Her promotion in May, from director of strategic planning at Bartle Bogle's New York office to global head of strategic planning, is proof she's got what it takes.
Ms. Cookson says she didn't ever set out with a "defined role or ambition" for herself. She graduated from Christ Church, Oxford, England, after studying English literature and had no idea what she wanted to do. "I went to a career planning session and advertising came after accountancy," she jokes. "I had no lifetime leaning toward it."
However, in 1988 she became an account manager at U.K. agency BSB Dorland, which later became Bates Dorland. The agency's clients included H.J. Heinz Co. and the Sunday Express newspaper, and there she learned account management and planning basics. After a two-year stint with a smaller shop that eventually went bankrupt, she joined WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather in London, working on classic British brands such as GlaxoSmithKline's Horlicks drink.
Ms. Cookson joined Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London, in 1993 and in early 1998 took over running the Levi Strauss & Co. pan-European account and the agency's Unilever business. In 1999, she moved to New York and currently heads the strategic account planning function.
While many people are focused on personal goals, she says she's more concerned with what she can do for the growth of the agency through recruitment. "What I do here is help to attract other people," she says. "The real impact is who you can develop."
She has worked on strategy for campaigns including a recent U.S. launch for Unilever's Axe deodorant. Ms. Cookson is also a key member of the new-business team and helped to land dating service Udate.
"Emma is so smart, it's scary," says Esther Lem, VP-brand development, Deodorant category at Unilever. She says Ms. Cookson is apt to wrap up a discussion "with a few brilliant nuggets and make us all feel brilliant."