1972 Advertising, 1974 M.S. Advertising
For Josh McQueen, education was a family value. Josh saw his father graduate from Eastern Illinois University in his 40s after retiring from the Navy. It wasn’t easy, but it set an example that Josh will never forget.
When it was Josh’s turn to choose a school, Illinois rose to the top. At that time, the top scoring ACT of each county received a scholarship for tuition to a state school. “The U of I represented the best of the set of schools I could be a part of,” recalls Josh. As someone who was paying for his education himself, that scholarship represented opportunity.
Josh finished his undergraduate degree in just 6 semesters. He had always wanted to be a writer, but learned that while his writing was good, it wasn’t great. He didn’t want to be just good. His strong math skills made a master’s degree focused on research a logical next step. Josh was a Leo Burnett Scholar through the James Webb Young fund—an endowed fund in the College of Media that provides graduate assistantships in advertising. This gave Josh access to research opportunities that the U of I was uniquely able to provide. Josh loved research. He recalled, “The communication program at the U of I is superior and it lets you take it wherever you need. You have unfettered access to the entire college.”
What Josh remembers most about the advertising program was its focus on the discipline of the advertising agency. Many instructors had worked in agencies and cared about peer-reviewed work. He especially enjoyed the team atmosphere of the campaigns course that brought together all the disciplines to produce a campaign. Josh also remembers the challenge of being at Illinois. “Going to Illinois,” he recalls, “I was no longer the smart one. Now you’re surrounded by smart people. That competitive environment makes you work harder. At the University of Illinois you’re never going to be top dog, but you’re going to be surrounded by brilliance. I love smart people and creative people and fun people. I got that throughout my whole career, but it started at the U of I.”
Another highlight of his time at Illinois: Josh met and married his wife, Chris McQueen, who was a student in the School of Music. They met in the only class where they could have possibly met: biology for non-majors.
Josh spent his entire 30-year career in research with Leo Burnett. The worldwide organization afforded him opportunities to work in London, Sydney and Japan as well as the United States. Leo Burnett was a very Midwestern agency but had an international client base, and his time outside the country made him valuable to many conversations at the agency. He had a true passion for the business and an opportunity to demonstrate what he could bring to the issues at hand. He helped change the culture from one of testing ads to one of bringing insight into the brand. Through it all, he retained his passion for learning. “Every given culture is different,” Josh said. “You don’t have to know the answer; you just have to ask the right questions. That is the essence of academic training.”
His love of writing was put to good use. “My appreciation for the human story really helped me to survive and thrive in an agency like Leo Burnett, where the story was the thing,” said Josh. “When you think of all the critters at Kellogg’s—the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Green Giant, the Marlboro Man—we were an agency that created epic stories in which our brand was the central idea.”
His strong sense of ethics was also an asset. For Josh, it was critical to find a way to be ethical in situations that could have easily been unethical. “Research allows you to prove that an unethical idea is a bad idea,” recalled Josh. “I was able to use data to convince clients that ethical claims were better for their brand.”
His advice for current students is to take advantage of the opportunities you have for connecting in the college environment. They allow you to see beyond cubicle walls and beyond bureaucracy. He believes in constant innovation and constant education. “Your passion, your ability to innovate and reinvent yourself will help you in your career,” he states. “Don’t rest on your laurels.”
Josh feels strongly about finding meaningful ways to contribute to organizations for which he feels a deep connection. He currently serves on the board of the Allendale Residential Homes for disadvantaged children and has given his time and resources to a number of organizations throughout his career. In addition, Josh currently serves on the College of Media’s Leadership Council, a new volunteer leadership board for the college. Josh is a generous supporter of the University of Illinois College of Media and is a member of the President’s Council, the university's highest donor recognition organization.
Today, Josh lives in Marin County, California, and enjoys walking the hills, being a granddad, appreciating the outdoors and helping nonprofit organizations thrive. He published a book in 2012, “Building Brand Trust: Discovering the Advertising Insights Behind Great Brands.” He is also the founder of McQueen and Associates, a branding and research firm dedicated to assisting diverse for-profits and not-for-profits improve the connection between their organizations and the people they serve. He also serves as Special Adviser for Research and Donor Insights for KerstenDirect Response Agency.