Creative Director Walter Kuhn Talks Infusing PR with Creativity
Meet Walter Kuhn: Spark’s Creative Director. With over 15 years of experience managing creative teams and building brand and advertising strategy, Walter knows the creative industry. With his induction into Spark, he is fusing that creativity into PR and marketing. Read on to discover how and why PR agencies are adopting creative services and how newcomers can break into the industry.
Vanessa Zucker (Spark Marketing Manager): How did you get to Spark along your career journey?
Walter Kuhn (Creative Director): I applied for a creative supervisor role, thinking it was similar to a creative director role. Come to find they are not the same at all! I had very limited experience in the PR world but Spark found my background intriguing and decided to customize the position to make it a creative director role. Since then, I’ve been building out our capabilities for our creative department.
V: What is it like working at a PR firm as opposed to a strictly creative agency?
W: The rules of engagement are quite different. I realized that I needed to spend additional time helping to educating people across departments on how creative works, who does which aspects of the creative assignment, and what exactly goes into doing those aspects.
V: Which projects at Spark have given you the most creative freedom so far?
W: I get lots of creative freedom and I have to get resourceful on how I approach every project. Sometimes I manage a team and sometimes I do the work myself, which I still enjoy. Overall, my job is really problem solving. Sometimes clients don’t know exactly what to expect going into a project. Many are startups that have limited experience with marketing. My job is to help them through that process and ultimately create something to elevate their brand. The Cassia video comes to mind. We needed to showcase their complex Bluetooth technology in a simple explainer video. We brainstormed the ideas, walked he clients through the thinking and helped them position their product to a consumer facing audience.
V: Which projects are you most proud of?
W: For one, our own rebranding of the company (Spark). I got to help define the vision and execute through a new logo, presentations, website, business cards; The whole spectrum. When I came on board, Spark was in the beginning stages of repositioning their brand. It was an exciting opportunity to come onboard and make a big impact on how we do business.
Secondly, Encompass. What a great example of organic growth. We initially created a website for them and they loved it and asked, “Will you help us re-establish our overall look and feel?” So we expanded our relationship and did graphics for their trade shows, internal presentations, white papers, social, and videos. That’s my number one goal: organic growth. The most important thing in my opinion is to earn a client’s trust. Start with a win and build. Before you know it you come a strategic partner.
V: How and why are PR agencies changing and adopting creative services?
W: Trying to expand your service offerings is not just a PR problem; It’s an agency problem across the board. When I started my career at a traditional ad agency, the question was “How do we become more digital?” Now, PR agencies are wondering, “How do I become more creative?” What it comes down to is speed and cost: Who can do it the best? Everyone is trying to be a full-service agency.
V: Does that mean design agencies are in competition with PR agencies, who are in competition with advertising agencies?
W: Yes. Everyone is a competitor. Everyone is trying to go after the same work but coming from different vantage points. It’s interesting to see how each type of agency solves a problem from their own unique perspective. In the end a great idea is a great idea. It doesn’t matter any more who had the idea.
V: Where do individual marketing consultants fall into this spectrum?
W: Regarding the difference between hiring an individual consultant and an agency: Consultants can give you a high level strategy, tell you what to do, and then they often times walk away. Agencies can strategize and then implement. When you have your own skin in the game it pushes you to succeed.
V: What makes a brand really stand out?
W: How you communicate with your customers. People have been talking about this for a while now: Two-way conversations. A brand can tell you what they do but they can’t tell you that you should choose them anymore. You have to prove it and earn that trust. Find a way to get people to care about you. If you don’t, you’re just another commodity and people will just find it cheaper somewhere else.
V: Do you have any advice for young creatives trying to get into the business? Do they need to know the design side, developer side, AND PR side? Or should they specialize?
W: If we’re talking designers, understanding the power of creativity in social media is the first thing they should focus on. For example, storytelling through video and generally staying up on trends.
Temperament-wise, you have to be fearless. Go in and don’t ask for permission. People who wait to be told things will take a longer time to succeed. Think through your choices purposefully to figure out the reason behind doing something and have the backbone to say, “This is why I did this.” If you have confidence in your work, people will believe in you. Half the job is selling your ideas not just creating them.
Also, be resourceful. If it’s new technology, figure it out. If you’re a designer, maybe you should learn some coding. You can’t specialize in everything because you end up specialize in nothing. Find a few things you’re passion about and go for it.
Younger designers nowadays are starting to create their own small businesses. Apps, games, t-shirts, you name it. Being entrepreneurial like this makes them think about marketing, branding, and communication at many different touch points. This might be the biggest change since starting my career: It used to be enough to focus just on design. Now you need to know technology too. When they are combined the right way messages become that much more powerful.
Spark creates transformative brand narratives and creative activations that drive business results. We integrate public relations, content marketing, analytics, and digital communications. Contact us to find out how we can help you achieve your company’s goals.