Karen Strauss | The Innovator 25 Americas 2017
Charting the future of public relations

2017 Innovator 25 Americas - Karen StraussThe Innovator 25:

Karen Strauss

Partner/Chief Strategy & Creativity Officer and Director
Ketchum (Omnicom)
New York

“Hire people for their curiosity, not their relevant experience."

Still generating more SABRE Award nominees than any other brand, Ketchum has consistently ranked as one of the two or three most creative large agencies in North America. Strauss has been leading the firm's creativity charge since 2012 — including the last 12 months, which included some notable creative accomplishments like an election-related marketing effort for Doritos; an attention-grabbing publicity stunt for Kit-Kat; an effort to remove cats from the internet for the anti-tobacco education Truth Initiative; and an insight-driven cause-related marketing for Whirlpool.

How do you define innovation?
Busting paradigms.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
It's the unexpected or contrarian ideas that pop. I loved the Tostitos Party Safe bags with sensors that detect alcohol and facilitate calling an Uber. For a brand that's the life of the party, it chose an unexpected message-- don't drink and drive. I also loved The Spotted Cheetah, the totally unlikely idea of a restaurant that served only dishes made with Cheetos.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Those that embed their brand in the culture. REI stands out for #OptOutside which entered the mainstream culture.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
Seeing the potential of crowdsourcing before it became commonplace and creating an enduring college crowdsourcing community called Mindfire which we embrace at Ketchum for ideas and recruiting.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
My daughter Juliet who questions everything. She is part of a research team trying to innovate a cure for IBD and she refuses to be an order taker and develops and tests her own theories all the time.

How do you get out of a creativity or productivity rut? 
By calling my highly imaginative daughter Liza. She is always brimming with ideas and possibilities and in general, I find collaborating with people from different generations the best way to emerge from a rut.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Hire people for their curiosity, not their "relevant experience." Be braver. Remember, innovation is about changing the paradigm. Not doing the same safe thing over and over. And avoid the creative echo chamber by welcoming more dissent.

In your opinion, what's the most innovative place in the world? 
Every place I've never been. Inspiration and innovation come from a place of trying new things.

What's your favorite hobby that's not work-related? 
Cooking and entertaining.