When the National Football League drafted Dawn Hudson as its next chief marketing officer, she appeared to be a convenient choice for a league struggling to repair an image rocked by domestic-violence controversies. To reference a much-criticized Mitt Romney line from 2012, one could only wonder if the troubled league ordered up "binders full of women" candidates as it sought to keep its sizable female fan base from defecting.
But a person familiar with Ms. Hudson and not affiliated with the NFL said she was on the league's radar before the video of Ray Rice punching his wife made national headlines in early September. And those who know her say she is well-suited to the job, given her credentials as a focused, high-energy executive and consensus builder who is also a sports aficionado.
"I think the NFL made a good catch," said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, who covered Ms. Hudson's rise at PepsiCo, where she served as president-CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America before leaving in 2007. In her 11 years at the company, she held various senior-level marketing positions, including posts at Frito-Lay. "I have never worked with anybody who is better under pressure than Dawn," said Dave Burwick, a former PepsiCo exec who worked closely with Ms. Hudson for nine years and who is now president-CEO at Peet's Coffee & Tea. "If I were the commissioner of the NFL, I'd want Dawn by my side to guide me," he said. "The fact that she is a woman is completely secondary to the fact that she is an incredibly talented human being, but I think having a women's perspective is also very useful and necessary at this time."
Since 2011, Ms. Hudson, a former DDB exec, has been a board member of Interpublic Group of Cos. WPP's Grey is the NFL's lead shop. Asked if she will resign from the IPG board, the NFL declined comment. "Ms. Hudson continues to serve on our board," said an IPG spokesman.
Ms. Hudson will oversee league-wide ad campaigns, entertainment marketing and player marketing, and assist with sponsorship activations. She will also oversee the NFL's events group, which stages the Super Bowl. Ms. Hudson, who is expected to start in mid-October, was not available for an interview.
She'll be under the spotlight as fans and critics wait to see what steps the NFL might take through advertising to shore up its image. So far the league's focus has been mostly internal, including retaining three female senior advisers to help shape policies related to domestic violence and sexual assault.
"This isn't the moment for a campaign highlighting all the positive things the league does," said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "The NFL first has to communicate its commitment to change and then show some positive steps. Once the crisis has settled, the league can bring forward a rebuilding campaign."
Ms. Hudson knows the NFL well: She scored a win for PepsiCo in the cola wars in 2002 when it replaced Coca-Cola as the league's official soft-drink sponsor. "It was really Dawn who converted the NFL to PepsiCo," Mr. Burwick said. He compared building relationships with NFL owners to winning over influential PepsiCo bottlers and said Ms. Hudson is good at "working across multiple constituents to find success for everybody."