want to keep them healthy, and we want to keep them hopeful and we want to keep them encouraged and we want to keep them from burning out. And we want to push them. And I certainly have a no asshole policy. Like I will not hire assholes. 

[00:13:25] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. 

[00:13:25] Jean Batthany: I will not work with assholes. There are too many really talented people out there, so you can do great work and stand for great work and defend great work without being a jerk about it. 


[00:13:34] Roy Notowitz: What combinations of experiences or competencies make great creative leaders? 

[00:13:40] Jean Batthany: I always ask people what their superpower is, right? I want to know what they’re good at, what they believe they’re good at because honestly, in creative, I need all different kinds of people. I need creative strategists. I need art directors. I need writers. I need designers. I need account and operations people. So the left and right brain, I need production people who are gonna finish it. I need people who are happy to iterate. They have to be a creative thinker and a problem solver, have a passion for what they do. Again, diversity is really important because as I’m building a team, I want to make sure I’m reflecting the communities that we serve. So looking at a diverse array of candidates and talent, I want to look at their past work.

[00:14:16] Jean Batthany: Have they done work that resonates with me? If they don’t have great work, could this be the best work of their career? I think that’s always exciting. Our best work is in front of us. What’s their reputation in the business? Are they good to work with? Good to work for? Do people come back and work for them again?

[00:14:30] Jean Batthany: Are they curious? Which again, I think is crucial. Are they passionate? Are they excellent in their craft? They have to have a brand connection.

[00:14:39] Roy Notowitz: I think one other thing we didn’t cover is the difference between the chief creative officer or brand creative leader and a CMO and how those roles work together. 

[00:14:50] Jean Batthany: The chief marketing officer is overseeing the whole marketing realm and experience. They’re setting the vision of how we’re gonna go to market, but not necessarily the creative expression of how we’re gonna go to market. And so it is a collaboration. Chief creative officer, from my experience, reports into the CMO. Working closely with other disciplines, and so working closely with media, working closely with consumer insights, working closely with performance marketing and the other components. The CCO role is how the brand shows up and creatively expresses itself from visual and voice across all channels, right? So it’s paid, owned, earned, and shared. It’s internal to external and making sure that drives consistency. So the CMO is going to lean on the CCO to do that. 

[00:15:47] Roy Notowitz: Right. What advice do you have for someone starting out early in their career journey? 

[00:15:51] Jean Batthany: I have lived by the motto of how hard can it be? I’m an optimist, and it’s if you don’t ask, it won’t happen. If you don’t try it, you won’t learn. So with this sort of bias towards optimism I have taken on roles that maybe the learning is considerable, but it is amazing learning. And so I would just say to stay curious. Stay open to opportunities and don’t be afraid to jump. I also think. relationships are everything to celebrate ideas, to get new roles, to bring on new talent. I think a personal brand is really important. Like what do you stand for? How do you want to be seen? Being out there and using your voice for good, being authentic, being on panels, speaking engagements, writing op-eds and judging.

[00:16:41] Roy Notowitz: That’s excellent advice. You’ve been in the business for 25 plus years and you’ve been honored as one of Business Insider’s 30 Most Creative Women in Advertising as well as many other awards. How are you thinking about the future for yourself? What exciting things are you working on currently and how are you thinking about the future right now? 

[00:17:04] Jean Batthany: I made a conscious decision. To lean into the art of the pause and take a moment, take a beat, take a breath to pause, to reset, to refresh, and really strategize about what I want to do in my next chapter. My father passed away at the end of last year, but it did give me pause, again, of we have a finite time on this planet, and so where do I want to apply my creativity and my leadership to help make the world a better place? So really thinking about partnering with purpose-driven brands. I’m writing, I’m working on a book project. I’m speaking, I just spoke a few weeks ago to NASA; gave a keynote on creativity, innovation, and failing forward. 

[00:17:55] Roy Notowitz: Oh neat.

[00:17:56] Jean Batthany: So that was a great experience. 

[00:17:58] Roy Notowitz: Wow. 

[00:17:58] Jean Batthany: And just staying open. 

[00:17:59] Roy Notowitz: Jean, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. It’s been so great getting to know you and to really dig into how creative leaders think. I just really appreciate you taking the time, and I’m super excited about your book and all the things that you have planned for the future. 

[00:18:16] Jean Batthany: Thanks for having me and for inviting this conversation. 

[00:18:21] Roy Notowitz: Thanks for tuning in to How I Hire. Visit howihire.com for more details about what you heard today. If you’re enjoying the show, please let your friends and colleagues know about us.

[00:18:34] Roy Notowitz: How I Hire is created by Noto Group Executive Search. To find out more about Noto Group, visit NotoGroup.com. And while you’re there, please also subscribe to our monthly newsletter. This podcast was produced by AO McClain, LLC. To learn more about their work, visit AOMcClain.com.