Food Meets Creativity: An Interview with Ketchum Creative Director, Petra Sammer

Creative directors are commonplace in the advertising industry. However, they are still quite unusual in the public relations sector. An interview conducted by Diana Dorenbeck with Ketchum’s Perta Sammer, a highly respected and tenured colleague based in Munich, Germany, gives some some insight on her role and why it’s so important to the agency’s robust Food & Beverage practice.

What does creativity mean in PR? What do creative directors do?

There are a few PR agencies that have creative directors and specialised creative teams like Ketchum – which takes its lead from advertising agencies. However, in PR we generally have a different approach. We don’t see “creativity” as a task for a small, elite team. Instead, we ask everyone in the agency to come up with ideas. This “democratised” approach differentiates us from other agencies.

However, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this past June, you could hear that more and more agencies are starting to think in the same way. The reasons for this are very complex. In part, solutions for a multi-screen, hyper-connected and engaging media world can’t be found by a small group of “creativity gurus” acting alone. Today, you need to connect experts from many disciplines such as journalists, IT specialists, film-makers, researchers, artists and many more. An idea can come from anywhere, so our view is that there is little need for an autocratic creative director who is the “wise guy” and supposedly knows it all. However, we do need a new type of creative director that can facilitate creativity and connect different specialists.

How is creativity different in relation to the food industry?

Food is and always has been an industry that demands creativity which appeals to all the senses – from sight and smell to touch. Whenever you work for food products, you have to keep in mind that eating and drinking are two of the most intense, sensitive and emotional things we do every day and that we experience food with so many senses. Communication has to reflect this.

We often hear you talk abotuteh  importance of storytelling. What does a food company have to take into account if it chooses a storytelling approach for communication?

At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, several food companies such as Chipotle and Honey Maid won with creative and highly visual storytelling campaigns. The key to their success was their ability to find their core belief. Every good story has a reason to be told, so food companies need to know what their reason is. I don’t mean the vision or mission of a company or a brand. I mean that a compelling story needs to dig deeper and come up with what Simon Sinek calls the “Why” behind a story.

Finally, one question regarding the future: what trends can you identify in the field of creativity – maybe with regard to food?

As you know, it’s not easy to predict the future and there are several ways to answer this question. One can either go totally sci-fi and bring up ideas which are completely out of the blue and which sound somehow outstanding, fascinating … but also a bit unbelievable and questionable. Or one can look at the past, and the present, and expand on what’s already there. To answer your question, I will choose the second option. In my opinion, we will see more #live-communications in the future. By this, I mean “real-time” communication where brands comment on real-time events, jumping in quickly on running conversations and sparking conversations in real time. I know that is challenging for many companies and brands – and also for agencies – as this needs new resources, new listening and new conversation skills. But if it is done right it’s a powerful tool to engage with fans and consumers on topics which are relevant to them. I also strongly believe in gamification. The health care industry is currently testing therapy games to support healing with mental and psychological motivation. Journalists are testing news games to get complex information across. HR departments are testing serious games to motivate employees and help them to work more effectively through a playful environment. And finally, the internet of things, wearable electronics and the self-tracking trend will give us plenty of big data to play with.