Sabine Hückmann | The Innovator 25 Asia Pacific 2018
Charting the future of public relations
Innovator 25 EMEA Dr Sabine Huckmann

Sabine Hückmann  

CEO 

Ketchum 
Düsseldorf 

“I consider every organisation that has overcome purely channel-based strategies, that is willing to place its bets on data-driven and target-based approaches, as innovative”

Ketchum CEO Barri Rafferty says her Germany chief Sabine Hückmann’s expertise in leading offices, heading innovation, and understanding digital and analytics is “unmatched.” A chemistry graduate, Hückmann isn’t afraid to experiment and is not just innovative, but creates environments to help those around her be innovative too. Through her mantra, “failure is an option as long as you learn,” Hückmann has created cultures and client relationships that are “trust-based, creatively brave and fault-tolerant.” Before becoming CEO of Ketchum Germany, Hückmann served as chief innovation officer, where she experimented and changed the working environment to improve functionality and results, as well as creating an Innovators’ Community. 

How do you define innovation?
Doing new things and doing things differently. Innovation is when you approach a challenge with a different attitude. It’s also about being brave, letting people do a job they haven't done before and exploring unknown territory. For instance, co-creating with non-obvious partners.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months? 
No question: Nike´s "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything." This is an example of a company with an attitude, that has taken a stance and delivered a brave campaign with relevance for the public. I was also impressed by "Prescribed to Death". The campaign gave a very real and serious crisis – the opioid epidemic in America – a human face and connected with a whole spectrum of audiences.

Which brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
I’d have to say P&G (and I’m not saying this because they’re a Ketchum client!) They're still the leaders in comms innovation, with a great sense of how much innovation their target groups can get along with. I consider every organisation that has overcome purely channel-based strategies, that is willing to place its bets on data-driven and target-based approaches, as innovative. Innovative brands are those who are willing to try and refine, maybe fail – and I don´t mean a KPI-based justification of budget spending, because we’re not talking about reporting. I am talking about strategies based upon digital data and the creativity of the human brain.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.' 
When my team and I decided to go for an interdependent leadership approach, which meant less power (but not less authority or less accountability) for me, at a time when only a couple of people within the agency business were starting to talk about this approach. I still see many agencies, especially ad agencies, lead in a very traditional way by boards (that are mostly male-dominated). On a client level, I saw a company in a very traditional industry that had a feeling of falling behind other brands, without really knowing what to do differently. We made some quite radical suggestions and the client’s response was, “Well, I don´t understand this fully, but I trust you, let´s try and see what we will achieve and learn.” This has been one of the best moments in my career.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Elon Musk for Paypal and Tesla. Younghee Lee, CMO at Samsung (one of our clients), for having achieved the squaring of the circle: meeting Apple on brand eye level. Amazon, which has continuously been shaking up and transforming the world of retail for almost 25 years now, and other markets nobody thought they’d ever enter.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I actively stop thinking about the challenge on hand and start doing something where every step is totally predefined: cleaning the house or crocheting a scarf or a hat. Thoughts will start to flow automatically then.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation? 
“Just do it, and the organisation will follow.” I don´t claim to be the inventor of this quote, I read it somewhere a while ago, and I fell in love with it.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I would have been the founder of a private cold cases organisation.

Favorite book/movie/podcast/article that's not related to PR/marketing/business? 
“Power of the Dog” and its sequel “The Cartel” by Don Winslow.