Stephanie Losee | The Innovator 25
Charting the future of public relations
Stephanie_LosseThe Innovator 25:

Stephanie Losee

Executive Director, Brand Content, POLITICO
San Francisco

Brand journalism/Editorial content marketing/ Sponsored content
Recognized for being a champion of 'editorial' and not 'advertorial' and for first making a mark at Dell, then being tasked with launching POLITICO Focus — the entity's global brand journalism and data studio.

Where does the PR industry need to innovate the most?
Creative storytelling & Content creation. I ache for PR, since it is my belief that communications professionals were the rightful inheritors of the storytelling throne when we understood the value of content marketing a few years ago. I don't think it's too late for PR agencies to take back the night from media agencies and content agencies, but time's a-wasting.

How innovative do you think the PR industry currently is?
About the same as other marketing disciplines. I am often amazed and humbled by the innovative approaches PR professionals come up with for their clients. I think a bunch of PR people brainstorming in a room can go head-to-head with the most trailblazing ideators I know.

What is most important for the PR industry to do to foster more innovation?
I think the agency model stands in the way to such a stunning degree that I'm not sure why it's still functioning. I find this is the most true in large agencies whose offices operate as independent businesses, often while claiming true global reach. I know it's not true; I've seen example after example in which a large agency's best asset is in the SF office but the NY office won't use that resource for their client because of siloed P&Ls. 

I also find billing by the hour to be uninspiring. I've long felt that content marketing will be the death of siloes in corporate, given that silos stand in the way of brands speaking to their audiences with a single voice, and I hope it will have the same effect on PR agencies.

The most innovative PR/communications campaign in the last 12 months?
I'm persuaded by two things: solutions so elegant I want to kick myself I didn't think of them, and approaches so out-there that I could never have come up with them no matter how long you left me alone in a room or how much chocolate you bribed me with. In the former category, I just loved the Farm Pride Free Range Egg Farm Cam in Australia. You want to prove that your chickens are free-range, no spin, no b.s.? Put a camera on them. Watch them range...freely. So simple and persuasive. The out-there one I adored at SXSW was GE's data-driven Super Smoker, which optimized the BBQ they fed you using sensor technology. That thing killed me--none of us could stop talking about it, which is the very point. I have to work for GE before I die.

Brands/agencies with an innovative approach to communications. 
I already mentioned GE. I'm obsessed with early adopters. Red Bull, of course, taught us what brand publishing meant and showed us where we were all going. I learned the most from SAP, Intel and Amex early on. I watch Refinery 29 like a hawk--so impressive. It would be silly not to mention GoPro.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be 'innovative.'
I don't think I'm an innovator so much as an outlier. In Malcolm Gladwell's book on the subject, he said that it's timing more than out-of-the-box thinking that creates innovators. As a Gen Xer, I was reporting on tech as it was rising, and my profession was collapsing just as I was getting good at it. I'm one of the last people to receive a traditional journalist's education at Time Inc., with mentors like Carol Loomis conducting lunch-and-learns about getting sources to disclose (her secret was never to let them go off the record). 

Then, nothing. I went from getting $2.50 a word on contract for Fortune after I moved out to SF to being offered 10 cents a word by Alternet, and then of course being asked to write for free. I launched my content consultancy to pay for my articles; I had no idea it would take on such a life of its own. 

By the time I asked Dell to create the position of Managing Editor for me, I had so much consulting work for so many brands that I would have had to staff up, and I prefer intrapreneurship to entrepreneurship. So I guess my answer to your question is that the most innovative moment in my career--all of those moments, actually--were accidents. The Internet broke communications and advertising and took journalism's pay model with it, and those accidents have provided me with a career I find deeply meaningful. 

How do you inspire innovation within yourself or to your team? 
I think passion is the key to both innovation and inspiration, and passion comes from believing that your work is solving a significant problem. I think reaching audiences through inventive digital storytelling is the future of communication, so each of these experiments we're conducting in content marketing has far-reaching implications that are nothing less than thrilling. 

What’s the most innovative place in the world?
I live on Alamo Square in San Francisco surrounded by incubators, but I don't think the most innovative place in the world is a place. I think it's a state of internal quiet that people get to in various ways that gives them access to ideas they can't normally hear above the daily din. I can only get there through climbing and I can climb only one mountain a year, so I don't hang out in the most innovative place in the world nearly often enough. I wish it were around the corner and served lattes.

What's your favorite time of day?
I am a morning person. When I worked remotely for Dell I lived on Central time and now I'm on Eastern, so every best thing happens between dawn and noon. I wake up happy every single morning, full of bouncy energy, and I thank my lucky stars or my parents or The Force or whoever made me that way. Whatever happened yesterday doesn't matter in the morning. Everything feels possible.