Plot-Speaker Karen Strauss im Interview

Karen, we are excited and honored to have you for the opening speech of Plot18 in Munich. You are Chief Global Strategy & Creativity Officer of Ketchum, the most award winning PR agency worldwide. At the creativity festival in Cannes, the Cannes Lions 2018,  Ketchum teams picked up 30 Lions on behalf of their clients. What´s your secret?
 
There’s really no “secret” though there are certainly requirements for winning big in Cannes.
#1 – Encourage your clients to do brave work and facilitate integrated agency collaboration so the final campaign is multi-disciplinary and far-reaching. Every campaign that wins represents the work of many agencies working well together.
#2 – Spend time orienting clients to what a truly big, brave idea looks like. We at Ketchum curate our favorite work from Cannes each year and share it with our clients in the form of an inspiration session for marketers and communicators. This catalyzes creative thinking and aspirations.  
#3 – Make sure Cannes entries tell the story of the work with clarity and emotion. The 2-minute film we submit for each campaign is practically a work of art.
 
As for our winning work….
Not surprisingly, campaigns that won all featured an element of storytelling. For non-profit client, The National Safety Council, we partnered with Energy BBDO to tell the stories of people who lost their lives to prescription opioid overdoses through a memorial we named “Prescribed to Death.”
The stories of families devastated by the opioid epidemic in America proved devastating and conversation-worthy. The centerpiece of the work featured a wall of faces carved from pills, representing those who lost their lives to opioid misuse. For added drama, a machine carved a new face every 24 minutes – the rate at which people die from opioid ODs.
 
For client Libresse in London, we partnered with AMV BBDO on a campaign called “Blood Normal,” that prominently featured period blood to help destigmatize menstruation. Surprisingly, many girls feel ashamed about their periods. The campaign featured video vignettes that tackle period shame head-on: a young woman and her boyfriend have sex during that time of the month, women endure painful cramps and, most significantly, there's real blood. It appears on a pad, we see it trickling down the legs of a woman taking a shower. The key message: “Periods are normal. Showing them should be too.” 
 
Ketchum is known for its strong storytelling capabilities. “Farmland” for the U.S. Farmers- and Ranchers Association, “Crafted” for Häagen Dazs, “A Fighting Chance” for Samsung - this are some examples of Ketchum´s outstanding work. You are a mastermind in using film and movies in PR campaigns. What is the strength of this format and what role do movies play in a PR campaign?
 
In all three cases, Ketchum tapped respected, independent directors to help us make documentaries that told our client’s stories without overt commercial messaging. This takes a leap of faith for clients, but ultimately works well when the goal is to change minds and win hearts.
 
In the case of “Farmland,” our client faced negative chatter on social media from opponents who criticized animal welfare and food safety policies. Our solution was producing a feature-length film that told the stories of actual farmers and ranchers without any censorship – the director was free to explore and report how food is actually grown without any client intervention. With “This land is your land” as our soundtrack, the film was released like a major motion picture, screening in theaters and online channels, and shown at major film festivals. The result? A majority of opponents who watched the film felt increased trust in how food is grown and raised.
 
For Haagen-Dazs, we were tasked with launching a new line of “artisanal” ice cream flavors, with the goal of convincing young consumers that the brand is authentically handmade, despite having been acquired by Nestle. Instead of making a film all about Haagen-Dazs’s heritage, we hired Morgan Spurlock, a famous corporate whistleblower and filmmaker, to tell the stories of 3 artisans whose struggles and triumphs were real and captivating. The documentary was picked up by Amazon Prime, Delta, iTunes and Hulu, and the result for Haagen-Dazs was a spike in sales and increased awareness of the brand’s artisan roots: Crafted
 
And finally, for Samsung, the challenge was to help the company stand out as an Olympic sponsor in Rio. Because a compelling story must be human-centered and take viewers through the journey of struggle and triumph, we hired an Academy Award winning filmmaker to immerse viewers in the lives of four Olympic hopefuls from countries that had never won a medal before. With Samsung’s heritage of taking risks and fighting challenges, the film echoed the company’s beliefs through stories of athletes from Lesotho, the Dominican Republic and the island of Vanuatu – all trying to make history. The film broke out of the Olympic clutter by airing at key festivals, on a brand Vimeo channel, and Samsung’s social and digital channels including YouTube and Twitter, generating millions of views and positive impressions.

 How sustainable is Storytelling? Is it just a buzzword and a marketing hype - fading away soon? Or will Storytelling stay for longer? What´s your opinion?
 
How funny it is that the notion of storytelling was adopted and “professionalized” by the communications and marketing industries. Storytelling will never lose its relevance or power for conveying memorable and enduring messages. Brain science proves that a well-constructed narrative can change attitudes, beliefs and behavior, and that character-driven stories deliver messages most memorably.  Let’s face it – stories date back four thousand years. Even before the Old Testament or the Odyssey, the “Epic of Gilgamesh” was written on clay tablets and remains an enduring story of peril and wisdom, revealing Gilgamesh’s path to maturity; the benefits of civilization over savagery; and a fear of death – all salient themes in stories today.
 
In the deafening din of content today, a successful story must sustain our attention through tension within the narrative and feature a character-driven dramatic arc in which struggle and triumph capture hearts and minds. This is how best to motivate, persuade and be remembered.
 
What´s next for Storytelling in PR? Do you see trends coming up? New technologies,  formats,  ideas which are  worth to watch - as they influence PR and marketing in the future?
 
It goes without saying, the small screen on our mobile phones is where much of future storytelling will happen. A company to watch in this space is WndrCo New TV, a well-funded new mobile-video venture led by former DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. We can expect phones to go from a portal for selfies to a portal for stories.
 
To that end, podcasts have re-emerged as a strong storytelling medium, with listenership way up. Take a look at the collaboration between Gimlet and eBay to created their co-branded podcast, “Open for Business” which manages to tell authentic, subtly branded stories.
 
With immersive storytelling studios like Jaunt , we’re seeing VR and AR grow ever-more sophisticated, going from game-based content to longer length dramas and comedies. Still, the gaming industry (companies like Activision) continues to play a big role in digital storytelling, doing a great job connecting with digital natives. 
 
I’d say the future of storytelling is interactivity and personalization – making you feel part of the narrative through choice and conversation. Thus, VR, live video and bots will be shaping storytelling for the foreseeable future. Convos is a new conversational storytelling platform that lets you creative conversational, interactive stories – transforming bots from tools to creative outlets the way YouTube did for video and Medium did for blogging. One good example of bots allowing you to interact is CYOA (choose your own adventures).
 
My favorite example of interactive storytelling from the Cannes Lions this year was a film called Corazon – Give Your Heart, produced to increase heart donations in New York for Montefiore Hospital. The film told the true story of a sex worker whose heart is dying, and her only hope was from a cardiologist at Montefiore Hospital. Moved by the story, viewers were prompted to become organ donors by pressing their mobile phones to their hearts, and with interactive mobile technology, could register immediately to become an organ donor, which hundreds of New Yorkers did as a result.