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  • Working for Women Within the OrganizationEileen Fischer (York University) Interviews Denise Fedewa of LeoShe
  • Eileen Fischer and Denise Fedewa (bio)

In this interview, Denise Fedewa, Senior Vice President and Planning Director in the Chicago office of the Leo Burnett Company describes the “LeoShe” research initiative, indicating how it taps into trends that are shaping the lives of women across America. She shares her thoughts on the role that advertising plays in both mirroring and moving the culture and subcultures that surround contemporary women and men, and her insights into the changing role of advertising in society.


Tell me a bit about yourself, Denise. Tell me a bit about your own personal background.


I was a communications student at Michigan State as an undergraduate. Then I got kind of plucked by one of my professors to go to graduate school and have a research assistantship with her. I grew up a blue-collar girl in Lansing, Michigan and graduate school was never something that even entered my realm! That sort of set me on my course. My parents did not support me going to graduate school, so I was very financially constrained, and after a couple years, it was getting really hard to make everything meet. One of my professors said, “Well, you like doing this research and you’re pretty good at it. Ad agencies actually pay you to do what you are doing here. By the way, someone from Leo Burnett is going to be here interviewing people next week. Why don’t you go talk to them and see what it’s about?” It was from their research department. So I did, and here I am, 18 years later. I’m still here.

That was the only job interview I ever had. It was just the right fit and it was exactly what my professor had said—same kind of research, but someone is actually paying you to do it. That’s how I got started. I always loved the field of communications. I was into journalism throughout high school and college and as I got more into the social science aspect of it, it really got fascinating for me, because I enjoy studying people. So, at Leo Burnett, over the course of 18 years, I’ve done just about everything. When I started, we were a research department and it was pure research. I had also studied in Spain during college, and I’m fairly fluent in Spanish, so I ended up spending a few years helping our Hispanic unit get off the ground in doing research for them. I’ve had the opportunity to work internationally, particularly on the Procter & Gamble account, especially in Latin America. I used my Spanish. I’ve worked on most of our accounts here. Not quite everything, but almost everything. Now I’ve come full circle back onto Procter & Gamble.

We started the LeoShe group about six years ago, and we started that because a bunch of us who had worked on Procter & Gamble for large portions of our careers realized that the insights that really helped us get to better advertising weren’t the ones that you get from, “Let’s talk to a bunch of heavy sweaters about deodorant use.” There were the ones that came from when you talked to women about their lives, what’s going on with their lives.

We had always done that on Secret. The brand has always been about being where women are. But we realized that a lot of other brands could benefit from that too, across the agency. So, we started this group. Mary Bishop was the executive vice president account director in charge of the P&G account and many others at the time, and she really was a key sponsor in helping us get off the ground. What we decided to do was to take on topics about women’s lives and study them very broadly and then, by knowing where women are heading with these trends, we could take them to individual groups—whether it’s a group working on a food account or a beauty account or a piece of technology or whatever...